Sunday, 8 April 2018

OWNED/DUEL: Aquaracer Calibre S versus Aquaracer Chronotimer

'DTF' on the Calibre 11 forum suggested I do a comparison post on the Chronotimer and the F1 Kirium because they have the same ani/digi movement inside them. I will do that, but it seemed to make more sense to 'duel' these two as they are both recent purchases and both share a similar case and bezel.

If you want a Chronotimer, it's not really a problem, just hit up eBay and you will find several for sale ranging from about £700 on a rubber strap to about £1000 or maybe a bit over. However, pretty much every one that I looked at had a bezel that looked like it had been in a motorbike accident, so I found one in a jewellers and paid £950 for it. The watch is in great condition, but the box is a bit tatty, especially where the previous owner has gouged the leatherette around the cushion with his fingers getting the watch in and out. Also the wallet for the booklet is a bit tatty too and every time I open the box pieces of black debris litter my desk, but the booklet is perfect and the package included the warranty card, a service card from TAG, and I also got a twelve month warranty from the jeweller.

The Calibre S wasn't a massive problem to find, but they definitely seem a bit harder to pin down than the Chronotimer and in my experience the black dial is a lot easier to find than the yellow which was the one my heart was set on (there's also a blue one but I didn't come across that one at all). I could only find two on eBay when I was looking, and again both looked as if they'd lived hard lives, one was from Japan and had a lump out of the top lug (£1700) and the other one I think was about £1250, but again with a very scratched bezel. This time I plumped for Watchfinder and offered them £1150 (it was listed at £1275, but there was a 'Make Us an Offer' thing going on at the time) and collected it from their Bond Street(ish) store a few days later. Because this one had been bought from Bicester Village only a few year ago it came with all the right bits and bobs and in a pristine brown-style TAG Heuer box. My only gripe really was that Watchfinder had stuck a sticker on the outer box and it left a nasty sticky mess on the surface which was not easy to remove.

I think most people would say the Calibre S is a nicer looking watch than the Chronotimer, although perhaps not everyone would choose the yellow dial. At first glance it appears that the dial is yellow with a slightly more orangey centre section, but on closer inspection it becomes apparent that the dial is actually uniformly yellow with a series or orange/red rings in the middle. I wasn't too sure about that to start with, I would maybe have preferred the dial to just have been yellow, and maybe a bit of a stronger yellow at that, but as I've worn the watch I've got used to it and now I like it the way it is. I think the black elements of the dial and the black inner edge of the bezel contrast superbly with the bright dial and when this watch is on a black rubber strap the effect is even more pronounced, but more on that later.

Amusingly, if you look back on the blog, you will find that I actually reviewed the Chronotimer about a year ago and though I said generally good things about it I was quite outspoken about the chrome edging around the lower digital display. But perspectives change and I started finding myself looking at those Breitling Aerospaces, which inevitably led back to the Chronotimer... and here we are. I must say, in photographs that silver edging looks a lot thicker than it really is, and it really depends on how the light hits it as to how much you can see it and how thick it looks.

The Chronotimer is quite a shiny watch, the hands and indices are very reflective, which isn't always great for legibility actually, but overall it's a pleasing design. I don't want to talk about the Kirium too much here because I do want to post about that separately, but because I own both it's hard to ignore the obvious similarities and their respective strengths and weaknesses.

I'm sure the Chronotimer won't appeal to everyone, the digital displays cut into the dial are probably going to be a bit Marmite and the curved upper one even more so than the lower oblong window. I must admit the aforementioned Breitling Aerospaces look a bit neater, but they are also quite a lot more expensive, and TAG were clearly working with the movement they already had (the ETA E20.321) which dictated the window layout. I think the yellow dial versions look a lot more messy than the black dial, which is one of the reasons why I opted for the yellow Calibre S, and oddly I've seen pictures of the yellow dial versions with and without the reflective silver surround on the bottom display. I don't know whether that's because it fell off, someone took it off, or because TAG made some with and some without... but to be honest on the yellow dial it kinda looks better without it. (Now I come to look for a picture, of course, I can't find one without it, which rather suggests it was just one watch on eBay, which I suppose might even have been a fake).

The bezel is the same on both watches, and what I didn't actually realize until I bought these watches is that the black section of the bezel is fixed and only the silver outer part revolves. It's quite a neat design as it allows you separate the 'bezel' minutes from the 'chronograph' minutes (let's gloss over the fact that the Chronotimer's chronograph is 'digital' only shall we... ahem). But anyway, it's kinda neat and very unexpected when you turn the bezel for the first time and realize they are two separate sections.

Both Aquaracers shown on my substantial 7.3/4" wrist.

The bracelets and clasps are essentially pretty similar, except that the Calibre S has polished centre links whereas the Chronotimer's are brushed. I'm guessing TAG thought the Chronotimer was shiny enough without adding any more bling on the bracelet. I think I need a half link taking out of the Chronotimer, which is possibly why it's not as comfortable as the Calibre S, the clasp seems to dig into my wrist more when I'm sitting at a desk which could be because it's not sitting snugly. The CAF7013 is very comfortable on the wrist, not as comfortable as the Kirium perhaps - which is definitely my most comfortable bracelet - but definitely a good wearer and a lot less cumbersome than my Aquagraph (which is definitely not a watch for everyone, not least because it weighs as much as a small car).

