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Planes, Trams and Automobiles
Gnomon Viewpoint

Planes, Trams and Automobiles

A Week in Melbourne with the Alpina Alpiner Extreme

Published by: Fahmi Ebrahim
Jul 04, 2024

I spent seven formative years in Melbourne. In my 20s too, that decade in one’s life where you’re just young enough to think yourself young, and old enough to not think yourself a child.

I only half-remember that period. It is, after all, a city that sleeps very little. And I slept very little.

I spent no small amount of time under the clocks, on the once-heated steps of the Edwardian era Baroque cultural landmark that is Flinders Street station. In my earlier days I hid a red KFC uniform under my jacket as I waited for the Cranbourne/Pakenham trains (platforms 6 and 7 I salute you!), oversized Sennheisers over-ears to keep me company after the overnight shift on a Sunday morning. Later, I graduated to hiding my insecurities under a bespoke suit as I caught the No. 6 tram to Malvern East.

Point being, wherever you are in life, if you live in Melbourne, Flinders Street is somewhere you invariably find yourself.

There is an urban myth that it was originally intended to be in Mumbai (Bombay, for those of you of a certain vintage). The story goes that when the Mumbai and Flinders Street stations were made or designed - in colonial Britain, by the same architects - the plans were shipped at the same time, but the shipments were labelled wrong. And so Melbourne got Mumbai’s train station, and the British Raj built the Chhatrapati Shivaji (Victoria) Terminus, operational by 1888.

Is it true? It doesn’t matter. The timelines don’t really match, so it is highly unlikely.

But hey, accurately documented history is for historians. Legends, on the other hand, are for the people. For reference, see the origin story of the Rolex Explorer.


This year, after twelve years away, I went back to Melbourne, and on the wrist I had for company the Alpiner Extreme, a 41 mm automatic that has been given the highest level of architectural attention by Alpina, a sleeping giant in Swiss watchmaking.

The Case: Bold, and Uncompromising
The most striking quality of the Alpiner Extreme is that it doesn’t care what you think. It is not wasting time trying to be coy, or cute. To get to its flourishes you must face its brutal (and functional) case construction. This is no Calatrava.

Every time I kept looking down at it, during tram, train and plane rides, it impressed upon me just how much it looked like something entirely modern. If it was an homage to anything, it was not to Gerald Genta. The DNA, if you will, is undeniable, but what Alpina are trying to do here goes beyond honourable imitation. They are trying to provide the next iteration of that concept.

If you have a minute, feel free to search images of the AP Royal Oak, GP Laureato or the PP Aquanaut. On all those watches, the flanks of the case are kept uncomplicated. Their magic is on and around the bezel. 

The Alpiner Extreme, as the name suggests, has more rugged ideas. Whereas the three named above are sports watches you actually wouldn’t want to rough up, the Alpiner Extreme says “go on, give us what you got”.

Note how the crown side acquires not one, but two sculpted sections as your eyes move towards the middle. This is not for show. As the name suggests, the Alpiner is designed for mountaineering, which is a core part of the Aplina DNA. It is in the name of the company, and in the name of this model, and mountaineering involves the probability that you will bang your wrists against a rock, and these well proportioned bumps protect the case.

The Bezel: Brushed, and Signed

I love a brushed bezel. I always have, and one of the issues I have had with many “dressy” adventure watches such as the Rolex Explorer and even the Seiko Alpinist is that a polished bezel is bothersome on two fronts.

First, a polished bezel is hard to keep fresh. Since both the Explorer and Alpinst are intended to be mountaineering watches, it would be ideal if they came with treatments that befit a mountaineer’s likely experiences. But Rolex and Seiko also want their watches to be “fit for the office”. What ends up happening is this: few modern Explorer wearers are unlikely to take it to adventures because they don’t want to ding up the bezel. Sure, of the two, the Alpinist, due to its relative affordability (in both compass and no-compass variants) is a more likely adventure companion, but you would still have a fairly scratched up bezel during the week if you took it hiking during the weekend.

The Alpiner Extreme benefits from having no allusions of grandeur. Its bezel is flat (with no peaks to catch impact, pun fully intended) and brushed with a very visible grain, which is likely to swallow all the small scratches it will receive. 

This also has legibility advantages. On a bright day, your eyes are not distracted by light bouncing off a shiny bezel surface. Instead, you can focus solely on the dial.

The six screws are two fewer than on the Royal Oak, and here is where the Genta inspiration is most apparent. But instead of traditional, flat-end screw heads - and the philosophical question of whether these should be random or symmetrically turned - we get a repeated Alpina logo mountain motif. This is carried through into the dial, but more on that later.

This makes me give the watch a pass mark, Because if one thinks about it, leaving the bezel completely unblemished would have caused large corridors of negative, empty space. If you want to see what it looks like, have a look at the Unimatic Modello Quatro (U4), a watch, I feel, suffers from looking overly block-ish and simplistic.

