UK-based Christopher Ward has spent the last few years building up a solid reputation for making attractive, solid mechanical timepieces, and then selling them at an accessible price-point. One of the most interesting collections is the "JJ Calibres" – watches made in collaboration with watchmaker Johannes Janke. These are characterized by the interesting and unusual implementation of complications. The first in this series was a pretty excellent jump hour, followed up by a stylish monopusher chronograph. The most recent introduction is the watch I’ve been wearing for the last few weeks, the C900 Worldtimer.
Out of the box, the C900 is a striking watch. At 43mm wide and around 12mm high it’s large, but not offputtingly so. The dial is immediately eye-catching – there’s quite a bit going on. The center is dominated by a blue and silver map of the world (more on that later), surrounded by a 24-hour ring with two-color day/night indicator. Wedged in at the very outside edge of the dial is a narrow chapter ring indicating minutes. The dial also has hour/minute hands, second time zone hand, an aperture at 12 which displays the airport code for the second time zone. The secondary time is also displayed as a red dot on the map of the world; so yeah, there’s quite a bit going on here.
Notice that I said "second time zone" in the singular. A worldtime complication allows you to see the time of any city across the globe at a glance, without fiddling with the crown or bezel. The Chris Ward Worldtime only shows the time in one other timezone. I would say this watch is a GMT with some extras, rather than a true worldtime complication. But before we look at that, let’s see how it works.
How It Works
The long leaf shaped silver hands display the main time. What’s potentially confusing for a lot of users is that the main time AND second time displays are shown in 24-hour time. For example midday is where 6 is on a traditional dial. The blue and silver day/night indicator helps but it still takes some getting used to – especially if you wear this watch in rotation with watches that have more traditional 12-hour dials.
You set the main time by pulling the crown out to the second position. If you push it back a notch (to the first position) you can set the second timezone and the timezone display.
Basically, Janke replaced the date wheels of a standard ETA 2893 to engineer this GMT complication. On the outer rim of the wheel he’s placed 24 popular airport codes, one from each time zone. There is a window at 12 that displays this code – as a quick reference to where the second time zone is currently set. The watch also features a handy cheat sheet on the caseback, indicating which city correlates with which airport code. As a side note, the caseback on the unit I reviewed was not the final version – so I have only used a supplied image of it.
The inner part of the wheel displays the second time zone geographically. The map section of the dial has 24 small pinhole apertures, and moving the crown counter clockwise (down) not only changes the airport code, but highlights the city on the map with a red dot.
This method of displaying the second time zone geographically and through airport code is very appealing and I found it an intuitive way to look at international time.
So once you’ve set the second time zone city, you can set the second time zone hand without changing the crown position. Turning the crown clockwise (up) will move the red hand forward in one-hour increments. As mentioned, the city display takes advantage of the date disc architecture, so it is not directly connected to the GMT hand. This means the city display is basically there as a graphical element and reminder of what the GMT is indicating. Unlike with the Nomos Zürich Weltzeit (another interesting GMT watch), there is no way to change the city indication and the time indication together.
The C900 is a very nice watch to wear. As I mentioned, it clocks in at 43mm wide and 12mm high. It’s a sizeable watch, but one that’s well proportioned and in keeping with contemporary sensibilities. The case is plain but well done, with a combination of brushed and polished finishes giving it just the right amount of wrist sparkle without becoming overly dressy or a scratch magnet.
It comes on a very nice navy blue alligator strap with a single fold CW-signed deployant clasp. The buckle needed a firm press to close, as it otherwise had the unnerving tendency to pop open. Once I got used to it I had no problems, but it's something to be aware of.
The real star of this watch is the very complex and multi-layered dial. I’ve already run through the functional aspects, but haven’t spoken much about the finish. Simply put, it’s a real stunner and a great achievement for Christopher Ward to be able to offer such a technical dial at this price. The most striking element is the silver and blue map of the world. The landmasses on this map are a matte silver that has quite a good amount of definition. The ocean is a rich blue that is elevated from appealing to awesome by its dimpled finish. The dial also features two applied plates, one with the strangely abbreviated Chr. Ward and the other indicating the calibre and model. Interestingly it’s marked as a 24:2 Worldtimer, subtly letting you know that it displays two timezones in 24 hour time.
I had the unexpected opportunity to compare this watch to the Frederique Constant Worldtimer (apologies for the iPhone pic), which seems the most direct competition. Although it costs about 1.5x the C900, it offers a true in-house worldtime complication. The quality of construction seemed to be very similar, and both represent excellent value. The Frederique Constant is a little more conservative and dressy in its styling than the Christopher Ward, while the latter offers a bolder package and the simplified second timezone complication.
The C900 Worldtimer represents the latest in an interesting range from Christopher Ward, with a focus on innovative design and higher production standards. In particular I thought the dial was very well executed and added a lot of depth and texture to the watch. It would be great to see elements of this watch (and others in the JJ collection) integrated into the broader Christopher Ward range.
That said, I don’t classify this watch as a worldtimer, and Christopher Ward tread a fine line in marketing it as such. However I do think that the executions of the second timezone display is unique and functional, and "worldtimer" certainly sounds much better than "GMT with second time zone city display."
Whatever the name, the C900 Worldtimer is solidly built and at 1,575 GBP (appx. $2,565 at time of publishing) offers excellent value. Specifically, the value lies in the excellent dial as well as the custom modifications to the movement. Many brands that sell watches in the same price category as Christopher Ward are content to refresh safe and comfortable designs. It’s excellent to see Christopher Ward push the envelope a little on the design side, while still committing to accessibility.
Learn more about the Christopher Ward C900 Worldtimer here.
Visually interesting dial, executed to high quality standards
Good value at just over $2,500
Innovative map-based city display
24 hour time display, instead of true "worldtimer"
City disk not linked to second timezone hand
Deployant clasp tended to open unexpectedly