Gears of Time – Christopher Ward C60 Concept Watch Review

The Calibre SH21 is an in-house movement with a 120 hour power reserve. It is reliable, has a number of configurations and is totally ignored by the watch media who froth about every Oris release using the Calibre 400. Isn’t about time that Christopher Ward made a fuss about their own in-house movement? The Calibre SH21 debuted in 2014 and Christopher Ward have celebrated it before with the C7 Apex in 2018 and the C60 Apex in 2019. Now it’s time to celebrate again with the C60 Concept.

The C60 Concept is Christopher Ward’s first fully skeletonized watch. It’s a nod to haute horology but with all the value of a Christopher Ward. It’s a product of a collaboration with some of the best partners Christopher Ward could possibly call on (Chronode, Armin Strom and Xenoprint). The fully skeletonized C60 Concept is a mechanical delight with some very modern touches.

Design

The C60 Concept is a 42mm dive watch with a blue ceramic bezel and a Grade 2 titanium Light-catcher™ case. The movement is fully skeletonized and showcases the Calibre SH21. Like all Calibre Sh21 movements this is COSC certified and supplied with the COSC certificate. The watch has 300 meters of water resistance and is a limited edition of 210 pieces.

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The design features the familiar hour, minute and seconds hand from the C60 range. The hands are finished to a very high level with a variety of surface treatments particularly on the “sacrificial dagger” hour hand. The second hand is painted orange and has the trident counterweight. There is a ring just inside the bezel which has an outer lumed, white portion and an inner ring carrying small 5-minute index markers. At the 12 o’clock position there is a three-dimensional noon indicator that floats above the inner working of the watch. In a nod to the Apex watches the Christopher Ward wordmark isn’t used. Instead, there is a subtle, lumed twin flags logo at the 3 o’clock position.

The bezel features a new design treatment with a modern font and solid white lume segments between the noon to 15 minute indicators and curved line segments between the rest of the 5 minute markers. The lume pip is a circular dot surrounded by a white ring. The bezel design works well. It adds a very modern border to the gears and springs present in any mechanical watch. The thin bezel also serves to make the watch wear more discretely and make the watch very wearable.

Super-LumiNova® X1 BL C1 has been generously applied to the hands, bezel and index ring. The orange triangle at noon is made of Xenoprint AG’s Globolight XP and adds a dash of colour to the lightshow.

Skeleton dial watches can be difficult to read. The hands can merge with the mechanism and I think a lot of people queried how legible this watch would be. It is very legible. I’ve worn it under a wide range of lighting conditions and I can always see where the hands are. I do wonder if having blued hour and minute hands might have added a touch of colour and visibility to the hands and helped link them visually to the bezel but in terms of legibility it isn’t necessary.

Sized for me (3 links removed) the watch head and bracelet weigh 124g. Since the clasp has a push button micro-adjust it is very easy to adjust on the fly. I wore the C60 Concept for a week before I noticed that it is 16mm thick. It disappears on the wrist and its light weight means it can be worn all day.

Surprise and delight

When I opened the box and saw the watch for the first time it was a genuine “wow moment”. This doesn’t happen very often. I was even more surprised at this since I have seen all the press images, written a launch review and so on and so on. The C60 Concept is a real stunner. There are only two other watches that have given me that sort of immediate reaction recently. The first was the Omega Speedmaster in white gold, the second was an Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force. I think that puts the Concept in good company.

There is a lot to look at. I haven’t owned a skeleton dial watch before and after a few days wearing the Concept am still looking at it even when I don’t want to know the time. It’s a visual feast. The way the light catches the escapement, the sunburst from the various barrels, the orange triangle and the orange second hand. It’s a riot and is much more alive than I thought it would be.

There are some easter eggs and in-jokes lurking within the SH21. So far, I have found three of them but there may be more. There are two gear wheels with six slots in them which is a nod to the six slots used to open the caseback. There is a reference to the C7 Apex with the white lume ring; it might be my imagination but is there an attempt to introduce a third flag at the 3 o’clock position where the spindle for the crown meets the twin flags logo?

