Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic Reissue — Is It Worth It?
I’d been looking forward to getting my hands on the Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic for a long, long time. It’s a watch that I’d been vaguely aware of since I first saw Jaws some twenty years ago. In my mid-teens, I wasn’t yet entirely bitten by the watch bug, but it came soon after. Once I’d fallen down that rabbit hole, thoughts of the striking Alsta made their way back to my mind. I researched it, fawned over it, and lamented its absence from the modern market. And finally, it was reborn. Last month I got it on my wrist at last. What followed was an experience that will haunt me till I die…
Dramatic? You bet. Such was my excitement at wearing the “new” Alsta for the first time, I couldn’t contain my disappointment when I realized — after years of believing to the contrary — that this was not a watch for me. That sadness quickly became anger when I started to pick apart what I didn’t like about the design and how it could — so easily — have been a different story. I always try and look on the bright side when it comes to watch reviewing. I am keen to hold back my own negativity at times, as I am aware I am just one man, and my feelings towards a watch are, while appreciated by many readers, not always the reason people visit Fratello or any other watch site.
…subjectivity counts too…
Objectivity is important. It is necessary when reviewing luxury products many people will never get the chance to see or hold before making a purchase decision. But subjectivity counts too. And negativity is just fine when it is justified. It may well leave a sour taste in the mouth, but as long as those bitter words are honest and well-intentioned, we must accept it. And so, with that prefaced, I invite you to join me on the saddest watch-related experience I suffered all year (cue 1,000 tiny violins)…
Blood boiling rage
I’m known for a somewhat volcanic temper. I am calm and tranquil until I’m not. These rapid eruptions of fury are often a little tongue-in-cheek (it’s best not to take me too seriously) and designed to vent the pent-up frustration accumulated over a lifetime of waiting lists, missed opportunities, and broken balance staffs.
It should have gone back to the drawing board with notes attached.
I’m aware of how ridiculous I am. Yes, I know I can be theatrical. Believe me when I say, there was nothing insincere or embellished about my reaction to trying the Alsta on for the first time. I let out a long, moaning wail of despair. I’d wanted to like it so badly. But I didn’t. And it isn’t just because it doesn’t suit me. No, it is far worse than that. I don’t like it because I don’t think it is a very good watch at all. It has a lot of things going for it, but this should never have made into production. It should have gone back to the drawing board with notes attached. The fact that this watch is, in many ways, so close to excellent, and yet ultimately a colossal failure (in my opinion) left me rapt by a blood boiling rage.
How does it wear
My main complaint about this largely faithful reissue is how it wears. Simply put, it wears like a brick. The colorway is awesome. The dial design is gorgeous. I particularly like the text between the center and six o’clock. The wordmark is great and sits very comfortably beneath the 12 o’clock marker. But none of those undeniable plus points (responsible for getting me so excited in the first place) can compensate for how tall this thing stands on the wrist.
The case size has been increased slightly to a more “modern” 38mm. Normally, I am against increasing the diameter of a vintage-inspired piece, but here the brand could perhaps have gone further to offset the uncompromising height of the Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic. It’s thickness? A humongous 15.1mm including the boxy crystal.
…the only relevant measurement.
There is a load of nonsense regarding this thickness measurement online. I did my due diligence by reading several other reviews to see what other people thought of this piece (after writing this review with unbiased eyes), and the apparent unwillingness of most bloggers (not all) to lay down this simple fact staggered me.
I saw other guys reference how this watch case is just 9mm thick without the bezel. That’s cute, but I tend to wear my watches with the bezel attached. I saw other stats quoting the height of this bad boy as 13mm excluding the crystal. Again, I like my dive watches to have a crystal. When you add that high-sided, albeit attractive crystal, into the mix, we end up with a total height of 15.1mm, which I regard as the only relevant measurement. So what does that mean?
The visual impact index
Time to indulge myself and plug these measurements into the Visual Impact Index to assess the balance of the watch head off the wrist. The aim of the VII is to try and show how a watch’s proportions, bezel thickness, and dial complexity relate to its diameter so watches of the same width can be more discerningly compared. Again, this isn’t necessarily a wearability rating as that is affected by personal factors such as wrist size and shape. This is pure design critique. The closer a watch scores to its actual diamter, the more proportionally satisfying the design. So with a 38mm diameter between the calipers, how did the Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic score in the VII?
…it stands up awkwardly on the wrist.
Amazingly (or not), this model turned in a score of 33.74mm. That is entirely reflective of how it appears out of the box. It means this watch design is so affected by its towering case height, it stands up awkwardly on the wrist. The bulky cushion-shaped case and stout 43mm lug-to-lug exacerbate its performance during general wear. You can actually buy the Alsta on a strap, which does help it stay still a bit more than the bracelet, but, if anything, the contrast between the suggested black strap and the stainless steel case is so stark, it looks even bigger.
