An alarm, a chrono, and a GMT, all in one watch. Martina Richter takes a close look at the Fortis F-43 Pilot’s Chronograph Alarm GMT Chronometer and its rare combination of functions. With photos by Zuckerfabrik Fotodesign.
A built-in alarm is a rare complication in a mechanical wristwatch. Rarer still is an automatic chronograph with a built-in alarm. So rare, in fact, that Fortis’s patented F-2001 movement, which went into serial production in 1998, was the first caliber so equipped.
The Fortis F-43 Pilot’s Chronograph Alarm GMT Chronometer, launched in 2012 to mark the brand’s centennial, uses the F-2001 as its base movement. Added to the chrono and alarm are a GMT function, AM/PM indicator and two highly useful displays for the timekeeping and alarm barrels. The result is Caliber F-2012, named, of course, for the centennial year. The watch is a limited edition of 100 pieces (there is also a light-dial version of the watch).
The alarm-chrono combination is the result of Fortis’s role as a supplier for the Russian Space Agency. In 1994, the company introduced the Official Cosmonauts Chronograph, which became standard equipment for Russian cosmonauts and also for the crew of the International Space Station. Soon after, the cosmonauts asked that their watches also be equipped with alarms – almost all their activities aboard their spacecraft were closely timed and they needed to keep on strict schedules. The cosmonauts stipulated that, for ease of use, the watch not be too much bigger than the chronographs they had been wearing.
Fortis turned to the noted watchmaker Paul Gerber to come up with a movement that combined everything the cosmonauts wanted: a chronograph function, automatic winding, an alarm and reasonable size. He implanted a complete alarm mechanism into an ETA 7750 and the F-2001 was born.
In designing it, Gerber was able to incorporate the 40 additional components for the alarm mechanism, including a second barrel to ensure that the alarm function doesn’t interfere with the watch’s timekeeping, by adding just a few millimeters to the movement’s thickness. The movement’s winding rotor also powers the alarm’s mainspring; it was made both wider and heavier so it could do so. The rotor was lifted 1.5 mm higher to make room for the alarm mechanism, which was installed beneath it. The automatic winding mechanism, including its enlarged rotor (which more than covers the entire caliber within its active radius), made it impossible to use a resonant back to enhance the sound of the alarm. Gerber solved this problem by using an extra-powerful hammer, which strikes a gong, similar to a tuning fork, under the rotor. Even if the wearer doesn’t hear the alarm, in a particularly noisy setting, for instance, the hammer creates a palpable vibration on the wrist.
After Caliber F-2001 was launched, Fortis used it in the Official Cosmonauts Chronograph Alarm, the Flieger Chronograph Alarm, the Spacematic collection and the B-42 Series. The brand continued to improve the movement, making the alarm louder and adding embellishments to the movement. The rotor, alarm hammer and bridges were adorned with handsome blue stars, inspired by similar decorations the company used in the 1920s.
The GMT function of the F-2012 is the latest embellishment. Due to the movement’s many complications, the dial of the F-43 has many indicators, but it remains tidy and comprehensible. There are counters for 30 minutes and 12 hours at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock, respectively. The day display of the base movement, next to the date, has been sacrificed for an alarm on/off window-indicator. The alarm is switched on and off by means of the button at 8 o’clock. When the alarm is on, the window is white; when off, it’s black.
The alarm time is shown by the triangle-tipped hand. It is set using the crown, pulled out to its middle position and turned counterclockwise, or down. So you won’t forget which way to turn it, the direction is indicated by the small, downward-pointing triangle next to the alarm on/off window. (The upward-pointing triangle next to the date shows that that display is set by turning the crown, still in the middle position, clockwise, or up.) Setting the alarm time is very precise; it can be set in 12-minute increments along the dial (using the minutes scale) or in five-minute increments along the flange. (The alarm hand is long enough so that you can use either scale.) The alarm rings for 25 seconds.
The sound, low-pitched and percussive, isn’t musical, but it isn’t supposed to be. After all, the watch isn’t a glockenspiel, but a piece of technical equipment. As such, it emits exactly the right sound. If you flip the watch over while the alarm is sounding and look through its back, which is made of sapphire, you’ll see the vibrations of the hammer, adorned with its three blue stars. You’ll be impressed by how powerfully it strikes the spring, which looks somewhat dainty by comparison.
The lower left and right parts of the dial have arched power-reserve displays for the alarm and movement, respectively. Each is labeled. The triangular pointer on each display is luminous. You use the crown to wind both the movement and the alarm. The alarm will sound even when the movement’s mainspring is not fully wound. When it does, you can see the alarm’s power reserve being used up and the pointer moving toward the “minus” side of the arc.
The GMT display is at the top of the dial. By turning the crown at 10 o’clock, you can rotate the 24-hour ring until the time in the second time zone that you want to track appears in the center of the aperture. The ring will continue to show the time in that zone as long as the watch is running. The ring will not move when you reset the hour and minutes hands. The GMT display occupies the space that in other Fortis watches contains a bold triangle flanked by two dots. In this watch, the triangle has been relocated to the top of the minutes counter.
To the right of that counter is an AM/PM indicator. When morning turns to afternoon, the AM square turns black and the PM square white. This indicator is coupled to the primary time display.