How the Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto strikes a chord with enthusiasts How the Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto strikes a chord with enthusiasts

How the Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto strikes a chord with enthusiasts

Tom Austin

The watch industry is full of interesting brands that push the limits regarding technology and design, especially the higher up the horological hierarchy you go. Be it getting experimental with materials or playful with design elements, these brands often re-invent things or release something remarkable; however, all too often, the price tags cause you to wince. Then there’s Christopher Ward, the British brand known for its budget-friendly, well-made, and relatively safely designed sports watches, who went on to release something new that would change their brand forever.

Looking to make a striking departure from its usual, historically somewhat vanilla lineup, Christopher Ward had spent a long time looking into what makes the watch enthusiasts’ world tick. Something became abundantly clear: despite every brand producing a line of similar-looking, similarly functioning watches, we as enthusiasts genuinely appreciate things that are totally different. With that, they took their DNA and threw it aside, taking a dramatic gamble to create a large, futuristic dress watch with unique charm and a sprinkle of innovation. The result was the C1 Bel Canto, a 41mm ultra-modern, yet almost classical wristwatch, where the main focus isn’t just telling the time but a wonderfully executed complication delivered at an unheard-of price.

A bold break from the ordinary

Christopher Ward Bel Canto Desk

Firstly, the watch is handily sized for the bigger-wristed at 41mm, which can often be a challenge at these price points for independent-brand dress watches. All too often, they seem to be in the 34-36mm range, which is a tad on the small side for my gorilla wrists. Somewhere, our smaller-wristed Editor Zach Blass is fuming I have said this. That’s not to say the Bel Canto isn’t elegant, though; the wearer is certainly wearing the watch rather than the other way around, and the proportions are gentle enough to remain subtle and not overpowering. Weight plays a big part here, too. Machined from grade-5 titanium, the head of the watch weighs a mere 53 grams, so on the wrist, it feels lightweight, but not concerningly so.

The case is well-proportioned, with small, elegantly curved lugs, and finished with a fine brushing all over, with hardly any highly polished areas in sight. You would think this would lend the watch a somewhat tool-like appearance, but it pulls it off well. The bezel is a thinly chamfered affair, simply framing the watch and not drawing more attention away from what’s important, which lies beneath the slightly domed sapphire crystal, taking it to a respectable 13.4mm thick. Overall, the watch is nicely sized for larger wrists, although it may not be quite so subtle if you have smaller wrists. Speaking of subtle, you’ll note that the front of the watch is unusually brand-less; the name Christopher Ward or the brand’s logo is completely missing apart from the case back and crown. This is a touch that shows that Christopher Ward is so proud of their design that they didn’t want to disrupt its flow with complicated logos or insignia. The Bel Canto is quoted as being water-resistant to 30 metres, however, I can’t see many of us going swimming with our Bel Canto watches on.

A high-horology attention grabber, minus the price tag

Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto wrist

Now we get to the exciting part. The dial, in my opinion, is simply a work of art. It is three-dimensional and layered, with a baseplate finished in a sunburst effect that cleverly emanates from the centre of the time display dial rather than the centre of the watch like most sunburst finishes. This particular variation is called Cielo blue, Cielo being the Spanish word for “sky”, and you can see why as it transitions from a bright pale blue to feint grey in certain lights. Above the dial sit the lever and spring mechanisms, which operate the sonnerie au passage complication, where every 60 minutes, a tiny hammer charges to strike the chiming bell, which wraps around three-quarters of the dial.

Across the top section sits a bridge supporting the time-telling sub-dial at the 12′ position. Each of these components, the bridges, levers, and hammer, are all anglage-finished by hand and, for the price point, are more than adequate and offer subtle quality touches to the details rather than being overly dressy. Some have mentioned legibility being an issue, and to some degree. I can understand. That being said, this isn’t for someone who needs a tool watch. This is a more artistic design where it is worth savouring the experience of reading the dial – enjoying its details every time.