Once again, I like the design of the bracelet in theory. It is a really cool, port-hole style that should definitely be praised for its ambition. Here, however, the problem lies in the execution of the concept. The detailing is quite poor and the machining, as it is for the case, looks a bit less crisp than you might imagine for a watch that retails at this price. Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that this Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic is powered by the NH35 movement.
What the movement choice should mean for the rest of the watch
It’s a fine caliber performance wise, and the bread and butter of many microbrands around the world.But at this price point, the buy-in cost of an NH35 leaves a lot of wiggle room to blow the budget on the machining to make sure every angle and every detail is sharp and delivers in the quality stakes.
…solid, Swiss-powered dive watches for around the €500 mark …
Movement selection is an important step of the design process. When you start getting into the plus €500 range, many enthusiasts expect a Swiss-made movement. This expectation is sometimes expressed fairly, sometimes not. A lot of potential customers would point to a group brand like, say, Tissot, making solid, Swiss-powered dive watches for around the €500 mark and expect the same from price point rivals.
A balancing act
This is a bit unfair, because Tissot specifically is owned by the company that makes its own movements, vastly reducing the cost of those higher-standard engines. Additionally, the economy of scale comes into play. Major, long-established brands, have huge production volumes, which also drives down the cost.
When small brands start out they must pull off a tricky balancing act. Where does the quality emphasis go? Do you stick to the Swiss staple and either sacrifice the design or execution thereof to keep the price down, or go with a cheaper caliber and make the design and execution the focal point of the product?
There is a bit of a ceiling for watches powered by NH35 calibers.
Alternatively, you can follow either extreme to the nth degree. You could put a cheap movement in a cheap case and rely on a generic style or brand building to generate sales (think Daniel Wellington). Conversely, you can put a solid Swiss caliber inside a crazily-well-made case with high-end components riddled throughout its design and presentation (think Ming or Laventure, for example).
There is a bit of a ceiling for watches powered by NH35 calibers. I’d say it is around €500 as mentioned. And to spend five or six hundred on a watch powered by an NH35, you’ve got to be wooed by great design and execution. I still think that’s the way for most micros to go. Here, however, the Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic has admittedly great aesthetics mixed with average component quality and an NH35 movement, with a retail price of €878.41 on the bracelet. There’s no way around it; that’s a lot of dough.
This is not a lost cause
I don’t like to be scathing. It doesn’t give me any pleasure. But it’s my duty, I believe, to be honest about every watch I get the chance to handle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is a lot I like about this watch on paper, but the whole package when assessed in real life on the wrist and in the context of its competition is not what I’d hoped for. The dial — even with those four lines of text — is right up my street.
…there is a way to salvage this design…
The icy-cool bezel is a lovely complement to the dial. The case shape is a little clunky but period-appropriate. Even the bracelet idea is pleasingly novel but slumps in the metal. But really, I ardently believe the brand missed a trick here. However, all is not lost. I believe there is a way to salvage this design and scope for an Alsta Nautoscaph II.
Exactly what I would change
I’m going to simplify this a bit, but I hope it comes across as constructively as intended (I’m not dismissing the many difficulties involved in changing thicknesses, but the areas I’m highlighting should be reconsidered in my opinion).
The first thing that should be addressed is the thickness of the watch. It needs to come down drastically. The bezel does not need to be 4mm tall. The crystal, while very attractive, could easily be replaced with a less boxy alternative. The 9mm case band needs to be slashed right down. Fitting a manual wind Swiss caliber would be a good start.
…a white-on-black datewheel instead of black-on-white …
Something like the Sellita 215-1 would be fine, although you might then have to bring the date window towards the center by a couple of millimeters as the 25.6mm (11.5”’) 215-1 is narrower than the 27.07mm (12”’) NH35. Given that relocation, opting for a white-on-black datewheel instead of black-on-white and allowing the 3 o’clock marker to match the size of its counterpart at 9 would likely solve the issue.
Take 1mm off the bezel. Eliminate 1mm from the crystal height. The SW215-1 is 3.35mm thick. Meanwhile, the NH35 is 5.32mm. That’s a saving of 1.97mm You could further clean-up the dial by removing the bottom two lines of text. If those changes were made, the watch would score 37.89mm, which is much closer to the optimum. If you really want to dig into it, the optimum thickness of the case (according to my index) if the bezel thickness (I measured it at 4.9mm) remains the same, is 10.945mm. That would require a further reduction of 0.185mm from somewhere (I’d look again to the crystal or bezel height to make that possible).
So there you have it. This design has enough about it to have kept me interested in trying this watch for years. As such, I feel it would be really worthwhile Alsta trying again with this concept. Those changes should be able to be made without increasing the price any further. Heck, we could even save money by not engraving the shark on the buckle (a characterful touch, maybe, but not to my liking). I truly believe that a slimmed-down, simplified, manual-wind version of the Alsta Nautoscaph would be a winner. If Alsta’s designers want to work together on bringing it to life, they know where to find me. Learn more about the brand here.