On the back the Calibre S has a flat back plate whereas the Chronotimer has the circles cut into it, I'm not sure if they have some sort of purpose or whether it's just an aesthetic thing, but it certainly looks a bit more interesting. Perhaps they are designed to let the skin breathe, in much the same way some rubber straps have indents on the back? I'm not really sure...

The Chronotimer (like the F1 Kirium of course) is blessed with a plethora of functions, including a second time zone, 1/100th chronograph, digital time, countdown alarm, daily alarm, date and calendar. By contrast the Calibre S has just a 1/100th chronograph and a date (which is displayed using the sub-dials at the bottom when the chronograph is not in use). As far as usability goes, both are a bit of a faff to set up and you definitely need a booklet or a handy YouTube video to help you out, but once set up, the Calibre S only really has the chronograph to play with and that's fairly easy. All you have to do is press the crown in and the hour, minute and second hands reset to 12, while the sub-dials both reset to zero. Pressing the top pusher starts the chronograph (indicated by the second hand) and pressing it again stops it. Once the chronograph is halted, the two sub-dial indicators come into play to indicate the 10ths and 100ths of a second. A push on the bottom pusher resets the chronograph to 12, and finally, pushing the crown in again restores the hands to the correct time. But the really clever bit is that you can push the crown in while the chronograph is functioning and switch between chrono-time and actual time.

The Chronotimer has many more gadgets to play with, which are accessed by turning the crown and then using the pushers to start, stop and set. But some of them are really fiddly and indeed when I got my watch the daily alarm was set on and it took me quite a while to figure out how to turn it off, even with the booklet in front of me. It clearly told me how to turn it on if it had been turned off, but it didn't actually say how it could be turned off. I eventually pressed the button which was supposed to turn it on and realised it turned it on and off. Hardly rocket science, but the booklet should really have been clearer.

The Chronograph is easier to access and functions as you would expect, but most of the other functions I wouldn't really use, I mean I've had my Kirium for thirteen years and I've barely used them on that - I clearly haven't used the daily alarm for one thing!

So is the Chronotimer a waste then? Not at all, if this was your main watch and you were the sort of person who did use it's functions I'm sure you would pick up the necessary skills to operate it without resorting to the manual, but for me it isn't and I won't, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it's capabilities. As always with me, I buy watches that I like the 'look-of', rather than the functions... so while I'll probably never really use a chronograph, I like the look of sub-dials so I buy chronographs. And I like the look of the Chronotimer, so I bought a Chronotimer.

CAF7013 Calibre S                      CAF1010 Chronotimer

Lume on both watches is pretty good, slightly better on the Calibre S I'd say, but then the Chronotimer does have a back light for digital functions, so overall you'd have to say the Chronotimer wins there (although only the Calibre S can do it's party trick in the dark of course).

I genuinely like both watches and have no regrets about buying them, but if I could only keep one then it would definitely be the Calibre S. The chrono-function is so unspeakably cool that you can't help pressing the crown just to see the hands moving to 12 and back again, it's surely the ultimate in fiddle factor and engages you with the watch hugely. Indeed, so taken am I with the Calibre S movement that I even started looking at Calibre S Link models, and I never look at Links....

I think the Chronotimer is a lot of watch for £950, but I don't know if I would have paid much more for it. By contrast I think I would have been willing to pay a fair bit more for the Calibre S if I'd had to. I don't know what their respective original RRPs were, but I'm guessing the Calibre S was probably higher, and rightly so. After all, the Chronotimer, while I do enjoy it's company, is basically a bit of a compromise, an existing movement taken from the F1 Kirium and cut into the dial of an Aquaracer (in a far less stylish manner than in it's original setting it must be said), while the Calibre S was a new design from the ground up and really wows the owner.

If like me, the Breitling Aerospaces give you a warm fuzzy feeling, but you don't have £3000 to tickle that particular fancy, then maybe the Chronotimer is a relatively affordable route to something similar. If, on the other hand, you want something outrageously different and technically advanced, then the Calibre S is surely the way to go. To be honest I can't really believe they've discontinued using the movement because as far as I can tell, no one, least of all TAG themselves, have got anything like it in the range anymore and that's such a shame.

CAF1010.FT8011                             CAF7013.FT8011

When I originally bought my Chronotimer, I figured if I could find the Calibre S on the rubber strap then I would have the best of both worlds, with two watches able to share the bracelet and the rubber (I didn't realize that the bracelets were slightly different at the time, but they are still interchangeable). However, of course, I ended up getting both on the bracelets, so I've ordered an FT8011 rubber strap and am expecting it to arrive in a few weeks. Originally my intention was to put it on the Calibre S, mainly because it gives more of that black/yellow contrast, and because I wasn't convinced about the yellow dial/steel bracelet look. But since I've owned this, I've grown to like that combination, and having seen some photos of the Chronotimer on the rubber, I have to say it looks pretty good. Still it's nice to have the option and it will be fun to chop and change...

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