Christopher Ward has had success with motoring watches over the years, but never has the range been as attractive or unified as it is with the new C7 Rapide Collection. And it’s alive with innovation too, including the most impressive cases the company has ever made...
Motorsport has long been an enthusiasm of all three Christopher Ward founders, but Mike France is especially smitten. And, as so often, it started with his dad, a Formby chiropodist who – perhaps the surname has something to do with it? – developed a particular obsession with fast Gallic cars. Mike was eight or nine, maybe, when a badly broken Renault Dauphine Gordini (the sports version of Renault’s ’60s VW Beetle equivalent) landed on their drive, and he found himself spending the best part of nine months lying under it, passing his dad spanners, as a full-on restoration kicked in.
“He did everything from fixing the seized engine to hand-stitching the uphol- stery and even – he didn’t have a spray gun – brush-painting it British Racing Green,” Mike says. “It was a great moment when he fired it up and drove it around the block. The neighbours cheered.”
The France family’s love of cars continued, moving from Renaults to Citroëns – even now, Mike’s on the look out for a pristine Citroën SM, the sleek Maserati-engined GT of the early ’70s – and, in time, to more expensive British sports cars. Mike’s inevitable Corgi Toys James Bond Aston Martin DB5 model nurtured an Aston Mar- tin obsession which informed the very first Christopher Ward watches.
“I remember fellow co-founder Chris Ward and I visiting what’s now the British Motor Museum in Warwickshire – the world’s largest collection of British cars, and very close to Aston Martin’s Gaydon HQ – when we were first starting the company,” Mike says. “We looked at the dials in the Aston Martins they had there as inspiration for the C3 Malvern Chronograph Mk1. This Aston Martin/British sports car influence has since become part of the mythology of the company – people still comment on it – and helps hammer home just how deep the link between cars and watches goes.”
Christopher Ward has produced many motoring watches over the years – perhaps best remembered are the C70 Grand Prix Series Limited Editions, with their bright colours and large numbers in circles at 12, 3 and 9, as well as the various TMB Art Metal collaborations – but the collection has never been as cohesive as it has with, say, the C60 Trident dive watches. That, of course, is about to change.
The new C7 Rapide Collection comprises both quartz and automatic mechanical watches, three-hand models and chronographs, following the classic good/better/ best model we’re familiar with from the C60 Tridents and others. That means it’s a pretty compressive collection from launch, building from entry level quartz versions for just under £400 through more expensive quartz chronographs and automatic models to automatic chronographs selling for just over £1,500. There are even a couple of limited quantity special editions in the initial range.
But though it comprises six models from launch, it’s a range with plenty of space to grow, too. Christopher Ward’s motoring offerings have never before been so focussed, so comprehensive, so technically impressive – or so striking to look at.
And it all begins with the case.
“We’ve been making great strides with our cases over the past couple of years,” says Peter Ellis, another co-founder, “especially with the well-received C1 Grand Malvern case, which inspired the look of the C3 and C5 Malverns. But with the new C7 Rapides, we’re more ambitious than ever before. Adrian Buchmann, our senior designer, was convinced our new motoring range demanded a case with even more dynamism to it than you see in the C1 Grand Malvern. From that came quite an exhausting and involved process – much more than we initially thought it would be, truth be told – that finally resulted in the case you see here. I think it’s actually something of a masterpiece.”
“I like cars – who doesn’t? – but I’m not as big a car guy as Mike is,” says Adrian, as he takes up the story. “I know he loves his Aston Martins, but I’m more a classic car guy. I’d rather have a DB5 than a DB11.”
For Adrian, there were a lot of important points the new motoring range needed to address: firstly it needed to unify the offering, and it needed to introduce mechanical movements to the mainstream CW motoring collection for the first time. But, most importantly, it needed to bring a new level of engineering.
“The case is the most tactile part of any watch,” Adrian says. “It’s the bit you hold in your hands. I tend to think of designing a watch as like designing a car. Unless everything is totally new, you already know the engine you’ll be using, so what you have to get right is the outside, the basic shape of it. Once you’re happy with that, you can move onto details – like the interior of a car, or the face of the watch. These matter too, but the body comes first.”
And with the shape of the new C7 case, Adrian looked to cars: plenty of them, old and new, from ’30s blower Bentleys to the current Lamborghini Huracán. But mostly, he looked at the engineering behind them.
One way to make a car go faster is to add power, but another is to lose weight and modern sport cars are awash with clever materials and weight-saving tricks. So would it be possible for this new case to reference those?
