Czapek Antarctique Tierra Adélie & Orion Nebula: The Restraint Stands Out
Restraint is one of the hardest skills for young designers to learn once they start working professionally. After spending the last four (or more) years learning all the ins and outs of design principles, color theory, and finding inspiration in different aesthetic genres over the last dozen or so decades, they have ideas. Loads of them.
But design briefs come in all shapes and sizes: some are so constrained that the client describes exactly what the deliverable must look like with little room for creativity. Still others demonstrate that the client has no clue what that should be, so it’s up to the designer to figure it out.
That is both tempting and dangerous.
A nascent designer might have so many ideas in their head that they don’t know where to start. What’s worse, not only is a wide-open brief the ultimate case of no-matter-what-you-try-it-could-be-completely-wrong, but it provides no framework to build from, allowing the mind to wander into ever more complex or intricate ideas. Turning ephemeral concepts and into tangible designs is already a tough job, but without constraints one can easily keep adding on until it is a jumbled mess of details with no relation to each other.
It takes patience, skill, and a willingness to remove something you like because it simply isn’t needed. As French aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”
It’s a common mistake for a designer to keep adding details in search of the moment when it is enough to make a good design, not realizing that enough was a long time ago.
Even Coco Chanel understood this, having famously said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”
The greatest designers look to subtract instead of add, and for that reason, when people talk about standout design it is almost never complicated but clean and simple.
That is what helps the new Czapek & Cie. Antarctique collection stand out, too: it doesn’t try to stand out, and by playing it cool and keeping its design restrained it does end up standing out.
Czapek Antarctique Tierra Adélie
The newly released Antarctique is Czapek’s first foray into the steel sport watch market, a market segment that has exploded over the last couple years, by dipping its toes in with a “subscription” strategy for the first model.
The Antarctique Tierra Adélie is a stainless steel three-hander with date featuring an integrated steel bracelet with distinct yet restrained design. With a vertically brushed lamé dial, sword-style hands, and hour markers, it has a clear yet subdued style definitely demonstrating it’s not trying to be a peacock.
The stainless steel case has a rather typical shape, slightly tonneau in a retro-inspired way, not seeking to be too much like the current market leaders. Instead of protruding lugs it has a sharp downward break to the bracelet.
This helps define the forward-facing shape to create a clear outline without leaning hard into overly unique or atypical geometry. The integrated bracelet is a clean and smoothly tapered solid link style, connected by polished C-shape (for Czapek) center links reducing in size with each link. The majority of steel sport watches have (with a few exceptions) consistently-sized center links.
The presentation is clean and dynamic yet simple, focused on feeling cohesive within itself. It’s not trying to swing for the fences to battle for “iconic” status, which paradoxically is more likely to lead to a design becoming iconic.
But even with that, the movement is something incredible. Debuting the SXH5, the Antarctique is built on a movement that takes inspiration from historical pocket watches, yet feels entirely modern. The movement is also designed to be a base for future development and features a high-torque mainspring that can be used to power complications, something hinted at as the future of the collection by CEO Xavier de Roquemaurel.
The inspiration was taken first from the shape of the Faubourg de Cracovie model’s Caliber SXH3 chronograph rotor wheel, which was applied to the balance bridge and carried through into the historically inspired three individual bridges for the going train.
Combining a lot of internal angles, “lace-like” skeletonization, and a blasted black finish, it definitely looks like a bold combination of classic watchmaking and modern production methods – something that Czapek & Cie, has done well since it was built on the concept of using historical inspiration to produce fantastic watches at a (relatively) attainable price.
Czapek Antarctique: masterful restraint
But let’s dig into the Antarctique a bit deeper and see why I keep saying it’s a good example of subtle design full of smart choices.
Like every great steel sports watch, it begins with the case. If you look at the latest entries into the steel sports watch category from the likes of Laurent Ferrier, Chopard, or Bell & Ross, you’ll see some brands try to make a non-typical case shape so they can stand out and avoid claims they tried to copy one of the big guns.
