Anybody who is a fan of affordable watches will no doubt be intrigued by the watches in the cheap mechanical chronograph segment. Mechanical chronographs are a complex complication, which therefore results in prices starting from at least £300-400. Automatic versions demand even more, and if it’s Swiss Made, you’re looking at £700 and above.
There is one brand based in China that still manages to offer a mechanical chrono for a mere £120. This is the homage to the Panerai Radomir, made by Alpha. At first glance, what isn’t there to like? Sapphire crystal, hand wind mechanical chronograph movement, distinct styling, and a very appealing price. It is based on a Panerai where only 10 were ever made, the PAM158, which was a special edition from 2003. Let’s face it, none of us are never going to have the opportunity to get the real thing, so we may as well settle for the Alpha.
Let’s take a closer look to see if it is as good as it seems…
Alpha Radomir Chronograph Watch Review
The main feature of the dial is the distinctive panda styling, with silver sub dials contrasting well against the black dial. The black face of the dial is a flat matt black, with little texture to it.
There is an unusually large rehaut with tachymeter printed around it. This gives the case extra height – if you look at the side profile you’ll see how it has been designed and made to have this deep rehaut. It gives the watch face a very deep and spacious appearance.
The subdials have a subtle concentric circle pattern within them and are inset into the dial, giving the dial an extra layer of depth. A nice and impressive touch considering the price. This also couples well with the fact that it is a sandwich dial, meaning that the hour markers (apart from 3, 6 and 9) are all on a lower level and inset into the dial. The hour markers are all batons with curved ends, with the exception of the 12 where it is numerals. The cutting of the dial to necessitate the sandwiched areas are all very well done, with no visible flaws at all. The number 12 is especially crisp. This is a nice surprise as I thought these were going to be a tad messy and poorly executed.
The main hands are quite simple – the hour and minutes are straight with a small pointy tip. The big chrono second hand is a very long arrow.
The subdial hands are well made and are not your usual shape or design – they are elliptic ovals with a small bulbus counter balance. Again, at this price these are quite impressive. All the hands have a small amount of lume within (bar the big seconds), and are made of polished stainless steel. They are all seemingly very well machined, with no apparent rough edging or marks on them, even under the macro lens.
The lume used across the whole face and hands is poor, having barely any charge ability and not really very visible in the dark. For me, it isn’t really a deal breaker, as I never expect too much from Chinese watches anyway when it comes to lume.
There is an applied “a” of the Alpha logo underneath the 12 marker, with “Alpha 1993” printed below. It is applied well, but does look a little cheap. I’m not really sure if it is steel or not, but I suppose it’s still an applied logo, it’s nice that they have added this at the price the watch is to give the dial even greater depth rather than just printing it on.
The other printing on the dial include the small minute track around the dial, the tachymeter, and small markers on the sub dials.
The only visible flaws I can see is a tiny spec of dust on the 5 hour marker baton. Apart from that, the dial looks great under the macro lens.
The case of the Alpha Radomir is a distinctive pillow shape. It is 42.5 mm wide excluding the crown and 45 mm lug to lug. It is completely polished 316L stainless steel.
The rather large oversized shoulders are the key design queue of the case, and is a very unique shape for this price.
The side profile is an enjoyable sight, with the top housing for the dial and crystal protruding upwards to house the large rehaut and crystal. There is a sleek oval running alongside the edge too, all immaculately machined. There is no sharp edges anywhere, and the polished finish is spotless.
The Alpha Radomir features a push-pull onion style crown. Its a plus that it features a push-pull (rather than a screw-in) crown, as with hand wind movements you need to wind it every two days. You wouldn’t want to unscrew the crown that regularly in case you thread it. It is a definite feature, as it is oversized and demands attention, and does indeed draw the eye. It is well made and offers sufficient grip to do the job. Just as any big pilot styled watches, you have to beware of the crown digging into the top of your wrist when you wear the watch on your left hand.
The pushers for the chronograph are also well done. The top pusher, which operates as the start/stop, has a nice grip circling it. I initially thought it was a screw lock but it doesn’t appear to be functional, but rather there for aesthetic purposes.
Atop the Alpha Radomir is a domed sapphire crystal. At this price this is a major surprise. No anti-reflective coating is present. The dome is quite large, distorting the view of the dial at shallow angles. It is very well made and applied, with no marks apparent.
The screw-in exhibition case back shows off the movement beautifully. It has the watch details very lightly laser etched around the edge. The window is a mineral crystal, which appears to be very thin as the movement looks incredibly close to it. Like the rest of the watch, it is polished stainless steel and appears to be well made, with no sharp edges anywhere.
The lugs are also quite unique – but a regular occurrence on Radomir homages. Rather than having two side lugs protruding out, with a link pin between them, the Alpha Radomir has two L shaped steel pins which are removed by unscrewing small screws on the underside of the case.
As mentioned before, it is worth noting that the whole case is very well machined, with no sharp edges evident anywhere – and it has a high quality polished finish to it. At this price, the case is very impressive.
The movement within the Alpha Radomir is a hand wind mechanical chronograph, namely the Sea-Gull ST1901 (also known as the TY-2901).
It features 23 jewels, 42 hour power reserve, and looks to die for. It is a column wheel controlled lever movement. The column wheel prevents the action of the reset while the chronograph is running. It feels reassuring and sturdy in the hand when you are winding and setting the time. The pushers require quite a push, which give a satisfying click when the movement is engaged.
The big seconds hand is the chronograph seconds, so only is active when it’s started. The left subdial is the running seconds, 30 minute counter on the right, with a 24 hour indicator at the bottom.
The strap is pretty bad, but what would you expect for this price. It is 24mm in width, and is a rather unpleasant shiny black leather which feels and looks quite cheap. It also is quite stiff and doesn’t seem to wrap around the wrist as naturally as other higher quality straps.
The buckle is polished stainless stroll, with the Alpha logo very lightly etched on the top. It feels a little flimsy, with a lot of play and wobble in the middle pin. I do like the high contrasting white stitching surrounding the edge. Let’s be honest though, we all know what to expect when it comes to cheaper Chinese mechanicals. The straps are never the selling points! Nevertheless, it serves it’s purpose and does a good job of keeping the watch on your wrist. Personally, I would look to change it straight away.
Any watch enthusiast should have a mechanical chronograph in their collection. With the Alpha Radomir, you can do that even on a very tight budget. The spec to price ratio is brilliant – to get a mechanical chrono, sapphire crystal and great case and dial for £120 is a no brainer to me. Sure, you’ll want to change the strap, but you’ll still get a watch offering staggering value for money. So if you can live with the tiny flaws, and like the unique design, then I would highly recommend it.