Taking a different approach to watchmaking

Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto

And for Christopher Ward’s next trick, the movement. Starting life as an automatic Sellita SW200, Christopher Ward massively overhauled it to create the new Caliber FS01. This variation and expansion upon the base calibre includes an additional 50 components, allowing it to convert to a jumping hour system which draws back power via a series of levers and spring arms so as not to affect timekeeping. It’s an ingenious system that has provided the potential to bring high-end complications to a more palatable price and, therefore, a wider audience. It’s rumoured that aspects of this cost-effective approach will trickle down into future C1 products, so watch this space to see what comes next. Usually, sonnerie au passage complications are reserved for only the highest order of timepieces, so now you’re getting a picture of why the Bel Canto struck everyone as a shock when it was released. Even the chiming sound is precision engineered, with CW’s watchmakers testing around 80 different sound springs and hammers over two years to create the perfect chime for the watch. The result is spot on, a delicate and refined “ding” on the hour, every hour. It’s not quite loud enough to show your friends in a busy bar, but it’s just right. The watch is operated by a simple crown at the 2 o’clock position and a single pusher at 4, which activates or deactivates the chiming mechanism, displayed on the dial by a small indicator. Winding is handled either via the crown itself or the inner rotor, providing up to 38 hours of power reserve, which is more than enough for a watch like this.

Closing thoughts

Christopher Ward Bel Canto Desk 2

The Bel Canto is a delight to wear as a daily watch. I thought I would find the hourly chimes to be a distraction, but on the contrary, it was, in fact, quite pleasant to be reminded that each hour had passed throughout the day. In a time where smartphones and smartwatches rule our schedules, I found wearing the Bel Canto’s rings to keep me focused and aware while working, or that I have to pick up my wife from the train station in an hour, without the incessant interruption of notifications and inevitable distractions of screens. There’s something special about the fact that there’s a tiny machine doing that job instead, and as a watch enthusiast, I’m all for it. Then, of course, there’s another major plus point: the price. Starting at US$3,795, such a unique watch with a Sonnerie au Passage complication is quite astonishing when you consider that even traditional minute repeaters can cost multiples of that figure.

Christopher Ward’s range is branching out, with additional Bel Canto colours being delivered in 2024. There are alternative strap and bracelet options too, with the calf-leather straps being exceptionally made from soft calf leather, featuring quick-release spring bars and a titanium buckle. I perhaps would have preferred a deployment clasp, but that’s my personal preference – while the titanium case is very durable, I wouldn’t want to drop it many times, and we’ve all done it with traditional strap buckles. The titanium bracelet option solves this but brings on a more tool-like aesthetic for the watch. However, I didn’t care for it quite as much as I think it changes the watch’s character too much.

In conclusion, the C1 Bel Canto is one of the most remarkable watches I’ve worn recently. Rarely have I received so many compliments, people asking to see it, and, of course, an even rarer occurrence in watches, hearing it. It’s a wonderful piece of design that is seldom seen at this price level. Christopher Ward made an audacious leap forward here, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what comes next in the Bel Canto line.

Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto pricing and availability

Order books have been filled for some time for the Bel Canto, so there’s a short wait currently. Pre-orders are available via the Christopher Ward website, with delivery aiming for July 2024. Price: US$3,795 (on strap), US$4,210 (on bracelet)

Brand Christopher Ward
Model C1 Bel Canto
Reference Number C01-41APT2
Case Dimensions 41mm (D) x 13mm (T) x 48mm (LtL)
Case Material Grade 5 titanium
Water Resistance 30 metres
Crystal(s) Domed sapphire
Dial Sunburst sky blue, viola, rosa or black
Strap Calfskin leather or titanium bracelet
Movement C1-FS01, modified Sellita SW200, automatic
Power Reserve 38 hours
Functions Hours, minutes, sonnerie au passage)
Availability Pre-order for July 2024 delivery
Price US$3,795 (on strap), US$4,210 (on bracelet)