Sometimes this is a good strategy because developing a unique case shape helps the brand stand apart from the crowd. But based on everything I’ve heard about sales figures, as a general rule the market is smaller for non-round watches.
People want simple, mostly because it is easier to make a good-looking simple watch than a handsome, fully original watch.
There are always new ideas, but some ideas have been tried, weighed, measured – and found wanting. It turns out there are proportions that are more pleasing to the eye and shapes that just suit the watch format better. And since people are accustomed to them, it may be counterproductive to go against the grain just for the sake of going against the grain.
The case of the Antarctique is clean, classic, and simple. And it doesn’t try to “reimagine what the steel sports watch can be” but simply tries to be a great steel sports watch that people will want to wear. The bracelet adds some style with the Czapek-specific C-shaped center links, but even those are secondary to keeping a solid and reserved bracelet link style that doesn’t stand out too much and break the cohesiveness of the watch.
The choice to polish the center links is one of the biggest points of contention I have seen from fans on social media. They say if it was fully brushed it would be perfect.
I’m not saying I agree or disagree, but it shows that standout features – as much as some people like them – can be a hindrance for a watch seeking wide appeal. But even so, the designers of the Antarctique understood that the case needed restraint if it was to succeed. As a watch that doesn’t feel like it tries to copy others and doesn’t seek to be different for the sake of being different, the result is one that feels authentic to itself.
And people will always respond to that.
Czapek Antarctique: authentic design
Authenticity also helps pave the way for little details that showcase intelligent planning and an attention to purpose.
The Antarctique comes with the integrated stainless-steel bracelet, and the future owner also has a choice of an additional leather or rubber strap with purchase. So far, nothing very innovative.
But Czapek developed an “Easy Release” mechanism for the bracelet that allows quick, tool-free changes between bracelet and strap, something not seen on many steel sports watches. Needing a simple turn of a button on the inside the bracelet where it meets the case body, the Easy Release is a small feature but a big addition for those who like to swap straps often.
The butterfly clasp has also been integrated into the bracelet links instead of using a separate, larger mechanism, which is something usually reserved for much more expensive steel sport watches. This makes the bracelet much more streamline in look and helps the watch stay less intrusive on the wrist.
The case is only 10.6 mm high, but sometimes a large clasp takes up too much room to allow a sporty watch to easily slide under a shirt cuff, something that many sport watches need to do when they find themselves in a boardroom.
The design looks clean and restrained but shows dedication to making the watch as good as possible.
The case isn’t completely unadorned, it features a recessed area on the sides of the case adding some visual interest and also keeping the forward-facing side a clear-cut profile.
Perhaps the boldest detail aside from the movement is simply the sword-style hour markers as they are much more angular than many other steel sport watch models would risk. Seemingly related to the goal for what this watch should accomplish – being able to travel to the ends of the earth such as Antarctica – the markers feel like polished icicles hanging around the edge of the dial.
But in the design wisdom of Czapek, there is only the possibility for allusion as no clear over-stylized connection is attempted. The presentation is clean and stands for itself as a solid and extremely wearable everyday sports watch.
Even the date on the dial is subdued; there is no frame around it, simply a beveled window through the lamé dial and a date wheel that matches the color of the dial (a smart move from a fan’s perspective). Aside from the logo, the only other details on the dial are the tiny words “Swiss Made” – as always – and the word “Chronomètre.”
Czapek Antarctique C.O.S.C. certificate: icing on the cake
You read that right. In developing Caliber SXH5 Czapek decided that every movement would be an officially C.O.S.C.-certified chronometer, taking the understated Antarctique and turning it into a very solid choice for the mythical “Last watch you’d ever buy” category that many WIS like to imagine (but really hope is never a necessity).
Caliber SXH5 is built to withstand the demands of a sporty watch with a 56-hour power reserve, an automatic micro rotor made from 18-karat recycled gold (from electronics and scraps from jewelry production, refined by German precious metal specialist Agosi), and a free-sprung balance to help merit that C.O.S.C. certification.
