The Cult of the CP-2 Chronographs

The Cult of the CP-2 Chronographs

Although the recipe for a chronograph dial and functionality seems straightforward, near-infinite variants exist to demonstrate that dial designers have proven their inventiveness. Outer numerals or indexes for real time, sufficient space to accommodate the subdials ranging from one to four of them: how far off the norm can one go? Despite this, no one would ever confuse, say, the classic black-dial-and-subdial Omega Speedmaster Professional and a Universal Genève Space-Compax “reverse panda”.

In Zenith’s A. Cairelli CP-2, as with the monumental Type 20 developed for the French Navy’s air arm, a much-copied look was created that still resonates today. Indeed, the CP-2 owes much to the earlier Type 20 variants with black bezels from Airain, Dodane, Auricoste and others, but its mien is more modern. Its familial precedent, however, the earlier A. Cairelli Type HA-1 watch made by Universal Genève, gave no clue to the distinctive design that would follow. An HA-1, of which 50 are said to exist, featured in Phillips’ “Start-Stop-Reset: 88 Epic Stainless Steel Chronographs” auction held in Geneva on May 14th, 2016. The hammer came down at CHF197,000.

The Leonidas CP-1

Come the Leonidas CP-1, and the new layout, color scheme and look was finalized. This watch used the Valjoux caliber 22-2 movement with flyback and hacking facility. It was, like the CP-2 that would follow it, issued to the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) or the Italian Air Forces.

CP-1 differed from the later CP-2 primarily in size: the CP-1 was a 39mm watch, while the CP-2 had a diameter of 43mm. Seeing the two watches side-by-side, it’s clear that the 4mm difference transforms the watch’s attitude and, for some, its appeal, depending on the wearer’s predilections. CP-1s, however, are rarer and one imagines these would now change hands for GBP10,000 and up.

Leonidas’ CP-2 from around 1965 similarly used the Valjoux caliber 22-2. Also known are Universal Genève CP-2s marked A. Cairelli, with the Universal Genève caliber 265P appearing around 1966–67, but production was limited because of cost. CP-2s were distributed until early 1970s, and their military use ended in 1985. The CP-2s were eventually replaced with Heuer and Lemania chronographs fitted with automatic movements. CP-2s can be found from online vendors from prices in the GBP4,500–7,000 range, but are creeping upwards. In November 2016, auction house Antiquorum sold one for CHF20,000.

For the past half-century, chronograph enthusiasts have been treated to a steady flow of CP-2 lookalikes continuing the “wide bezel” and two-subdial concept, a blessed relief for those who covet a CP-2 but who missed out on an original or the wonderful Zenith reissue. Among the worthy alternatives are:

Blancpain Air Command

Because Blancpain currently concentrates more on the regular Fifty Fathoms, this chronograph variant, originally issued in the 1950s, is less familiar. The original is, however, an older model than the CP-2 and certainly ticks every box: wide bezel, flyback movement, two counters. The Chronographe Flyback 5085F-1130-52 reissue with black bezel, albeit with three counters, is a classy alternative to a CP-2. Prices start from GBP6,500 for used examples of the reissue, while the price for a brand-new Air Command is in the GBP12,000 region.

Breitling 817

This rare model was fitted with the Valjoux 236 and was produced for for Italian Army helicopter pilots, circa 1975; caseback is inscribed with EI for “Esercito Italiano” and its service number. Phillips offered one in auction in November 2016 and the successful bid was for CHF13,750.

Breitling 765 Co-Pilot

Although a three-subdial “reverse-panda” design, this increasingly popular civilian model shows how the CP-2 might have evolved into a three-counter variant. At present, prices are in the GBP5,000–10,000 range depending on condition and variant, but most experts feel Breitling is about to take off the way Heuer has over the past two years. Buy now.

Heuer ‘3H’ 1550 SG Bundeswehr

Arguably the ultimate interpretation of the wide-bezel chronograph, looking like a CP-2 on steroids, this now-hugely-collectible model with Heuer-Leonidas Valjoux 230 movement, circa 1970, was produced for German Air Force pilots. Another about to go stratospheric, this watch can still be found for GBP3,500–4,000. GBP6,000 is more realistic, but the smart money sees five figures within two years.

Sinn Bundeswehr

An official alternative to the Heuer “3H”, this model dates from the same period and features the same movement; side-by-side, only the brand names distinguish between the two, as both have been seen with and without the red 3H emblem. Prices run slightly below that of the Heuer version.

And the Others

If the ultimate incarnation of this watch form remains a Zenith CP-2 — original or reissue — do not be downhearted should prices be daunting. Affordable vintage models from lesser known or less-obvious companies to consider include Le Cheminant’s Master Mariner, the similar Rotary Aquaplunge with black bezel, the Bulova Marine Star Chronograph or other less-elevated brands’ watches, which can be found for as little as GBP300–400.

And the best affordable, brand-new surrogate for a CP-2? Sinn rightly shows six wide-black-bezel chronographs in its catalog from GBP1,500–2,500, while Bell & Ross’ BR 126 Sport for under GBP2,900 oozes with the spirit of a classic pilot’s chronograph soon to see its 60th anniversary. Clearly, the CP-2 lives on.

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