But what about the competition?

How does the C60 Concept stack up against the competition? Does it have any real competition at the price point? No, not really. The common comparisons seem to be with the Zenith Defy Classic and Oris Big Crown ProPilot X Calibre 115. The Zenith and the Oris are nice watches but are more expensive than the C60 Concept. They also don’t represent the brands they come from very well. Zenith doesn’t have much brand identity at all (El Primero excepted) but the Defy could be the Zenith by Defy just as easily as it is the Defy by Zenith. it’s also nearly three times as much as the C60 Concept.

How about the Oris? It’s a lovely watch but it shares no brand identity with any other Oris. It looks like it wants to be a Defy by Zenith for good measure. According to the Oris website it costs $7,600 too.

Is there a close competitor to the C60 Concept? How about the C60 Apex? The C60 Apex and the C60 Concept represent at the apogee of CW watchmaking separated by two years. Looking at them side by side makes the C60 Apex look old fashioned. It’s a completely different generation. This, to me, validates the decision to move away from the Apex design language and do something different. I wasn’t sure of this until I had them side-by-side but now I’ve done that I think that retiring the Apex design theme was a good move. The C60 #Tide and C60 Concept show that CW design has moved forward in a very positive way.

(C60 Apex, C60 Concept)

Quibbles

Seeing precision – All SH21 movements are COSC certified but how do I set it accurately? There are no references, where are the indices? There are indices but they are very faint. Very faint, I struggle to find them even with a loupe. It seems that the C60 Concept that is a surprisingly legible watch that is surprisingly imprecise to read. This makes the watch a pain to set as well. It can only be easily set on the hour but that’s not always possible. I know I can use the bezel as a setting reference but that’s not as easy as indices would be.

Clash of the shapes – The circular pip on the bezel is one of the items that encourages a comparison to the Ming 17.01. The circular lume pip clashes with the Globolight triangle at 12 o’clock. The two shapes create a visual dissonance. I’m not sure how this could have been avoided but it is probably the weakest point of the overall design.

What about the back? Looking at the Concept from the front is a delight. It’s alive with plenty of depth cues and colour contrasts. The back is a bit plain in comparison and the tungsten rotor blends into the geartrain. The C7 and C60 Apex watches were a visual delight from the back, their coloured bridges gave them a drama and presence that the back of the C60 Concept lacks. A little bit of gold on the rotor would have made such a huge difference to the C60 Concept. In some ways it reminds me of a modern Omega movement. The detail is there but it needs a bit “more” to show just how good it is.

(C7 Apex, C60 Apex, C60 Concept, C60 Concept, Omega Seamaster 300M)

Conclusion

The C60 Concept is a celebration of the SH21. Johannes Janke who designed the Calibre SH21 described it as a tractor. Christopher Ward have made a tractor look like a sports car. Lamborghini makes tractors, Porsche used to. There’s nothing wrong with being a tractor. The C60 Concept brings a certain “Steampunk” style to the watch which manages to be both modern and stylishly retro at the same time. All those bridges and gears encased in a modern way evoke watchmaking’s history and its future.

What’s more important than being a celebration of the SH21 is that this watch is also a Christopher Ward. Unlike the Defy or ProPilot X which could have been made by anyone, this is a Christopher Ward. The small twin flags logo and the trident second hand are all you need to know who made this watch. That for me is the real triumph of the C60 Concept.

The C60 Concept is a celebration of Christopher Ward’s design and watchmaking which is far beyond anything they have made before. It is a modern design statement that celebrates Swiss watchmaking and Christopher Ward’s design expertise. It celebrates the Calibre SH21 in a way that surpasses the previous Apex watches and shows just what Christopher Ward and its partners can do.

The C60 Concept was sold at $4,370 on the hybrid strap. They’re all sold. Makes you look forward to the next Concept doesn’t it?