From that came the idea that it might be possible to scoop out the lugs – not a little, a lot – for a really technical feel, and to play with colours and materials in quite a radical way. To this end, the C7s have a coloured aluminium ring around the belly of the case – not unlike a belt – which may be a plain black on many a watch, but could be many colours or textures. The first tranche of watches take great advantage of this, but there’s more to come – and, in the future, anything is possible.
“Because of their big numerals and wide batons, these watches have more lume than anything else we do, and really glow in the dark,” says Adrian. “But imagine what they would be like with an entire ring of luminous material around the waist, for example? Such a thing might be possible for some future iteration – and with this as a design feature from the start, it will allow us to have a lot of fun going forward.”
Indeed, we’re reminded of the sideblades just behind the door on an Audi R8 super- car, a design feature that can be as subtle or as lairy as you like.
“It’s getting that ring to integrate with the case and the lugs properly which makes this case so difficult to create,” says Adrian. “Not to mention that the lugs need to be individually machined, which is expensive. Or that there are numerous different surface finishes used, some polished and some brushed, across the watch.
“It all makes it the most expensive and involved case we’ve produced to date, but the reaction has been amazing. Our case manufacturer also makes cases for many of the most expensive Swiss watch brands, but it’s our watch that he was wearing at the recent Baselworld 2017 event, and was showing off to everybody. We got quite a kick out of that.”
There’s a certain design language common to motoring watches that mainly comes from the faces, which tend to be clear and bold, with large numbers and high contrast – think a classic panda (or reverse panda) Heuer Carrera, say, with its strongly contrasting sub-dials.
CW had already established its own distinctive look with the C70 Grand Prix series – which put bold circles around big numerals, like the stickers on old racing cars – and Adrian says it was very tempting to apply that look to the new range.
In the end, though, this was felt to be a design feature with a rather Marmite appeal – some love it, others not so much – and a more measured approach was taken.
The new C7 faces would be bold, sure, but also balanced and restrained. The use of colour can be either strong or subtle. After all, as Adrian says, “British Racing Green was incredibly popular with the C70s, and many people loved the blue and yellow dials too, but when it comes down to it, black is always the biggest seller for car watches.”
Previous Christopher Ward motorsport watches have all been chronographs, but for this range Adrian had to come up with a three-hand iteration too: a simpler job, you might think, but actually in many ways harder, since chronographs – with all those sub-dials – are intrinsically dramatic to look at, to the point where sheer busyness can compensate for any minor design flaws. “With a three-hand watch, in contrast, there’s nowhere to hide,” he says. “The proportions have to be spot on.”
And then there’s the logo. These are the first CW watches to carry the twin flags device alone on the face.
“We couldn’t fail to notice how the current device not only references the Swiss and English flags, but looks rather like a motor racing chequered flag too,” says Mike. “It seemed natural that this should be the range that carries the logo alone.”
And what about what’s inside?
Seeing as this a collection with wide appeal, there’s no use of the Calibre SH21 in- house movement – don’t bet against it in the future, however – but instead a well-curated selection of quartz and mechanical movements from some of the industry’s biggest makers. The entry level Ronda 715.2 quartz movement is a reliable, well put together workhorse, while the Chronograph Quartz carries the Ronda 5021.D.
The automatic has the SW200-3; the limited edition three sub-dial Chronograph COSC has the ETA 251.264 with preci-drive and power drive quartz movement; and then there’s the C7 Rapide Chronograph Automatic, which carries the famous ETA Valjoux 7750, currently the best-known and most widely used automatic chronograph movement of them all. It’s a robust beast used in many a high priced watch, including models by Bell & Ross and Breitling, TAG Heuer and Omega, Tudor and IWC; Christopher Ward’s Frank Stelzer talks about its virtues on p48.
The straps are interesting too, with the entire C7 Rapide strap range being made of ultra soft piccari – yes, pig leather, as used in great motor racing gloves – which has both a natural pitted surface and holes stamped into it, but, says Adrian, “they don’t go all the way through.”
Piccari leather is a material CW has used before, and especially on car watches – the C9 D-Type limited edition, for instance – but it’s joined by other options here: a metal bracelet; the same rubber strap used on the C60 Trident range; and twin-layer nylon straps. These aren’t actually NATO straps (which wrap around solid posts between the lugs, and so are slightly too messy for some as you have material tucked under the watch head), but give a similar look while using a regular attachment method and more conventional buckle. The best of both worlds, perhaps.
Which is something you could say about the whole range, in fact. This is sure to become an important core collection for Christopher Ward, combining dynamic face design with great movements and highly attractive pricing. And in that innovative new case, it offers a degree of technical prowess to give anyone in the industry – at any price point – pause for thought.