Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage GMT

Alpina’s Startimer Pilot Heritage GMT Brings Globetrotting Luxury To The Economy Class

The Startimer Pilot Heritage GMT offers all the fun of a retro travel watch at a pre-inflation price.

By Thomas Hendricks

GMT watches have been associated with a jet setting lifestyle since their inception. And in the midst of complicated travel schedules and even more complicated lives, there’s a simple joy that comes from rotating the bezel when the wheels go up.

Of course, nothing in life is free, and that certainly includes timepieces and plane tickets. So often, push must come to shove when watch budgets and travel budgets collide. Luckily, there’s a new GMT watch that provides that same thrill of hopping timezones with a little money left over for actually hopping time zones.

The Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage GMT is a vintage-inspired travel watch from the Swiss brand known for balancing quality and accessibility. With a retro case shape, GMT capability, and a sub-$1,500 price tag, the Startimer Pilot Heritage GMT offers a decent and durable watch at an approachable price.

Retro styling that would make Pan-Am proud

Coming in at 42mm in diameter, the case is a little on the larger side which is not unusual for a pilot’s watch even as watch sizes slowly trend downwards. Thankfully, the lug-to-lug measurement of 45mm keeps the watch from feeling overbearing on a small(er) wrist. With the sloping case shape and wider base, the watch feels proportionally slimmer and well-grounded on the wrist. This is certainly a different feeling than wearing a top-heavy dive watch and should translate to more lasting comfort for the wearer.

The watch comes in four dials colors - navy, black, light blue, and copper-tone - each with a pop of color from the orange second's hand. The retro-style case will remind many of the Omega Chronostop with its not-quite-round, not-quite-square proportions. The case features dual finishes with polished sides and a brushed face that should defend against unwanted scratching.

The dial colors and sunray finishes add a level of visual intrigue to the watch, both for the wearer gazing down at it throughout the day and for any curious onlookers doing a subtle wrist check.

Busy people, busy dial

An area for improvement, in my opinion, would be the visual hierarchy that balances all the competing design elements on the dial. The watch features layers of concentric circles from the inner GMT indicator, to the local hour indicators, the two chapter rings, and the outer GMT ring. All are similar in visual weight and therefore require an extra second or two to decipher what’s what, and that’s on top of the extra second or so that it takes to digest the competing timezones in the GMT.

The hour and minute hands are also quite similar to the local hour markers in width and style. Were this a time-only dress watch, this would not be an issue, but with multiple levels of time tracking at play, it does little to reduce the busyness of the dial. Classic pilots watches, like the Breitling Navitimer for example, have undoubtedly a lot going on but dampen the visual noise by treating each element a little differently.

Did we mention jumping hours?

Similar to the Alpina Seatrong Diver Heritage that we reviewed recently, this airborne Alpina features dual crowns for controlling the time/date and the GMT function. Unlike its diver brother, the Startimer Pilot GMT uses the AL-555 movement, a Sellita-based caliber that has been modified in-house.

Sourcing an outside movement allows Alpina to keep costs down (boosting design budgets in turn) while still giving them opportunities to make some value-added adjustments. One such tweak is the addition of a jumping local hour. And while the jumping only occurs when moving forward and there’s no option to link the date with the local time, the movement is still quite fun to play with and makes the watch feel more expensive that it is.

At $1,395, the Startimer Pilot Heritage GMT doesn’t have much in the way of competition at its price point. And with neo-vintage styling, multiple dial color options, 100m water-resistance, and travel-ready GMT movement, Alpina sets the bar high for any challengers looking to enter the affordable GMT market.

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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