The so-called “bullhead” chronograph — with crown and pushers at the top of the watch rather than on the side — is a type that very few watches even attempt to pull off today, with some notable exceptions — Omega makes one as an extension of its main Speedmaster line — but Contatempo (CT) Scuderia, a brand of auto-racing inspired chronographs founded by third-generation Italian watchmaker and motorbike racing enthusiast Enrico Margaritelli, has embraced the style, applying it across its nearly its entire range, which is composed of models with both mechanical and quartz movements.
I spent some quality wrist time with one of the mechanical watches, the Master Time Automatic, which makes an instant impression with its pocketwatch-style case with top-mounted crown, flanked by two black pushers and mounted on a very rustic-looking brown leather strap. The old-school case style is an homage to Margaritelli’s grandfather, who built high-precision timepieces and instruments for the Italian military in the first and second World Wars. The large, fluted crown is even more accentuated by a round, steel bow, which folds downward to allow access to unscrew and wind the crown (though it’s still a little bit in the way, depending on the size of your fingers).
The four-part case measures 44 mm in diameter and is relatively thick (12.5 mm). The steel has a polished finish along the bulging case middle and a brushed finish on the lug attachments, which are bolted into the main case and the strap by means of hexagonal screws. The plunger-like chrono pushers are topped with a black coating; they make a pleasant popping sound when the start, stop, and reset functions are activated.
The broad, shiny-black enamel dial has a classical tricompax design, with a 12-hour chronograph counter at 3 o’clock, small seconds at 6 o’clock, and 30-minute chrono counter at 9 o’clock. Sweeping over the dial are vintage-style syringe-shaped hour and minute hands and a thin, somewhat leaf-shaped seconds hand that bulges slightly in the middle. The subdial hands are compact versions of the larger ones; all the hands and the hour numerals have an attractive white lacquered look. Interestingly, the numerals chosen for these markers are five-minute increments of 1 through 60, rather than the more common 1 through 12; it’s a sign that this timepiece was designed primarily as a race-timing stopwatch rather than a simple timekeeper, which is actually rather cool. The stark white hands and numerals, white printed minute track, and white-bordered subdials on the black dial make for a very legible reading of both time and chronograph readouts; reading the time at a glance is quite intuitive, even without the traditional 1 through 12 numerals.
The caseback offers its own aesthetic charms, with a round sapphire viewing window framed by a black stainless steel IP ring and a six-sided “star” in the colors of the Italian flag. The movement is a Swiss-made automatic, made for CT Scuderia by the Swiss company Concepto with relatively few adornments, a choice obviously made to keep the watch at its very reasonable price point. The movement, which has obviously been titled at an angle to accommodate the bullhead chronograph layout, has a 28,800-vph (4-Hz) frequency and a 40-hour power reserve (the latter of which is touted on the dial). The rotor stands out with a black PVD coating that echoes the color of the dial and the caseback ring.
As previously mentioned, the strap makes nearly as bold a statement as the big bullhead case, with its aged, cracked look and sleek, oily finish. It is somewhat thin and very soft on its underside, making for a very comfortable wrist feel. It fastens with a large, old-school tang buckle made of brushed steel and inscribed with the word “Scuderia” (Italian for, literally, “stable” but used most commonly in the context of auto racing teams, i.e., Scuderia Ferrari).
The wearing experience is a pleasant surprise: one would think at first glance that this rather large and unconventionally shaped watch would be murder on a shirt cuff, but this is not the case. Providing the bow over the screw-down crown is folded down, the timepiece slips under the cuff rather nicely, even considering its girth. The watch is a bit top-heavy (mainly because the strap is deceptively thin despite its rugged appearance) but not overly so. It’s a timepiece that draws attention and curiosity, and mostly in a very positive way.
The price is right, too: $3,295 for a distinctively designed chronograph with a Swiss-made automatic movement is eminently reasonable. CT Scuderia even offers a two-year international warranty. The CT Scuderia brand is certainly not for watch lovers who lean toward a more understated, subtle look, but for those who are swayed by its classical road-racing charms it successfully occupies that rare aesthetic sweet spot between avant-garde and deeply traditional.