Why the new Baltic Bicompax 003 Salmon hardly left my wristBorna Bošnjak
There’s not much left to say about Baltic that hasn’t been said across the watchverse, but here’s a quick round-up if you’ve been hiding under a horological rock since 2017. Etienne Malec, a long-term watch fan and inheritee of his father’s enviable collection, launched Baltic with two collections – the HMS and Bicompax – inspired by sector dials and two-register chronographs of the 1940s. You can find out more about the brand right here. The topic of today’s hands-on is the latest variation of the Bicompax, Baltic’s manually wound chronograph which has seen a significant redesign for its third generation. With a reduced case size and a new dial design, the Baltic Bicompax 003 has spent nearly two weeks on my wrist without coming off – an unprecedented amount if you’re a horological deviant like myself. Let me tell you how it managed to do that.
Let’s start with the most notable change – the new 36.5mm case. Neither the original nor its successor were large watches by any means, sized at 38mm, and were one of the early adopters of a smaller, affordable mechanical chronograph, courtesy of the ST1901. The design of the case is actually similar to the predecessor’s in many ways, including the highly polished step surrounding the domed hesalite crystal, down to the fully brushed midcase.
Where the Bicompax 003 really sets itself apart is the lug length, which drops down a millimetre to 46 in total. While this is an even smaller change than the diameter, it makes the 003 feel like an actual vintage watch, in a way that is truly rare with modern re-issues and retro-inspired designs. The lugs are long, though by no means oversized and were the perfect fit for my 6.15in/15.5cm wrist. Even though both the steel bracelet and host of leather straps have a quick-release feature, Baltic remembered to drill the lugs – a lovely vintage touch.
The crown is large to help with manual winding, flanked by pump pushers that perfectly round out the 1940s look. None of them screw down, which amounts to a 50-metre water resistance. Being totally honest, it was one of the more comfortable watches I’ve worn this year, partly thanks to the flat caseback that doesn’t protrude like many Seagull chrono-equipped pieces. I think it’s quite clear that I’m a fan, and we haven’t even mentioned the dial yet.
If you’ve read any of my previous work, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a sucker for salmon (this is also applicable to the fish, by the way). Baltic got their shade just right, and when combined with the mixed finishes of each of the sectors, it’s hard not to fall in love. The printing is crisp, with even less text on the dial, as Baltic have done away with the 002’s MANUEL, a third line of text that previously sat just under the Bicompax denomination. I really appreciate that none of the indices are truncated due to the interlocking sub-registers, and the typeface of the Arabic numerals that balance each other out at 12 and 6 o’clock is just right. Open 6 for the win.
Zooming in lets you have a closer look at the three finishes of the sector dial. The inner medallion contains the Baltic Bicompax branding surrounded by a frosted or hammered-like finish, even though Baltic call it ‘sandblasted’. Going outwards, you’ll find two circularly brushed rings containing the applied, polished indices and railroad minute track, before a small gap of tremblage, and another brushed railroad track. Finally, the two azurage-finish sub-dials flank the central pinion at 9 and 3 o’clock. It’s all quite complex, yet finely finished, though the most impressive aspect of the dial might just be the feuille hands. Smaller brands often suffer from poorly finished hand-sets, as it’s a common place of corner-cutting. While the chrono and sub-dial hands are nothing remarkable, the hour and minute hands are quite lovely indeed.
One of the main contributors to the comfort of the Bicompax 003 has to be its bracelet. Not only is it very well put together, but the links still manage enough articulation to give it just a tad of that endearing jangly vibe of vintage bracelets. The aforementioned quick-release spring bars are a definite plus, as is the milled clasp which manages a fantastic six holes of micro-adjustment. To truly take the watch to the next level, I’d love to see some form of toolless micro-adjust, though, to be fair, that would likely command a premium on top of that of the bracelet. Even though the 003 reduced in size, it still sports a 20mm lug width, so strap play should be easy.
Another unchanged aspect is the main reason for the Baltic Bicompax 003 being so affordable. Seagull’s ST1901 has been a mainstay of entry-level mechanical chronographs for a few years now, and in terms of pricing, no other mechanical chronograph movement comes close. For the truly eagle-eyed among you, you’ll notice that its column wheel construction is familiar, especially when looking at a certain old Swiss chrono movement. You’d be correct – it is in fact the architecture of the Venus 175 from the 1940s. It stopped being produced in Switzerland in the 1960s, but not in China. Tianjin Watch Factory happened to purchase the rights and machinery used to make the 175, modified the base 17-jewel calibre, and still produce its 19-jewelled, 42-hour power reserve variant to this day. Can’t go wrong with a ’40s movement in a ’40s-inspired watch, hey?
One final note on the movement – thanks to the reduction in case size, it now fills the caseback as if it was made for the Bicompax 003 in the first place. Pretty neat.
It will have become pretty clear by now that I’m a fan of this watch, and it’s no wonder that it was the pick of the litter pretty much every morning, for nearly two weeks. The dial is more complex, yet no less legible than prior models, the case size greatly improves its ergonomics (at least on my smaller-than-average wrist), and the no-date, no-fuss movement is that much better now that it fills out the caseback properly. Don’t get me wrong, no watch is perfect – a sapphire crystal and quick-adjust would be great upgrades for prolonged daily wear – but considering the price point and overall inspiration for its aesthetics, it’s pretty damn great.
You know I’m saying the truth, because I haven’t complained that it’s technically not a bicompax once. Oh, wait…
Baltic Bicompax 003 pricing and availability
The Baltic Bicompax 003 collection is available now. Time+Tide is an authorised dealer of Baltic watches, please contact [email protected] should you be interested in this collection. Price: starting from A$1,025
|Case Dimensions||36.5mm (D) x 13mm (T) x 46mm (LTL)|
|Case Material||Stainless steel|
|Water Resistance||50 metres|
|Dial||Grained and brushed salmon|
|Strap||Steel beads of rice bracelet|
|Movement||Seagull ST1901, hand-wound, column wheel chronograph|
|Power Reserve||42 hours|
|Functions||Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph|
|Price||Starting from A$1,025|