The Bevels: Polished and Charmingly Juxtaposed

As you turn the watch around in your hand, it is apparent just how much consideration has gone into breaking up the visual lines on the Alpiner Extreme. Polish is applied minimally, and in a manner that is tasteful.

Consider the polished bevels that run along (1) the edge of the bezel and (2) the perimeter of the midcase. These are sumptuous. The first visually separates the bezel from the broad satin lugs above and below, and the second frames those lugs and creates a layer that cheekily highlights the layered flanks on either side.

This is what I alluded to earlier on when I said that the Alpiner Extreme has a very architectural feel. Well designed buildings know how to point where they want they want you to look. This watch provides a clear visual distinction between the bezel, the lugs, the midcase and the case sides.

The Dial: Textures and Triangles

If there is one place on the watch that the Alpiner Extreme makes room for sentimentality, it is on the dial. The marque was founded in 1883 by Gottlieb Hauser with a view to uniting several watchmakers in the Swiss alps. Initially the name of two landmark in-house calibres, the name Alpina was first used as a brand in 1908 to celebrate the watchmakers’ union’s 25th anniversary.

The triangle logo was also used for the first time in 1908, and it is this shape that Alpina uses to good effect on the dial. The temptation would have been to go for a faux-tapisserie pattern. I love that they did not.

At best, the user might see it as a pale imitation of the Royal Oak, and at worst, a cynical cash grab recreation of the Tissot PRX, a product a few rungs down the order in terms of execution. What we have here, instead, is the repeated triangle motif that adds depth to the dial. It is primarily a talking point, and the conversations about it will be entirely in the context of what this watch represents to its maker.

The hands are tapered batons, almost alpha like (as in the Oris Pro Pilot), except they are angular and not curved at the tip. For legibility purposes, what you see is a large surface area filled with lume, except for the edges, which get a high quality polished finish.

The indices are double batons at the 12, with single batons everywhere else. The baton at the three is a half length. It is compensating for the framed date window with the colour-matched date wheel. Thankfully, this date assembly is on the larger side, without being large. The whole time I used it, and I glanced at the date a lot, it served its purpose in a minimalist yet clearly legible manner.

A point of interest is the minute markings, which are on the rehaut, and not on the dial. This is a clever way of keeping the dial clean, and if you need to set the time to the minute, the hash marks are there to allow it.

The net effect is a dial where the hands are clearly visible at all times, and especially visible in their Superluminova brilliance in the dark. In summary, it is extremely functional as a time telling device.

The Movement: Serviceable Precision

The AL-525 Caliber which powers the Alpiner Extreme is essentially a tuned Sellita SW 200-1 with a custom grain anthracite Alpina branded rotor (with the expected 38 hours power reserve), and can be seen in its full glory when the watch is turned over. The bridges are nicely finished, and there are just enough peeks of blue, gold and ruby purple to remind you that this isn’t the Seiko 7S26 that was in your first automatic watch.

The more I am in the world of watches, the more I realise just how handy these restyled Sellita and ETA (non Powermatic) movements are. Come servicing time, you won’t have to send it away. You won’t be at the mercy of your local authorised service centre. Instead, you can take it to a watchmaker you can trust, and they will be able to service it for you for a very reasonable cost. For a watch focusing on low maintenance ruggedness, it is a wise choice.

The Strap: Just enough, and not too much

The configuration I tested came with the rubber strap, and I would advise anyone with wrists on the smaller side to go for this. My wrist is 6.75 inches (a shade over 17cm), and this helped the watch to articulate snugly.

The Alpiner Extreme is not a light watch, and it is not meant to be. It is not particularly chunky either, coming in at 41mm in diameter, 51mm lug to lug and 11.5mm thick. So it wears broad, and it wears flat.

This is a very modern look, and at a time when watch sizes are trending downwards, provides a solution for many collectors who like a strong presence on the wrist, but don’t want a watch with a timing or GMT bezel.

The supplied rubber is thick, yet pliable, and the excess strap is fed through the thick gauge and low profile Alpina branded clasp to ensure there are no unsightly dangly bits.

The whole setup is very grown up and points to Alpina succeeding in finding a very balanced package at this price range.

In Conclusion

The City in the title of this piece refers to the ambition of the Alpina designers. Look at the buildings in any modern metropolis, and you will see what I mean: buildings that possess tapered angles, metal work that weaves in and out to visually cut through the utilitarian musculature that they are part of.

And within those pieces of blocky rigidity, there are moments of history, of calling back to the past in ways that are not immediately obvious.

That is what the Alpiner Extreme is. It doesn’t beg to be an office watch, but if you wore it to the office, it is bound to get a glance or two, like it did on my wrist on the No. 6 tram to St. Kilda Rd. If you fell off a mountain bike with it on, I doubt you would see the scratch. And if you swam with it, especially in rubber, it would be entirely at home.

It is no shrinking violet, but is slim enough to fit under a cuff.

How you feel about its refined maximalist approach is, of course, entirely subjective. But one thing is glaringly obvious.

Alpina are not phoning it in.

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