Fortis Classic Cosmonauts Chronograph – A Hands On Review
If you’re a regular Fratello reader, then you’ve likely noticed that we’ve started to focus heavily on watches from Fortis and today we take a look at what is probably one of their most eagerly followed pieces: the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts Chronograph.
In 2015, Blaise and I met with the brand in Basel and we could tell that things were moving in the right direction with the launch of some newer, albeit dressier, pieces from the Terrestis line. In 2016, though, the brand deluged us with new model after new model and, honestly, they were all great looking watches. So, when Blaise and I were offered the opportunity to get our hands on a new model of our choice for testing and review, it took some time to make our choices. Blaise chose and reviewed the compelling Aeromaster and I chose the watch before you, the Classic Cosmonauts. It’s time for a closer look…
Fortis is on a Roll…
Fortis has really stepped up its overall game within the past year. They’ve become a far more noticeable presence on social media, their doors are wide open to Internet writers (see Blaise’s recent report on a visit to the HQ in Grenchen, Switzerland) and, of course, they’ve bolstered their lineup with great watches. Amongst these new pieces was the release of the new Classic Cosmonauts Chronograph.
Certified Space Watch
In order to understand the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts Chronograph, one must look back to 1994 when the original Cosmonauts piece became the official watch of the Russian space program. At that time, a smaller (roughly 38mm) chronograph was used by cosmonauts and featured a Lemania 5100 automatic movement. It was an attractive watch, but was ultimately replaced by a 42mm version with an ETA/Valjoux 7750 movement, less flowing lugs and more of a “toolish” look. Fortis sells this watch today and, like the Omega Speedmaster Professional, it’s a certified space watch. Unlike Omega, however, Fortis also sells a space-certified 3-hand Official Cosmonauts as well with an ETA 2836-2 automatic. So, where does today’s watch fit into the picture?
Fortis Brings its Space Watch up to Date
Essentially, the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts Chronograph takes the looks of the original space watch from the 1990’s and “upsizes” it to something more contemporary – in this case, 42mm. Furthermore, the brand offers the watch in four(!!) variations. Essentially, there are two different dial colors (black or silver) and each can be chosen with either a stainless steel bezel or black ceramic. Fortis designates the silver dialed editions as “a.m” and the black as “p.m.”. So, if you’re following along, the watch in front of you is the Classis Cosmonauts Steel p.m. The official website makes this clear as well. It should also be known that these pieces are not officially certified, so they’re sort of re-editions.
Some other facts about the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts Chronograph are that it contains a Valjoux 7750 movement with quick-set day and date that can be viewed via a glass case back. It is water resistant to 100 meters, has a lug width of 20mm and hacks. The sapphire is coated in anti-reflective material and the watch is available on a leather strap (pictured) or stainless bracelet. The piece before you retails for 3360 Euros while the ceramics sell for 3580 Euros.
Why Review the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts?
I ended up choosing the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts Steel p.m. because I felt it was most true to the original cosmonauts watch. Fortis had a space-worn example of this piece (pictured earlier in this story) and I really fell in love with it, so I thought that going with something in the same spirit made sense. Blaise received his Aeromaster roughly a month before I received my watch because, guess what, mine was still in initial production mode!
Then, when it was ultimately ready, the watch encountered some issues with German customs – it’s constant fun to ship from Switzerland into the EU…believe me. Sadly, the watch didn’t arrive in time for me to take it on a weeklong vacation, but it’s arrival a few days after my return was well-timed nonetheless. Why?
If you’re living in Europe or watching the news, then you might know that it has been an extremely rainy Summer in Germany thus far in 2016. As one who normally straps vintage chronographs to his wrist, it’s been a risky season so far. So, yes, the arrival of the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts has allowed me to wear a modern chronograph without fear while still showing off what I’d call neo-vintage looks. Getting back to the watch’s arrival, it arrived in a massive box filled with a big leather “drawer” that held the chronograph on black pillow. I don’t open new watches as often as I once did, but this was an impressive presentation package.
Once out of the box, I put the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts on my wrist and I’ve been wearing it every 2-3 days since that time – rain or shine, this is one heck of a good looking and comfortable watch. The well made, white-stitched black leather strap (made by Hirsch apparently) uses a signed pin buckle and actually fits my wrist. You’ll notice that I also have paired the watch with a simple black NATO too in order to clone the cosmonaut look and I like that a lot too (Fortis, why not include or sell one with a Fortis buckle?). So, initial thoughts aside, what else makes this watch so nice? As always, it’s the details that count.
