PUBLISHED BY Joshua Clare-Flagg ON 20 Sep, 2014.
The Christopher Ward C9 43mm 5 Day Auto needs no introduction. It created quite a stir when it was released at their 10th anniversary event on 2nd July 2014, and rightly so. Yes it’s a nice watch, but the main thing that everyone is talking about is what’s out of sight (unless you turn it over) – the stunning SH21: their first in-house movement. In-house doesn’t mean that it’s physically made in their head office in Maidenhead, but rather their merger with Synergies Horlogères (who do make the movement) mean that the movement manufacturer and CW themselves come under the same umbrella company. The C9 5 Day will set you back £1500, which some may find surprising for a Swiss Made automatic watch from a smaller company. Well, this is no standard watch. And the movement is no standard movement by any means. Read on to find out why this is the case.
The C9 5 Day is surprisingly big. With a 43mm diameter, it’s an immediate turn-off for many, who firmly believe that classy dress watch should remain in the ~38mm size. I must admit, I love larger watches around the 42mm size, and even I was quite surprised with its size when I first opened the box. With a height of 13.45mm, it is on the tall side too, which means it sits quite high on the wrist.
The lug to lug length is 51.5mm, which is fairly short for a watch of this size. This is due to the steep angle of the lugs, which means they don’t protrude out too far from the case.
Thankfully, the weight doesn’t mimic the size. Weighing in at 111g, it is surprisingly comfortable and unobtrusive on the wrist. I even find myself forgetting I’m wearing it, which goes to show how comfortable it is for a 43mm watch.
The case is made of 316L stainless steel, and is polished for the main part, bar the two entire sides. This polished finish follows through to the sides of the lugs too, and is excellently uniform and soft. The polished finish is exactly what you’d expect from this watch, superbly flawless and highly reflective (which has made photography a right pain).
The case shape is a fairly standard cylindrical shape, which is softly brought in by the rounded edges of the bezel and caseback.
The lug width is 22mm, and they are an elegant shape, with a steep curve down, and a reasonably sharp point at the bottom. I feel this shape is very important toward the comfort of the C9 5 Day Auto. They wrap around the wrist well, offering a surprisingly tight wear. Looking at them from above, they are relatively thin, keeping the classy elegant appearance alive, and the outer sides portray a pleasant flow from the case.
Sitting on the top of the case and within the exhibition caseback are museum grade sapphire crystals. These are loaded with AR08 anti-reflective coating on the underside, the same as the unbelievable crystals that can be found on the C11s. On the caseback, you can really see this at work. Whist you’re gazing in wonder at the SH21 (which you will be), you can tell that this is an exceptional crystal, and that the anti-reflective coating is excellent too. However, the crystal on the top doesn’t seem to be quite as effective. This is due to the large domed shape. I strongly believe that if it was flat, like the C11 or even the caseback, it would be incredibly clear and the watch would look even better. You do find that the dome produces some reflections which hinders the readability of the face, which is a shame.
The caseback is fixed to the case by 6 small screws. It is exceptionally simple, as it’s main purpose is to show off as much of the movement as possible. The only markings on it are at the bottom, where “5 day chronometer” is etched on one side, and on the other side we have the serial number and “- Calibre SH21”. The engraving is pretty deep, which looks good and feels high quality.
The crown is similar to what can be found on the rest of the C9 collection. It is push-pull rather than screw-in, so from its engaged position you can wind up the movement. Pulling it out to the first position is to change the date, and the second position is for the time. It feels well machined, like the rest of the case, and is finished immaculately too. I feel the size and design is perfect for the watch, offering a good surface area to wind, but not protruding out too much. It is all polished, and features the classic CW emblem embossed on the end. The grip is pleasant to look at, yet offers you good amount of purchase to wind and set the watch. It’s obvious that it is well made and secure when you use it.
The C9 5 Day Auto has a water resistance rating of 5ATM / 50m, meaning it’s suitable to wear in the shower or in very shallow water. The fact that the crown is not screw-in though means I personally wouldn’t recommend wearing the watch in those circumstances. But, it’s good to know that if you do get caught out, then the watch has a reasonable level of protection from water.
The case itself is everything you’d expect from a watch of this price. Expertly machined and finished, it is a casing that warrants the breakthrough movement inside it. The only thing really to keep in mind is the reflective crystal.
