The Swiss watch industry is not well known for its sense of humor. Generally regarded as a stuffy bunch, the hallowed watchmaking halls of Switzerland’s finest brands are gilded in the tradition of iconic design and uncompromising craftsmanship, not hijinks and snark. Then there’s H. Moser and Cie. The brand—relaunched in 2005—has made no secret of its disdain for horological half-efforts and the rapid advancement of non-mechanical “watches.” In response to the explosion of smartwatches, the brand released the Swiss Alp, a conspicuously designed rectangular watch. After five years and a handful of iterations, the model got its finale with the H. Moser and Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade.
The history of the H. Moser and Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade is really the story of an entirely different watch–if you’re willing to call the Apple Watch a watch. While martwatches are now ubiquitous, when the Apple Watch made its debut in 2014, smart watches were an uncertain technology that held great promise but had yet to deliver. However, just two years later, as smartwatches proliferated and their technology improved, it had become clear that they were no passing fad and that they’d quickly encroach on traditional watch sales. No doubt, the modern horological mainstays at every level were fearful of a second Quartz Crisis that might again decimate the industry. Instead of panicking—or perhaps deciding to channel its panic in a healthy, hilarious way—H. Moser and Cie. stuck its tongue out at the approaching horde: it took the design of the hero of the smartwatch revolution and turned it into a proper watch. In introducing the watch, Moser CEO Edouard Meylan implored would-be buyers to “reconnect with people” and told them to “get a life, upgrade to mechanical watch.” Thus was born the Moser Swiss Alp watch.
The H. Moser Swiss Alp Final Upgrade features a case that is intentionally familiar. Modelled directly after the Apple Watch case, it features a rectangular case with rounded edges that measures 44mm lug-to-lug and has a diameter of 38.2mm. The case of Moser’s Final Upgrade edition is crafted from black DLC-coated steel and has a polished finish. Diverging from its source, the Moser Swiss Alp features a traditional branded crown at 3 o’clock, similar to the crown on the brand’s Endeavour models. Continuing to ape the Apple Watch, though, slender wire lugs protrude from the case; they are fitted with a black alligator leather strap with a branded tang clasp, also made of black DLC-coated steel.
While the original Swiss Alp model featured Moser’s signature fumé and traditional indices, the H. Moser and Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade omits those in favor of a dark black dial that emulates an inactive smartwatch screen. This isn’t just any black dial though: Under the flat sapphire crystal is a dial made of Vantablack®, the darkest man-made material ever produced. The Vantablack dial is made up of millions of carbon nanotubes that absorb more than 99% of light. Choosing the material seems not just a marketing move, but also seems to further suggest that smartwatches are soulless and bring nothing to the world but further emptiness.
Taking another shot at smartwatches, the Final Upgrade edition features a running seconds indicator at 6 o’clock that mimics a stereotyped loading graphic; the effect is achieved with a gradient-painted brass disc that rotates under the main dial. Completing the dial is a set of blackened leaf-shaped hands, which contrast less than straight white gold hands would and may be challenging to read in some conditions. This may be part of the charm and mission, though: like the dial’s reminder of the hollowness of wearable tech, the hands make telling the time not quite as easy as they could, and in doing so encourage engagement with the world around us rather than the device upon us.
While a display caseback is common in haute horlogerie, showing off the mechanics of the HMC 324 seems especially poignant in the case of the H. Moser and Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade: displaying the movement through the sapphire caseback crystal is a thumbing of the nose at the heartless circuitry of smartwatches. The HMC 324 is exactly what you’d expect from Moser. A manual-wind movement originally developed for a forgotten tonneau model, the movement features components manufactured by Moser’s sister brand, Precision Engineering (which also supplies Kari Voutilainen and MB&F).
The movement has 27 jewels, a 14k gold escapement wheel and pallet fork, Moser teeth on its gearing (which reduce friction), and a Straumann hairspring with Breguet overcoil. It runs at 18,000 vph and delivers at least four days of power on a full wind; the back of the mainspring barrel is fitted with a power reserve indicator. The movement is fully decorated, featuring beveled edges, polishing, and Moser’s signature double-crested Geneva stripes.
Versus the Competition
You won’t find another watch quite like the Swiss Alp (unless you do the unthinkable and buy an Apple Watch). That said, there are options that capture some of the ideas and elements of the Swiss Alp. Staying with the Moser family, finding a simple dial is no challenge. The brand is well known for their pared down dials, and a great example is the Venturer Purity. Much more traditionally styled than the Swiss Alp model, this watch has a brilliant blue dial with a very modern looking subdial in a mix of fumé finish and radial grooves. It offers the same clean looks in a far more classic package.
If you’re all about keeping things modern and edgy, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo is an excellent option. The maison de haute joaillerie has more than demonstrated its watchmaking chops and the Octo Finissimo series is testament to that. With an in-house automatic movement, angular lines, and a razor-thin 5.5mm case, this Bulgari has a polygonal shape like the Swiss Alp, but pushes its aesthetics further.
The Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso, though, offers a bit of everything : a rectangular case with rounded edges, clean lines, a simple dial with subseconds (though not as sterile as the Swiss Alp), and a way to truly disconnect. Indeed, the Reverso is one of the few watches that permits the wearer to properly “turn off” his or her timepiece, simply by swiveling the case. With the caseback facing out, the watch is an adornment and one is free to reconnect with the world. In a sense, it takes the stated aim of the Swiss Alp a step further.
The H. Moser and Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade is for the snarkiest of watch lovers. It’s for the enthusiast that might relish the “Gotcha!” moment when an unsuspecting inquirer asks, “Oh, is that the new Apple Watch?” Add to that the legitimacy (and fun-loving nature) of the Moser brand, and you have a watch suited for the modern iconoclast.
Some may find the idea of wearing something that looks like one watch but is not that watch absurd, but those people miss the point. The H. Moser and Cie. Swiss Alp Final Upgrade achieves two goals: deriding the planned obsolescence inherent to modern technology and celebrating the craftsmanship and timelessness of mechanical watches.