Oh, the 1940s….
I wasn’t born, but every book I read growing up was seemingly set in the era with Spies on both sides, Nazis v Allies, U-boats versus war ships..the list goes on.
This was the decade of atrocities, World War II was raging and large parts of Europe was ravaged by war. Halfway through the decade, it ended and as is customary, the winning sides started creating the mythology surrounding the events.
The leather jackets, heroic soldiers, hair styles & cars and the many movies of the era, all became part of history. The wrist watches of the times were heavily inspired by the military needs. Hamilton produced closed to a million wrist watches, including marine chronometers and the Khaki hand wound. There's a whole range of watches nicknamed 'The Dirty Dozen'. These were not just for the old.. ‘Men, synchronize your watches!’ but were also used for actual calculations to plot location and direction, especially for the navy. Rolex also produced some of the most sought after watches (today) during this time, particularly the military spec Submariner which sells for unbelievable money when they do come up for auction.
The watches of the time were quite small, in fact a 38mm watch would be viewed as on the larger side, as opposed to today where few watches would be smaller than 40mm diameter. The watch I’m writing about today is heavily inspired by the vintage craze, both in size and look, and I felt was a good choice for someone like me that loves the look of the classic vintage watch, but can’t really afford the maintenance, and possibly purchase of, a 70 year old watch.
I completely missed the Kickstarter campaign of the French brand Baltic’s Bicompax 001 and rather came across these watches after researching their Aquascape watch, another neo-vintage watch (and one that still manages to differentiate itself from the endless line of dive watches on Kickstarter). I did like the look of the Aquascape on Baltic’s website, but really fell head over heels for the Bicompax, particularly with that gorgeous movement on the optional open case back. It is manual wound, sized at 38mm width but crucially for my slightly on the upper side of a medium sized wrist, 47mm lug to lug. I was still a little hesitant on the size, but worst case (ahem) scenario, Baltic’s return policy is generous, so I pulled the trigger.
My impressions after a few months of owning & wearing the watch
Choosing a colour combination was absolutely agonising. Black Gilt with brown leather was incredibly tempting and sat in my ‘cart’ for days, but in the end I finally decided on the black and silver, with black leather, combination. I also opted for the open case back. I’m going to write about the movement of this watch first, since it’s really quite interesting.
I was no expert on the subject of movements, but I sure became one leading up to the purchase. The Tianjin WuYi watch factory purchased tooling equipment, and if I understand correctly, some of the intellectual property of Swiss firm Venus and started producing a number of different movements. The Seagull hand wound mechanical watches are still being made today and I’m hoping to add one to my collection eventually since they have tons of charm.
I was also curious as to why it’s called a Seagull movement. Receiving the watch, I was trying to figure out if there was a part of the movement that looked bird like (no, not even if squinting). Turns out it was simply the Wuyi watch company that created the brand Sea-Gull. From my research, it seems that Wuyi literally means ‘soaring turkey vulture’ which one could assume would mean seagull in English. There are a few other companies that use the brand name so I think it might be safe to say that the seagull has other meanings too in Chinese mythology.
Anyway, the movement is truly beautiful, to me. I think we’ve all seen the in depth photos and descriptions of Swiss movements. It’s not quite up to that level, but since the manual movement is missing a rotor, it just allows so much more access to the watch movement. It’s quite a buzz to use the timing functionality of the chronometer, whilst having the watch turned around, and seeing cogs and levers engage/disengage. Truly beautiful to a layman like me.
The watch comes in some lovely packaging, I really appreciate that. I’m always a little disappointed if all you get a is a plain cardboard box with some plain manuals. All Baltic watches are delivered in a cork box that looks and feel special – well done.
The watch wears very well. I have a 19cm wrist and the lug to lug length of 47mm, definitely helps with the proportions. It doesn’t at all look like a comedy giant found a little boy’s watch. I have used it exclusively as a dress watch and it slips under a shirt collar very nicely. It really looks like an old vintage watch and I’ve had a few comments, just asking about the history of the watch. I did sadly not inherit any watches from my grandparents or distant relatives, but this watch could have been it.
The font used, the minimal text and minute track, all have that gorgeous vintage vibe. The silver hands are thin and delicate. Legibility is ok in daylight, but good luck late evening…there’s no lume nor do the hands catch much light to help out. That’s ok, you just need to develop a system of stealthily glancing at your phone or car instruments to determine the time at night. I say stealthily since we do want to avoid scorn at all costs by smart watch wearing friends and colleagues (but hey, their batteries might be flat anyway so THERE).
There are only three line of print on the watch. You have the brand name on the top half and ‘Bicompax Manuel’ on the bottom half. There are people debating the grammars of this on forums (of course there are) but basically, it relates to this watch being a two register chronograph and being a manual wound watch. The print and font used is very subtle. I’ve seen a few ‘neo-vintage’ watches online where the logo and/or font used simply wrecks the overall look. This is not the case here.
The timing aspect of the watch. Works very well and all that, but for me is simply a visual advantage. I will never ever use this to time anything, it all just looks better (to me) than their more plain three-hand model HMS001.
If this is your first watch with such a function, it’s worth noting that this means the large seconds hand is used for timing only, it basically stays in the 12 o’clock position forever and a smaller hand is used for recording seconds.
The movement used is a mechanical movement inspired from an old Swiss movement; the Venus 175, engineered by Venus Ebauche in the 40s. Venus sold the machines and rights to produce the movement to China, in order to equip their Air Force with reliable chronographs. Later on, their interpretation of the Venus became the Seagull ST1901 : a precise, reliable modern colum wheel movement.
Ok, so the timer aspect of watch, whilst unlikely to be used much by myself and other owners, the chronograph has the 'flyback' functionality which definitely looks very cool in use. What this means, when you time something and stop the movement, you obviously eventually need to reset it. When you do, rather than the hand on the small dial, and the large seconds hand, go a full circle back to the 12 o’clock starting point, it simply ‘flies back’ to the starting position. It happens in the blink of an eye and looks great.
There is a leather strap supplied with the watch. It’s very classy. It’s a rather thin strip of Italian calf leather but it’s nice and soft and again, fits me well. The oh-so vintage stitching near the dial is more than apt for this watch. If you have a much thicker wrist than me, I doubt it would fit you since I’d say it’s on the edge of being too small for me.
One thing to keep in mind is that Baltic make all their straps fit any of their watches. So if you really want to fit their well reviewed ‘beads of rice’ metal bracelet on this watch, you absolutely can. I find it hard to picture that myself but if you are a bracelet person, it’s worth keeping in mind.
This is the most vintage watch I own and I’m really hoping it’ll last me for many years to come. There are aspects of the seagull movement that can feel a little fragile, and some owners had issues early on, but Baltic’s customer service is very good and they don’t seem to be going out of business anytime soon, so don’t let that stop you.
I love wearing it and it’s my go-to for business meetings. The crown is rather small and I’d say that the winding motion is not the most comfortable you’ll ever experience, but seriously…this is nit-picking. Just make sure you have 1 minute to spear before you head out the door should you need to re-set and wind the watch.
Overall, for every day business use, in an office or on the road, or any suit and tie event – this is a solid recommendation from me. Well done Baltic on a lovely neo-vintage watch!
Did you enjoy this review? Coffee fuels my night time ponderings.