Huguenin may not be the most familiar name among watch enthusiasts, but the Swiss company enjoyed more than a century of fine clock and watch production before shifting to other ventures in the 1990's. Zaf Basha of ClassicWatch.com and a partner purchased the name and in 2009, they produced a high-quality mechanical chronograph. Unlike the vast majority of current micro brands, the Huguenin bears the Swiss Made appellation. The watch came in four models, the brushed stainless steel Observer and the PVD black Professional, both with black or full lume dials. They sold for $2,400 including a Pelican case, screwdriver, and extra leather strap.
It wasn't all that long ago, but 2009 was a different time for micro brands. Kickstarter was brand new, and no one was using it to pre-fund watches. Zaf told me that if he were to do it again, he would do things differently. Specifically, he would avoid the cost and headaches of low-volume Swiss production. "It's a little bit insane," he said. "I don’t think they’re used to it, so I think that's why so few people do it." Next time around, he would have them assembled in America. Even with a high unit cost and no pre-funding, 80 percent of the Huguenin run sold, but there are still some units available and that is good news for watch geeks because you can now buy a brushed Observer for just $1,099, or a PVD Professional for $1,199. Zaf let me try a black dial Observer for this review.
Zaf is a military watch buff, so it is no surprise that the Huguenin has much in common with WW2-era navigation watches. Like them, it uses grand size and a clean, high contrast layout for at-a-glance legibility. The case is beautifully finished and 47mm wide; its proportions inspired by 1930's Longines Weems pilots' watches. While it may be oversized by any practical measure, it is still reasonably wearable. Well, for most people that is. Zaf wears his without any problem, but the Observer's 56mm long case slightly overhangs my stick-like, 6.5" wrist. Curved lugs help reduce the size a touch, and I even managed to squeeze its 17mm thickness under a shirt cuff, but you really need a circumference of 7" or greater to pull it off.
You won't find many true mechanical chronographs in the affordable end of the market, and when you do, they will most likely be a SeaGull ST19 variant. The Huguenin runs the sturdy, popular, and considerably more expensive Swiss Valjoux 7750 automatic, a 25-jewel movement that runs at 28.8k bph. If you were to unscrew the case back, you would discover a signed rotor and a cam-and-lever escapement. I've grown accustomed to the quartz and hybrid chronographs that dominate this end of the market, so the 7750 was a pleasant change. The buttons reward a firm push with a positive mechanical click and the sweep hand snaps back with alacrity.
In proper military fashion, the Huguenin's dial is crisp and easy to read. Long, dagger-like hands graze their markers and a generous helping of SuperLuminova makes the whole thing pop to life at night. It has a bicompax layout with no small seconds dial, just a 30-minute register at the top and 12-hour register below. It also includes a 3 o'clock date window. A broad dial allows these elements to fit with a minimum of compromise. Only the 6 gets snipped to make way for the lower register. My favorite touch is the way the Hugueinin brand name is seamlessly incorporated by wrapping it over a sub dial.
The 24mm strap is made of Italian leather and neatly finished. The review sample's was olive green – quite fitting for a military watch. I found it pliable and comfortable with ample room for adjustment. It secures with heavy screw bars and a signed, Pre-V style buckle.
I should note that the Huguenin lacks some of the niceties we micro brand buyers have come to expect. The case back is neatly engraved but has no decoration. The burly crown has a deep gear-tooth edge but is unsigned. It is water resistant to 50m, which is perfectly reasonable and on par for a pilot's watch, but less than we might expect from a tool watch. The domed crystal is mineral, not sapphire. Zaf has swapped a lovely acrylic onto his personal watch, and is willing to make the same modification for others, but cannot guarantee water resistance afterward.
None of these are deal-breakers, but more an indication of how affordable watch fans' expectations have changed. As it is, the Observer is still an excellent value. For comparison, the 44mm Laco Kiel shares the 7750 movement and 50m water resistance, has similar dimensions and layout, and it does offer the advantages of a display back and sapphire crystal, but it also lists for over $2,000. Searching online, the best price I could find on the Laco was still $300 more than the Observer. Indeed, once you add in a Pelican case and spare strap, the Huguenin's $1,099 price starts to look like a heck of a deal.
If you are shopping for a traditional pilot's chronograph, value Swiss movement, and prefer to own something that might be new to your fellow watch nerds, head over to ClassicWatch.com and check out the Huguenin.