Regulation Time: Testing the Alpina Avalanche Manufacture Regulator

Alpina Avalanche RegulatorThe Alpina Avalanche Manufacture Regulator has an offbeat regulator dial. Does the watch’s in-house movement stay on tempo? Photographer Nik Schölzel and I find out in this watch test feature from the December 2010 issue of WatchTime.

Google Earth shows the distance between the headquarters of Alpina and Frédérique Constant, in Plan-les-Ouates, on the outskirts of Geneva, as about 200 meters. When traveling between the two, it’s a good idea to leave the car where it’s parked, since the front door of one building is basically the back door of the other. Peter Stas, the founder of Frédérique Constant, revived the 127-year-old Alpina brand in 2002 and gave it new shine.  He and his team at Alpina have succeeded at a tricky task: giving a sporty look to the classic regulator design, in which the hours are displayed on a dial that is separate from the main, minutes dial. In fact, the regulator sports watch has become a hallmark of the brand. We tested one such model, the Avalanche Manufacture Regulator.

Alpina Avalanche Manufacture Regulator - front

The dial of this large timepiece (46 mm in diameter) is asymmetric, with the hour dial placed at 10 o’clock, rather than on the 12 o’clock-to-6 o’clock axis as in a traditional regulator. The designers decided to leave out a seconds subdial in favor of a date display with a hand indicator at 6 o’clock. This re-interpretation looks great and is also surprisingly easy to read. The hands and markers are luminous; the fact that both are quite wide ensures that the dial is clearly legible at night. However, reading the minutes all too often requires some guesswork because the hour track, date dial and even the logo overlap the minute track, blocking out roughly half of it.

The lack of a seconds indication is also a drawback: it is simply essential on a sports watch like the Avalanche, so it would have been better to omit the date indication. The lack of a seconds hand offers a clue as to the movement’s origin. It was actually created by Frédérique Constant next door, then modified to create the regulator display (making it 0.75 mm thicker) and fitted with an unusual and attractive pie-piece-shaped rotor, which provides an almost unobstructed view of the movement. (While, technically speaking, the movement is not made by Alpina itself, the AL 950 is considered a manufacture movement because it is made by its sister company.)

Alpina Avalanche Regulator - back
The unusually shaped rotor provides a clear view of the movement.

The watch has a power reserve of 62 hours.  Our rate test brought extremely impressive results. On average, the test showed a gain of slightly more than one second per day. And even after the watch was worn and subjected to considerable activity, it needed no adjustment. The case, made of stainless steel, is always comfortable to wear, thanks in part to the solid and attractive folding clasp on the rubber strap. The crown’s size and its ABS coating make it easy to grasp and turn to release it from its locked position. Setting the time and date is just as easy.

A striking fault in this otherwise very admirable watch was the slight foggy haze that was apparent on the inner side of the sapphire crystal, indicating moisture inside the watch case (it claims a water-resistance level of 200 meters). Apparently, this was due to an assembly error: an examination of the case at critical points revealed no defects.

The Avalanche Regulator bears a price tag of $3,750 — not unreasonable, especially when one considers the amounts paid for other Swiss timepieces with in-house movements.

Alpina Avalanche Manufacture Regulator - strap
The clasp is sturdy, attractive and easy to adjust to individual wrist sizes.

+ Very good rate results
+ In-house movement
+ Comfortable to wear

– Moisture condensation under crystal
– No seconds indication
– Minutes not always legible

Manufacturer: Alpina Watches International, Chemin de la Galaise 8, CH-1228 Plan-les-Ouates, Switzerland
Reference number: AL-950LBG4AE6
Functions: Offset hour display, minutes, date indication
Movement: AL 950, automatic; 28,800 vph; 25 jewels; Incabloc shock absorber; Glucydur balance; Nivarox A hairspring; hack mechanism; decorated with perlage and Geneva stripes, blued screws, black rotor; power reserve = 62 hours; diameter = 31 mm; height = 6.25 mm
Case: Stainless steel, sapphire crystal, transparent caseback with six screws, screw-down crown with ABS coating,   water-resistant to 200 meters
Strap and clasp: Rubber strap with stainless-steel folding clasp
Rate results (Deviations in seconds per 24 hours):
Dial up    +4
Dial down    +1
Crown up    0
Crown down    0
Crown left    0
Crown right    +3
Greatest deviation    4
Average deviation    +1.3
Mean amplitude
Flat positions    304°
Hanging positions    294°
Dimensions: Diameter = 46 mm, height = 13 mm, weight = 154 grams
Variations: Rose gold ($9,500)
Price: $3,750

Strap and clasp (max. 10 points):     8
Operation (5):    5
Case (10):    6
Design (15):    12
Legibility (5):    3
Wearing comfort (10):    9
Movement (20):    15
Rate results (10):    9
Overall value (15):        13
TOTAL:        80 Points

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