Serious Fun: H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade
When the history of this particular era in watches and the watch industry is written, a special chapter should be reserved for CEO Edouard Meylan and his plucky band at H. Moser & Cie.
Faced with a crowded market for watches, fad-driven emphasis on a few brands to the exclusion of most others, and all of the challenges associated with being a sub-scale enterprise in a global industry, Meylan and his team have employed a combination of whimsy, authenticity, identifiable design, and solid product quality to emerge from the pack.
In 2017 H. Moser & Cie took on the serious topic of increasing the integrity of the “Swiss Made” label with an outrageous product – the Swiss Mad watch with a case made of Swiss cheese – and an equally zany promotional video.
Even before that, in 2016 the brand introduced the first “Swiss Alp” watch with a shape clearly reminiscent of a certain connected watch launched in 2015, but with a mechanical movement and no electronic features whatsoever.
In the intervening years, Moser has been traversing the challenging territory between establishing initial visibility (often quite dramatically) and creating the foundation for sustainable success.
In my estimation, the establishment of a simple, yet colorful, visual language of largely unadorned fumé dials and complementary dark-as-Satan’s-closet Vantablack ones has been one key element. Continuing the tradition of movement innovation from the early days of Moser’s revival with elements such as the cylindrical tourbillon is another.
And for my money Moser has been among the leaders in the establishment of an online community of brand enthusiasts, with Meylan one of the active contributors to the dialogue.
We may be nearing a formal inflection point at which Moser becomes a fully “grown-up” brand – happily, with the continued introduction of creative and, to quote the brand’s motto, “very rare” references like the Funky Blue Streamliner Flyback Chronograph, it seems that this maturing brand is retaining its youthful vigor.
If indeed H. Moser & Cie is edging away from the satirical approach that brought us the original Swiss Alp Watch, it is doing so with a bang with the Vantablack-dialed Final Upgrade version.
To state the obvious, on the dial side this is one extremely simple watch. The Vantablack dial coating, as advertised, absolutely absorbs any light that comes its way, and while for photographic purposes I’ve tried to throw light on the hands in most of my shots to make them clearly visible, in most light they look darker than I’ve shown so far and appear more like they do in the wristshot below.
All of this serves to rivet the eye on the central design element of the dial side: the spinning “loading” indicator where a small seconds indicator would normally reside, both providing visual interest and bringing a smile as the analog world imitates one of the frustrating elements of the digital one, but without the expectation that we’re waiting for something to finish.
Seen a bit closer, the “loading” motion is provided courtesy of a disk that goes from solid to progressively more perforated mesh.
The “black cow in a coal mine at midnight” look continues with the DLC-coated steel case, which to my eye works very well. I think that a bright steel case would have been too jarring, and as the watch is substantially sized I for one appreciate that the black-on-black look shrinks the piece visually on the wrist.
One additional benefit of the dark case is that when you flip the watch over, the bright rhodium-plated and steel elements of the movement really pop from the enclosure of the darkened rear bezel.
I’d just like to add here a word or two of praise for H. Moser & Cie’s use of a form movement – and one properly sized to the case at that – in a form watch.
One of my pet peeves is the practice of jamming a round movement into a form case and hoping that no one will notice – or explaining the practice away by claiming that the costs of developing such a movement far outstrip the ability to recover those costs in the market. I’ll give added points to Moser for re-purposing the slightly tonneau-shaped HMC 324 in this square watch and presenting it in such a way that if you didn’t know, it wouldn’t occur to you.
Note to the big brands: if Moser can do it, I don’t see why you can’t.
Other cool features of Caliber HMC 324 include the interchangeable Moser escapement module with Straumann hairspring and Breguet overcoil and the power reserve indicator visible on the rear of the movement (the wheel moves, and the blue pointer remains stationary).
On the wrist
Given its size, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable this piece was on the wrist. As mentioned earlier, the black surfaces help to shrink the watch visually, and the way that the strap drops directly down from the lugs helps the piece to hug the wrist.
One more word about those lugs: I was initially a bit puzzled about how you’d ever manage to change the strap as it looks as if the lugs are solid bars that pass through the strap. In reality, the curved lugs end at the edges of the strap, and conventional spring bars bridge the gap between the lugs.
If I were ultra-keen to buy this watch, I’d have one substantial quibble: at the time I am writing this, a week after the launch, the 50-piece limited edition of the Final Upgrade is already sold out.
Live by the limited edition, die by the limited edition, I suppose!
It has to be a tricky thing trying to judge, in advance, exactly how many of a limited piece to issue. The original Swiss Alp was also a 50-watch edition and that will have given Moser some sense of potential market demand for this one. And even had Meylan and his crew suspected that demand for this reference would substantially exceed that for the first Swiss Alp, they may have decided to hold volumes down as a buzz creation step – or not.
It’s strictly my opinion, but while I saw the first Swiss Alp piece as an amusing novelty, this latest embodiment strikes me as both more inventive and more serious. And as a result, I’m not surprised that these have quickly been snapped up, even as examples of the non-limited white gold, blue-dial version and the first 50-watch limited edition are still available at retail according to Instagram posts by Edouard Meylan over the past few days.
One other thing that isn’t obvious from the promotional materials but quickly becomes evident once the watch is on your wrist: the spinning “loading” indicator cycles not once every few seconds, but rather once per minute, as you might expect from a dial that replaces the usual small seconds hand display.
I’ve captured that in the video below, complete with the happy sounds of California songbirds in the winter (apologies to those in arctic climes!).
Leisurely Downloading: video of the “loading” display
Owners will also need to be a bit careful banging this piece around as on the watch I handled there was already some visible wear to the anti-reflective coating on the rounded edges of the domed crystal.
The anti-reflective coating, by the way, is interesting for another reason: in many of my photos as initially shot it seemed to throw a distinct blue/cyan color cast, but in person it really isn’t evident. I’m not sure whether that’s a result of my technique or of the all-conquering Vantablack suction of nearby light – but if you see a bit of blue in my photos don’t be concerned.
Finally, while the look of the movement is very crisp and cheerful to the naked eye, finishing fanatics will likely be less excited about the sharply cut 45-degree edges on the plates and bridges.
Final thoughts on the H. Moser & Cie Swiss Alp Final Upgrade
Whether you see it as a solid watch on its own merits, a clever takeoff on the mechanical vs. electronic worlds, or a final chapter in H. Moser’s rebellious youth, the H. Moser & Cie Swiss Alp Final Upgrade is an intriguing and enjoyable piece both off and on the wrist.
Congratulations to the lucky new owners, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the H. Moser gang have coming for us down the line!
For more information, please visit www.h-moser.com/product/swiss-alp-watch.
Quick Facts H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade
Case: 44 x 38.2 x 10.3 mm, stainless steel coated with black DLC
Dial and hands: Vantablack dial and ruthenium-tone hands; rotating 60-second “loading” seconds display
Movement: manually wound Caliber HMC 324; 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency; power reserve minimum 4 days
Functions: hours, minutes, 60-second (hacking) “loading” indicator; power reserve indicator on movement
Limitation: 50 pieces, sold out