Much like the C9 range as a whole, the 5 Day Auto’s dial oozes simple, classy elegance. The printing is minimal, the hands and hour markers are long and thin. In my eyes, it is an excellently designed smart dress watch.
The galvanic sun-ray dial is available in three colour variants: blue, white and charcoal. Much like my recent review of the C5 Slimline, the sun-ray dial provides a beautiful soft, lighter blue shimmer which spins around the dial when you catch the light right. When you look at the dial close up, you can see the slight texture to it, originating from the centre and stretching out to the edge.
The hands are polished nickel, and are very simple and elegant. They are super thin too, all three shaped like a very thin point, with another long point at the base for a counterweight. Whilst from a design point of view I love how graceful the minute and seconds hands are in the way they stretch out right to the edge of the dial, it does mean that the C9 5 Day Auto can be a little hard to read at a glance. The difference in length between these two is probably only half a millimetre, so it can be hard to differentiate between the two in a split second. If this is the case, I usually have to wait a second to clock which one is the stationary minute hand. It’s not a major concern, but it is a shame that beautiful and elegant design has resulted in slightly hindering the readability of the watch. The hands are all machined and finished in a way that merits the price of the watch. The polished finish is immaculate.
In order to match the hands perfectly, the applied indexes are also polished nickel. The hour markers at 12 and 6 are thin, tall Roman numerals, whilst all the others are batons. These all reflect the light along with the hands which create a dazzling and aesthetically pleasing reflection. All are once again, perfectly made and applied.
The dial has a date window located at 3, which is skilfully introduced into the dial thanks to the subtle framing. Even up close, the date window is very well done and surprisingly intricate. The date wheel is white with black text, which some may complain about. But having a date wheel that doesn’t match the dial colour doesn’t bother me at all. I like how the date wheel stands out against the dial, it’s not harsh or a big eyesore drawing attention to itself. Rather, it works to enhance the appearance of the dial, not detract from it. The printing of the numbers is black, and nicely printed. The font weight is fine and light, matching the elegant design ethos of the watch.
The printing on the dial is minimal. The logo is situated within the top half, and in the bottom half there is “5 day automatic” and “chronometer”. Finally the two words “Swiss Made” are positioned at the very bottom. There is also a small minute track running around the outer edge. All printing is accurate and precise, even the minute track and Swiss Made, as the size is small and the font weight is very light, so it’s good to see it printed perfectly.
Whilst the dial is exquisite, and designed elegantly, it is worth noting the legibility issue with the second and minutes hand.
The strap is available in two colours: black or brown. The leather used is Louisiana alligator, which is luxuriously soft and also pretty expensive.
The leather is CITES (which stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora) certified, so it’s guaranteed to come from ethical sources. The feel of the leather is certainly comfortable on the wrist, it’s very soft and pretty malleable too, so the strap wraps around easily with no stiffness at all. The stitching is very good, made of nice thick stitches, which are stitched accurately. This gives the feeling that this strap isn’t going to fall apart easily.
The strap is 22mm wide at the lugs, reducing to 20mm at the buckle. This is the correct size as it looks in proportion and also balances the size of the watch head well. On the end of the leather strap is the great deployant Bader buckle. Excellently made, this buckle can be found on all the higher end Christopher Ward models. There are a number of reasons why I feel it’s a brilliant clasp.
Firstly, it’s very secure. I’ve tested many watches with one fitted and I have yet to have one fail on me or unexpectedly open up. And yet it’s so simple to operate, just by pressing the two buttons on either side of the buckle head to release the nipple on the underside.
It’s also impressive how thin it is. Even though it folds back on itself, and it has a layer of leather on top and below, it still manages to keep a low profile. So it’s not uncomfortable on the wrist or inconveniently bulky.
Because the folding mechanism is in a sandwich of leather, there is minimal steel visible on the top and underneath too. There is only a small bar of steel that touches your wrist, the vast majority is leather, so it’s superbly comfy. It also looks good from the top as there isn’t a large amount of steel there either spoiling the aesthetics of the watch on the wrist.
Finally, I like the way the Bader buckle doesn’t damage and deteriorate the leather of the strap. This is because you don’t have to fold or bend the flap under any loops like you would normally. That bending is what usually degrades the leather. But with the Bader, there is no need to fold or bend, as the long end of the strap simply sits on your wrist, underneath the buckle.