The case with screw-down crown has a water resistance of 120 meters and, at 40.5 mm in diameter, it hits that sweet spot of being pretty much perfect in size for most people.
The entire package, when taken together, not only provides a very high-end steel sports watch that will fly under the radar (a bonus for many) it also features an awesomazing movement that allows you to geek out over a “simple” three-hander. Even the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus have fairly tame movements in the base models, which helps the Antarctique stand out in its own subtle way.
The entire watch is minimal and clean with just a small touch of flair among the details when compared against the entire sport watch market segment, making it a clear value proposition.
It’s such a good value that the initial limited 99-piece subscription has already sold out, meaning that if you want one you will either have to wait for the standard collection models due to be announced this fall or you can still possibly grab one of the 10 special edition Antarctique Orion Nebula models, which ditches the regular dial and date indication in favor of a mesmerizing hand-varnished dial reminiscent of the Orion Nebula formation.
With swirling blues, browns, white, and black, the Orion Nebula is less of an under-the-radar watch and much more about making a statement. Even then, the case, bracelet, and movement are the same fantastic elements from the subscription edition.
In my eyes, the Antarctique collection is a perfect illustration of what makes Czapek great at what it does: offering a fantastic watch without trying to reinvent what a category can be, and in doing so develops pieces that are widely adored for having incredible style and sought-after details done in an entirely honest way.
Having been open about how it develops watches and who it works with to produce said watches from the very beginning of the brand’s existence, Czapek wonderfully encapsulates what enjoying making good watches can look like. The latest Antarctique models make sense within the brand ideology, highlighting a level of humility that definitely could be adopted more around the Swiss watchmaking industry.
Given the success of the subscription edition, I am fairly confident that come the regular collection models, many more collectors are likely to want to adorn their wrists with the fabulous Antarctique. It could, by actively not trying too hard, become a modern masterpiece creeping its way into collections around the world.
The collecting community has been going a little bananas recently over a few specific models, so I recommend that those in the market for a solid, restrained steel sports watch take a look at Czapek. You may just be surprised at how much you appreciate the Antarctique Terre Adélie. I know I was.
As you discover the new boy on the block, how about I break that block down?
- Wowza Factor * 8.8 Sometimes subtlety can make a bigger wow than a bold design, and the Antarctique is a perfect example!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 88» 862.985m/s2 Some people dance or workout before bed, but this watch has a low-key vibe that lets you chill. So while you definitely have that late-night lust, it allows you to drift off into your restful slumber.
- M.G.R. * 65 A brand-new proprietary movement with micro rotor, 65-hour power reserve, and very awesome skeletonization: you bet I want that!
- Added-Functionitis * Minor Another date indication, the oft-derided yet useful complication. I’d recommend children’s-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the timely swelling!
- Ouch Outline * 8.8 Burned Lips and Mouth! I’m here to remind you that you need to always let bubbly cheese hot out of the oven cool before chomping down, otherwise you could experience some truly burned features. Still, I’d consider doing it again every day if it meant getting one of the new Antarctique models on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Boldly Lean & Mean! When you realize that a brand put in a ton of effort to keep things simple and the result is expertly restrained, it’s only a matter of time before you are calling the preacher to set a date!
- Awesome Total * 786.6 Take the hours of power reserve (56) and multiply by the thickness of the case in millimeters (10.6), then add the number of components in Caliber SXH5 (193) and the result will be a not-so-restrained awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.czapek.com/product/orion-nebula.
Quick Facts Czapek & Cie. Antarctique Terre Adélie & Orion Nebula
Case: 40.5 x 10.6 mm, stainless steel with integrated, quick-change steel bracelet
Movement: automatic Caliber SXH5.01 with free-sprung balance, 28,800 vph/4Hz frequency, 65-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Limitation: 99 pieces in subscription (sold out), 10-piece special edition Orion Nebula
Price: CHF 19,000 for Orion Nebula; CHF 18,000 for Terre Adélie subscription (sold out)