The Aevig Balaur has experienced a long gestation with more than one bizarre plot twist along the way. I won't rehash the whole story today (you can read more here). Suffice to say it involved a friendly watch forum completion, an unsatisfactory prototype, allegations of a knock-off levied against a watchmaking giant, and a tense showdown between Aevig's Chip Yuen and a flock of SeaGulls at the 2016 Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair. Certainly not the usual route from concept to production. Was all this drama worth it? Chip lent me a pair of prototypes so I could find out for myself.
The Balaur is a dual-crown, 300m diver with an internal GMT/timing bezel, powered by a Swiss ETA 2824-2, a hacking and hand winding 25 jewel automatic with a 28.8k bph beat rate. The Balaur's stainless steel case measures 42mm wide, 49mm long, and 13.5mm thick with a double domed sapphire crystal. A signed, screw-down crown at 4 o'clock sets the movement, and a triple-gasket push-pull crown at 2 o'clock operates the bezel. I found the crowns to be a little stiff in their operation, but this will be corrected before production. Chip also tells me the gap between crown and case will be tighter.
The case is round with lugs that taper sharply before terminating in a 90-degree angle. They flow in a steep arc from the central barrel, wrapping the wearer's wrist and minimizing the overall footprint. A fixed, angular bezel surrounds the dial. All surfaces are brushed except for a polished chamfer that runs the length of the case, diminishing at the lugs into just a glinting whisper at the tips. These elements coordinate to make the 42mm appear sleeker and more tailored than most diver's watches.
"Balaur" is a dragon from European folklore. Its snakelike likeness appears on the case back in a particularly detailed and high relief stamping. Up front, the center links of the bracelet are raised, beveled, and polished on three sides, evoking an alligator's bony hornback ridge. It is a clever detail that gives the bracelet a unique look that ties into the overall theme without being obviously reptilian. I loved the look on the prototypes, and Chip tells me the finished product will be even better as the links will be three separate pieces and the center will be more than 1mm thicker allowing for a more pronounced edge. It will still have solid links, screwed link pins, and 22-20mm taper, but will feature a ratcheting clasp instead of the prototype's push-button flip-lock. With all of these changes, I can't say that I have evaluated the bracelet, but I do like the overall design concept and have no reason to believe the changes will do anything but improve what is already a quality unit.
Like the case and bracelet, the Balaur's dial presents an attractive face that is surprisingly nuanced. Nothing on the dial shouts at you. Rather, it all works seamlessly to draw you in and make you love it, even if you don't immediately understand why. The internal bezel has hours on the upper surface and minutes on the angled return, marked with a series of dots. All are printed in white except for contrasting orange numbers on the fives. There are only two choices of dial color, blue and black, both with applied polished rectangular markers. Dial text consists of the brand name and logo up top, model name in lowercase and "Automatic" in red below it. Aevig watches never have standard handsets. The Balaur has polished, semi-skeletonized hands that are faceted and filled with lume. The paddle tip on the second hand adds a spot of mustard yellow to the palate.
Chip has never been afraid to explore the Pantone chart, so the blue is not the typical Navy or Royal, but a muted tone with hints of gray and green that are complemented by its BWG9 lume. The black dial is black of course, lumed with creamy C3. Both performed well in low light, but the lighter C3 provided better contrast than the blue-green BGW9.
I could not let the watches go with trying a strap swap. Drilled lugs make it easy, and I was pleased to discover the spring bar perches are positioned just right so that there is ample room for a NATO but not so much space that a two-piece strap would leave an unsightly gap. A Bradystraps sailcloth suited its tailored look, while a distressed Gunny leather NATO played up its vintage appeal.
There are many workmanlike watchmakers in the microbrand world these days, creating watches that fit well within the confines of convention. Their products are often quite attractive, even if they are derivative. Then there are the watch artists, expanding our horizons with innovative designs or spinning traditional designs in exciting new ways. Chip is one of the artists, and the Balaur is yet more proof. The more you examine it, the more you appreciate his talent.
The Balaur will sell for €695 (@ $756 USD) at full price including VAT (21%), but you can pre-order now for €550 (@ $598 USD) until December 2016.