Stylistically, the entire Fortis line seems to share similarities with their bold Arabic numeral indices. I recall our Basel meeting and being told that these numbers are actually not applied but are “back punched” through the dial. As you can see in this macro, they look impeccable and I think they’re the strongest design element on this watch. Secondarily, you’ll note that the watch contains a lot of complex surfaces on the dial such as rings within the sub registers and concentric rings along the outer edge of the true “step dial”.
Other details emerge on the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts such as subregister hands that contain two different colors (the hours and minutes register hands are orange and black while the running seconds register hand is black and nickel). The main hands are nickel plated and styled classically; they’re not so different than hands found on a classic Heuer Carrera. The central chronograph hand is of an arrow shape similar to that of the Speedmaster but in this case, it is a striking orange and black.
The dial, overall, is beautifully made and contains a radiating, sunburst finish. The beveled day/date window with black wheel and strong white font helps achieve a purposeful symmetry with the 6/9/12 registers. It should be said, again, that this layout for chronographs is not normally amongst my favorite, but it does look nice on the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts. Perhaps it’s the dark color or the contrast with the green and orange, but it does look good in this application.
Sitting atop the dial is a very large sapphire crystal. It’s a deceiving aperture because it’s not exactly flat. It’s certainly not domed but it tables to a very soft point and is raised above the bezel slightly. Speaking of the bezel, it’s a favorite aspect of mine because it’s engraved and expertly done. The precision is fantastic and I’m actually very happy I chose to review this versus ceramic. It’s brushed which contrasts nicely off of the polished crown guards.
Regarding the case design of the Fortis, I actually like it more that I did the Terristis Tycoon that I reviewed last year. It has a matte finish on top and is polished on the sides. The lugs are relatively simple and long, but it’s a good solid look that tends toward the sportier side of things. Regarding the controls, the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts contains a huge pull-out crown that would definitely work with a gloved hand. It pulls out two stops – the first for day and date and the second for time setting. The pushers, however, are screw-down and are sized proportionally to match the overall look of the watch.
The Fortis Classic Cosmonauts is a relatively thick watch due to the 7750 inside. When flipping it over, the thickness is somewhat exacerbated by massive screw-down exhibition case back. The movement is nicely finished and the rotor is adorned with blue engravings and Fortis’ proud statement of being the world’s first manufacturer of automatic wristwatches. It’s a high-class look that definitely belongs at this price point, but I’d almost rather see a solid caseback in a nod to its 1990’s era ancestor. Either way, it’s fine as I spend 99.9% of my time looking at the front of the watch.
A Versatile Watch
Coming back to the looks, I’d say that the brand has a definite hit on their hands with the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts. I’ve worn this watch out quite a bit and have received compliments from friends (they certainly know to check my wrist as the local watch addict) and strangers. People like the large size – or at least the large looking dial due to the relatively slim bezel, the strong looking case and all the contrasting colors on the dial. To me, it has a lot of the hallmarks of the typical Teutonic chronographs formerly from Fortis or currently from companies such as Tutima or Sinn, but the Fortis somehow looks a bit less “hard”. Because of this, it’s a watch that can pull duty just as easily at work or play.
I know I’ve really enjoyed wearing the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts overall and it’s become a very regular wear for me – especially in this period of questionable weather. On the positive front, it’s been a fun partner as a BBQ timer and I don’t have to worry about dripping condensation from beverages on it! I find that it lives most of the time on the NATO strap and pairs really well with jeans or whatever I’m wearing when I head out on the weekend. I feel like I’m wearing a credible watch and, to me, it’s a real alternative to my usual choices of vintage.
The Competitive Landscape
Regarding competition, there’s a lot out there in this price range to consider aside from the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts. Everyone from the German companies to stalwarts like Tudor, Longines, and others offer chronographs with 7750’s and prices are really all over the map. I’d argue that the Fortis, despite having a higher price than some, is really worth a look for all the reasons I suggested above, but also because it’s a bit different than what most will likely be wearing. The brand is independently owned and strikes me as less “commercial” then some, but it boasts some real lineage the link with the Russian space program shouldn’t be ignored. Just for kicks, you can also see that I’ve lined up the Fortis next to a Speedmaster Professional. Interestingly, both are 42mm, but you can see that the lugs on the Fortis are noticeably longer. They’re definitely different watches, but the comparison is inevitable.
When I did the rundown of Fortis at Basel for this past year, my excitement was tough to ignore. Blaise and I were positively surprised by the great catalog that Fortis now offers. Now, you can hopefully see that my enthusiasm has not lessened since I’ve been able to sample the Fortis Classic Cosmonauts. Head over to your local Fortis authorized dealer and try one on for size!