The strap and Bader deployant buckle certainly are very high quality, and work well towards keeping the large case at bay on the wrist. The buckle balances the head out nicely so it’s always sat in the right place, and surprisingly doesn’t spin around at all.
The SH21 has been 4 years in the making. The reason it is number 21 is that each version they tried had a different number – so the final version that can be found in all C9 5 Day Autos is version 21 (plus it stands for 21st century, but they got lucky with that). So when you think of how much time, energy and money has gone into the creation of this movement, you start to think that the £1500 price tag is pretty reasonable.
Every SH21 is also fully COSC certified, which costs CW £100 straight away. This means that the movement has been regulated within a certain accuracy in a massive variety of positions and temperatures. So every C9 5 Day Auto is going to be extremely accurate.
The SH21 has an impressive 120 hour reserve (5 days) thanks to the twin mainspring barrels working in series. These wind up and unwind at the same time, rather than one being used up and then moving onto the other.
The space of the second barrel is where future complications will be fitted, in a modular style. These complications will start with the most popular such as a chronograph, power reserve indicator, GMT, and also a moon phase indicator. The movement has been made completely from scratch, starting from a blank piece of paper, built from the ground up, and has been developed by Johannes Janke using an adaptation of the car industy’s “Baukastensystem” principle, which is a unit construction. Even with only one barrel (the second one will have been removed to fit the complication), the SH21 still has superior power reserve to the vast majority of autos out there, being 60 hours vs the usual 40. This is enough to get through a weekend, so in my mind, this is the perfect amount.
Because the SH21 is a base movement, it had been made with strength in mind. Johannes likened it to a tractor. Everything has been made thicker, to be able to handle a greater strain and more torque from any complication.
Straight out of the factory, the SH21 has a date function, hacking second hand, is automatic and can be hand wound, runs at 28.8k bph, and has 31 jewels. It also has a small second built in, located in the centre of the bottom half. This is ready to go – if you were to drill a joke in the C9’s dial you could drop in a hand and it would work. So expect to see a new model with a small seconds hand popping up soon.
From a visual perspective, the SH21 is charming and a pleasure to look at. Sure it doesn’t have Geneva stripes, but the hand-ground finish that has been chosen is one that is traditional to English watchmaking. This can be found on all the main plates and wheels. The SH21’s main plates also also feature hand polished chamfered edging. When I was speaking to Johannes Jahnke about the finishing, he said that they were meticulous with it. If they made a mistake, they would just start again. This is because with this type of finish you can’t disguise your mistakes like you can with Geneva stripes – apparently they let you get away with hiding a lot of poor finishing.
The rotor is a custom design, and is made of tungsten. I really like the design, with the voids so you can see more of the movement. The CW logo is deeply engraved within it.
You may wonder why there is no blue screws in the SH21. This is because proper blue screws are blued by heat, and the heating process makes them brittle and not able to with much strain. These would not do well in the tractor. In the majority of modern watches the blue is created via chemicals rather than the traditional process. Instead, the SH21 features flat polished screws, which are another English watchmakers tradition.
5 days power reserve is a crazy amount. That means that if you wanted to, you could only wear it during the weekends and it would last almost the whole mid-week. Like I mentioned before, Christopher Ward wanted to come into the in-house movement club with a bang. I love how they have developed a revolutionary modular system, whilst still keeping the price reasonable compared to their competitors. You can’t go wrong with this movement. COSC certified, excellently made, and cool looking. And don’t forget you get a 5 year warrantee with it too.
Christopher Ward have gone into the “in-house movement” bracket of watch manufacturers with a bang. I love the fact that the SH21 isn’t just another remake of the ETA 2824, or based on the baseplates of an existing movement. Everything about it is brand new, and the way it’s made with its modular capability really is revolutionary. They wanted to create a storm, and they have. Even when the movement has a complication fitted, it’s still superior than the other standard choices thanks to its 60 hour power reserve. I’m so glad they pushed the boundary this way.
So to conclude, the C9 5 Day Auto is an enthralling watch. Elegant design, albeit marred by the hands and reflective crystal is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a real watch enthusiasts watch. What it offers for £1500 is excellent – 4 years and 21 movement versions later, the SH21 bursts onto the scene, and don’t forget the COSC certification costs £100 of that straight out. Sure it’s large, but it truly is excellently made. It feels like a luxury watch no doubt about it. You won’t be disappointed with it.