H.Moser & Cie. Completes Their Art-House Thought Experiment

The Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade is provocative, comical and very, very black.

Article by Luke Benedictus

Photography courtesy of H. Moser & Cie.

The lowdown:

If you had to choose the most annoying corporate buzzword, “disruptor” would surely be fighting it out with “synergy” and “best practice”. But the D-word is genuinely merited when it comes to the Apple Watch. A report by Strategy Analytics revealed that in 2019, the Apple Watch sold more units than the entire Swiss Watch Industry put together.

Justifiably spooked, a group of traditional Swiss watch brands have responded by launching their own smartwatches. TAG Heuer, Hublot, Breitling, Montblanc and Tissot are just some of the horological heavyweights that have made crossover products that seek to combine their watchmaking nous with the latest wearable tech.

H.Moser & Cie. is taking a different approach. In 2016, the high-end independent watchmaker introduced the Swiss Alp Watch. At first glance, this seemed like an Apple Watch lookalike, presenting an almost identical 38mm-rectangular case with rounded edges. But those similarities ultimately called attention to the fact that this was, in fact, the diametric opposite of a smartwatch. Inside the white-gold case, instead of the latest tech, there was an exquisitely made and hand-assembled, mechanical movement. The Swiss Alp Watch would not measure your VO2 Max, track your sleep or take an electrocardiogram reading – all this watch purported to do was to tell the time. What’s more, it would carry out this old-fashioned pursuit via a traditional medium that, given the right care and servicing, would last for multiple generations.

Effectively, H.Moser & Cie. seemed to be trolling both Apple and the efforts of their own Swiss rivals who were hurriedly jumping on the smartwatch bandwagon. Five years later – having miraculously avoided a cease-and-desist order – Moser have now released the final instalment in their Alp Watch series.

Photography courtesy of H. Moser & Cie.

The hardware:

The H.Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade is a stealth bomber of a watch.  The dial is made of Vantablack, a material the brand has experimented with in the past, and which is officially the blackest material known to man. Developed in 2014 by a UK company called Surrey NanoSystems, technically Vantablack isn’t a colour at all but a molecular trap that sucks in 99.9% of any visible light. Consisting of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes, the material was designed to be used in space telescopes, heat absorption, military applications and architecture. Aesthetically, what Vantablack does to a watch dial is to turn it into a bottomless abyss. The case of the Moser Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade is coated in black DLC and the hands also blackened, but against the Vantablack backdrop they positively gleam in comparison.

This watch also pushes H.Moser & Cie.’s subversive commentary on modern technology a step further. At the 6 o’clock position, the running seconds indicator deliberately resembles the spinning wheel of death that we get on our computer screens whenever they’re struggling to upload. It’s a detail that feels like a pointed remark on the fallibilities of digital tech.

Flip the watch over and the sapphire crystal caseback reveals that the watch is powered by a mechanical movement that’s meticuloursly finished and made in-house. The extravagant beauty of this caliber hammers home the fact that not all forms of traditional watchmaking are ready for the scrapheap just yet.

Photography courtesy of H. Moser & Cie.
Photography courtesy of H. Moser & Cie.

The verdict:

Within a watch industry that can often feel a little po-faced, H.Moser & Cie. offers a refreshing blast of irreverence. This, after all, is the brand that created a watch with a case that was made out of actual Swiss cheese. Made in a limited-edition run of just 50 pieces, the Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade doesn’t come cheap with a price-tag of $47,800. Then again, it feels less like a watch and more like a provocative thought experiment that’s designed to stimulate reflection on our relationship with technology and time.  Alternatively, it could just be a very black joke.