Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: the Baltic Bicompax.
A cursory survey of the modern watch space will yield a clear realization: heritage and reissues have become en vogue. For the average watch enthusiast, this is generally good news — today, you can purchase modern interpretations of the most iconic watches in history at a fraction of the cost. These heritage models are also equipped with contemporary technologies that offer greater wearability than can be had in the vintage counterparts. The idea of vintage-inspired watchmaking, however, can be a trap, and it’s one that has ensnared a huge contingent of the modern watch manufactures in the last half-decade. While some have navigated the treacherous space with success, others have become mired in it
Baltic has created a simple, aesthetically pleasing wristwatch that feels neither vintage nor modern. In truth, it has accomplished what many a Swiss manufacturer has failed to. But Baltic’s success lies not in decades of watch manufacturing experience, but in its youth. By not being burdened by legacy or an archive of beloved iconic models, the Fench firm has found the freedom to distill the full panoply of the last 100 years of watchmaking into a kind of horological secret sauce that it’s applied to its contemporary designs with care and restraint.
At its most fundamental, a wristwatch must perform two functions well outside of simply keeping time; it must be comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time and be robust enough to withstand the abuse of said wear. Above this basis, a watch should be no more complicated than it has to be. In other words, the addition of complications such as date, chronograph, moon phase and others should be done with purpose. Baltic subscribes to this ‘less is more’ approach and wielded it expertly in its first foray into watchmaking, the HMS 001, which debuted in the spring of 2017.
The HMS 001, an elegantly simple time-only watch driven by the workhorse Miyota 821A automatic movement, draws inspiration from the time-only wristwatches of the 1940s, particularly evident in its 38mm stepped case design. The watch is sleek and simple and at €399 (approximately $450) boasts an incredible bang-for-buck ratio.
For its second model, which also debuted in 2017, Baltic opted to produce a chronograph.
Among the watch cognoscenti, a well-made chronograph is evidence of a quality manufacture, due in part because there is so much that can go wrong when adding hands, subdials and pushers. Again, Baltic showed its class and produced the Bicompax 001, a genuine and tasteful watch that is at once evocative of the most coveted chronographs from history and artfully modern.
Baltic retooled the stepped 38mm steel case design from the HMS 001 to house the Seagull ST1901 manually-wound chronograph movement (for those vintage lovers, the Seagull ST1901 is a modernized 1940s Venus 175 column-wheel unit). It even has drilled lugs, a handy feature that makes changing straps and bracelets a cinch but has sadly all but disappeared from modern watchmaking.
But the dial, of which there are six regular-production and two special edition colorways, is where the Bicompax 001 soars. For one, it’s well proportioned, clean and entirely legible and not without its vintage cues —- the Arabic numerals at 12:00 and 6:00 hark to mid-century Wittnauer and Universal Genève chronographs, the slightly sunken sub-dials with concentric circular finishing call to mind Heuers and Omegas, and the crosshair-ed running seconds subdial suggests a design used in vintage Zenith chronographs. All this is capped off with the ever-elegant feuille, (leaf) hands common on watches of the 1940s.
Despite these elements, the watch doesn’t feel stifled or forced the way a heritage piece often does, but it’s not entirely modern either; the Bicompax 001 could have easily been fitted with a sapphire crystal or a display back as many modern pieces are (though a display back is indeed optional for an additional price). Instead, Baltic used a solid steel back and domed acrylic. It could have utilized a modern automatic chronograph drivetrain, but instead Baltic selected a hand-cranked unit and one that could be produced (and repaired) inexpensively.
If you aren’t already convinced, Baltic has done you one last favor and priced the Bicompax 001 at €649 (approximately $750). That’s a hell of a bargain when you realize that a vintage watch with its same characteristics would cost you thousands, if not tens of thousands.
The Bicompax 001 is evidence that it is indeed possible to combine vintage aesthetics and modern technology in an affordable watch, and to do so with class and elegance.