The Alpina Heritage Carée Mechanical 140 Years and its unusual calibre
Alpina keeps the summer release calendar interesting with its Heritage Carée Mechanical 140 Years edition, which sticks out amid a spate of lookalike novelties hitting the market as the temperatures tick upward.
Alpina has been around for almost a century and a half and while its ownership has changed hands and its manufacturing location has migrated all over the watchmaking heartlands, it remains a forward-thinking inspiration of a brand that gets a lot of points for effort even if it can sometimes miss the mark stylistically. A lot has to do with sharing manufacturing with Frederique Constant and being under the umbrella of the Citizen Group.
But what we have here is something very intriguing indeed. The caliber 490 movements used in this release are fully restored units from 1938 housed in a two-piece solid silver case, revealing the “new old stock” movements through a sapphire display back. There will be two 14-piece series released to mark Alpina’s 140th anniversary — one series with the black dial you see here (available globally), and a silvered dial available outside of the United States of America.
If you’re looking for a full-blooded period piece, this is it. At 29.5mm wide and just 35.7mm lug-to-lug, this is an uncompromisingly dainty timepiece, powered by a handsome form movement. Its 9.71mm thickness might sound like a lot given its diameter, but it adds some much-needed visual weight to a model that wears similarly to a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso.
The Alpina Heritage Carée 140 Years piece (reference AL-490BA3C10) takes its design cues from the era in which its movement was born. As such, we have a watch that is markedly different from almost everything else available today.
From a journalistic perspective, having something to talk about in that regard is always welcome, but one has to wonder: did anybody ask for such a watch, and, consequently, will it be commercially successful?
The story behind the movement (and its rarely seen aesthetic) gives me hope on that front. Its subtle radial finish looks to have been applied before the bridges were cut into their final shape (the center point of this “curved grain” finish is nowhere near any extant part of the movement itself). That’s a cool visual quirk and something you’re less likely to see in a modern, mass-produced caliber.
Interestingly, the watch that originally carried caliber 490 (released in 1938) had a case made from either steel or gold. This time around, Alpina has housed this venerable old engine in a case from silver.
The charming screw-balance beats at a languid 18,000vph — an operating frequency typical of the day — and can be enjoyed through the sapphire caseback, which sits very comfortably alongside the chosen case material.
The project’s success or failure could well hinge on the decision to limit these pieces to 14 units. This kind of limitation number speaks volumes. It isn’t a brand trying to torment its audience by only making a fraction of the pieces it knows it could sell available to drive up the fear of missing out which some future release could look to leverage. This is a brand being realistic and working within the constraints of supply.
You could point to the number of available movements being the main reason why Alpina chose to limit this watch so strictly, but I wouldn’t be so sure that’s all there is to it. Yes, there will be a dearth of spare components for these calibers versus more modern movements, but I doubt Alpina would risk launching a model it couldn’t adequately service for the next couple of decades at least, so I think it’s more likely this is a balancing act between availability and projected market interest.
Furthermore, this is not a run-of-the-mill watch to make. The silver case is unusual and presents its own manufacturing challenges. Commissioning high volumes of silver cases doesn’t bring down the unit cost in the same way it does for steel cases, so Alpina might be wise to keep this watch rare.
We don’t see many watches like this for good reason. Simply put, they are a tough sell. When we do see them, the lack of off-the-shelf parts available for them directly or at least available for simple modification, and the added headache of getting watches with more hand-made elements and non-standard case shapes or materials to pass quality control is prohibitive.
Whenever we do see watches of this type, they often make headlines for their apparently “optimistic” pricing. At over five thousand dollars, the new Alpina Heritage Carée is facing extremely tough competition. For this money, you could probably buy two watches capable of beating the Alpina in a one-on-one battle. But it is safe to say, neither of those alternatives would have the same spice.
The Heritage Carée Mechanical is a very special watch for a very special kind of collector, of which there are not that many in the world. It is fair to simultaneously acknowledge that this will not be a piece with mass appeal and that Alpina has done the industry a favor by bringing it to life. We do need this kind of watch to be out there; its presence enriches the industry and inspires others to think in shapes other than round and imagine pieces in materials other than steel.
While the Alpina Heritage Carée remains an oddity, let us be thankful for it as a counterpoint to the endless copycat pieces we see littering our hobby, and hopeful that the brand finds its 14 special wrists to ensure we see more design outliers like this in the future.
Alpina Heritage Carée Mechanical 140 Years
Movement: Alpina Caliber 490
Functions: Time only (sub-seconds dial at six)
Case: Solid Sterling silver (.925), 29.5mm wide, 35.7mm lug-to-lug, and 9.71mm thick — water resistant to 30 meters
Dial: Matte black
Strap: Cognac ostrich leather
Availability: Available from July 2023, limited to 14 pieces
Price: USD 5,395
FROM THE SHOP
|Movement||Self-winding caliber FBN 229.01 with natural escapement; 72-hour power reserve|
|Functions||Hours, minutes and small seconds|
|Case||40mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 30m|
|Dial||Verdant green, with sector track; applied, white rhodium treated gold Arabic numerals and hour markers|
|Strap||Brown calf leather with Alcantara lining, stainless steel pin buckle; additional Milanese bracelet in stainless steel|
|Limited Edition||Limited edition of 15 pieces|