© 2019 by The Young Horologist

Corniche – Clawing their way out of the designer watch cess pit?

December 12, 2018

Corniche is a watch brand that was started in Stockholm, in 2013. Sighting their influences as the Cote D’Azur and classic dress watch designs, such as that of the Jaeger Le coulter Master Control and Patek Philippe Calatrava, Corniche launched a 40mm dress watch with a Miyota quartz movement. Although classically and fairly tastefully designed, until fairly recently I believed Corniche festered in the same cess pit-esqu market as Daniel Wellington and Armani watches. This is a market where the style, design and marketing are far more the emphasis than actual horological excellence or even a remote passion for watch making. Michael Kors took the iconic Daytona design, put a £5 Miyota Quartz movement inside and sold them in the millions. Daniel Wellington took the idea of German minimalism and also put a shitty Miyota Quartz movement inside and marketed their way to £800m in revenue a year. I believed that Corniche had similarly taken the JLC/ Vacheron/Patek Philippe style simply designed dial and combined it with a heartlessly manufactured quartz movement inside a cheap 40mm steel case with the intention to penetrate this market of non-the-wiser consumers. I believed Corniche was a new entrant into this swamp of designer watches, with cheap Japanese quartz movements, cheap build quality and homage design with a £400 price tag.

 

Corniche's first model The Heritage 40. 

 

However...…………

 

actually looking into their catalogue, I initially thought that for their first model this wasn’t entirely true as the specs are quite interesting and demonstrate at a least an interest in making a great watch. For example the Heritage 40mm boasted a 

  • Ceramic dial with hand applied polished markers

  • Blued steel “dauphine” shaped hands

  • Curved lugs

  • A combination of brushed and polished finishing on the case to achieve that glimmer of quality when catching the light and provide evidence that some time and care went into the case design.

  • Louis Cartier’s "butterfly clasp"

  • Polished wood presentation box

Unfortunately, they did still use the Miyota 2025- the cheapest of the Japanese mass produced quartz movements. This is where I immediately stopped being remotely interested. Back in the shit heap with Daniel Wellington and the other designer watch brands. But A+ for actual effort on the design.

 

Then they released the Historique model. They were 37.5 mm x 9 mm dressy pieces with a two-tone dial, a hestalite crystal and an automatic Miyota movement. This is where I became more interested. This is where one can begin to see they have a genuine interest and passion to create attractive, classy watches at a reasonable price.

 

The Corniche Historique Automatic. A step in the right direction? 

 

Finally, a few weeks ago they introduced a new 39mm Chronograph... This caught my attention. A modern chronograph in a 39mm case motivates even a serious nerd to relinquish their approval. I thought there must be some catch. Oh right. It’s a quartz of course, there had to be some kind of catch. Wait. Hang on. It’s a Seiko Meca-quartz; the hybrid movement that has a mechanically actuated chronograph powered by a quartz movement. Furthermore, the fact that this movement does not display a small seconds hand means the wearer will never have to actually see the tell-tell ticking. People who know me, know I am a huge movement snob- The reason I fell in love with watches was because of my discovery that these things are completely mechanical and are essentially man kind's oldest and most important machines.

 

However, even I can potentially tolerate the idea of a meca-quartz if it looks this good. 39mm case, 11mm deep, rectangular pushers, tachymetre scale encased within a well balance dial with two sub dials. Hand applied polished markers and a sapphire crystal. The reason I love this dial so much is whoever designed it clearly greatly appreciates the perfect dial balance of a Patek 5070, a JLC Master Chronograph or a  Zenith Chronomaster. And, I don’t know if I’ve said yet but, a 39mm x 11mm case size is truly the sweet spot for an excellently designed chronograph.

 

The Corniche Heritage Chronograph. With its 39mm case size, great dial proportions and jet black ceramic dial. Does this justify a Meca-Quartz movement?  

 

Due to the discovery of their automatic Historique models and chronographs models, I was now sure that Corniche weren’t to be dismissed along with the Daniel Wellingtons and should maybe be compared to the likes of Baltic, Autodromo and Dan Henry. This is because now the design attributes, massively in favour of Corniche, have been complimented by at least a Japanese automatic and an interesting quartz movement, which is also archetypical of these other brands.

 

Now I haven’t seen either of these pieces in the metal but I intend to as soon as they are stocked in the boutique in Liberty London. Annoyingly the specs for the chronograph on their  website aren’t too clear about what type of steel the case is so I can’t imagine the feel of the piece. However, the automatic Historique has a 316L Steel case. Both models also come in a rose gold plated case. Much like the movement, Rose Gold plating is a bit of a controversial point. It looks the part of an expensive Rose Gold piece without the cost. Again controversially, I really really like the look of the Rose Gold chronograph with the black dial. In fact I might buy a Rose Gold plated, meca-quartz Corniche… Christ what have I become?

 

The Rose Gold plated version of the Corniche Heritage Chronograph.

 

So here’s the question, if Corniche is in competition with Autodromo, Dan Henry and Baltic, how does it weigh up to these brands? 

 

Firstly, Baltic have a fully automatic model for pretty much the same price as the Corniche Historique but with an arguably a cooler vintage Carrera design. Secondly, Dan Henry have a vintage inspired diver for slightly less than the Corniche. Although the Dan Henry is a clear vintage JLC and Longines diver homage, the Corniche is more original and a more unique design so wins the points from me. Autodromo are probably my favourite as they are unique in their designs, coming up with new, automotive racing inspired designs instead of rehashing excellent vintage ones. However, the basic time only Autodromo retails at about double the price of corniche. To conclude round 1, the Baltic wins this battle for me.

 

The chronograph models are where, in my opinion, Corniche really adequately holds their own. Dan Henry has a number of very vintage inspired chronorgraphs that look great but are all quartz or meca-quartz. The meca-quartz model in question is the “1964”. Clearly inspired by the Heuer Autavia, this piece comes in a 38mm case with a vintage inspired steel bracelet and leather strap. This piece is cheaper than the Corniche and is a fantastic homage to a classic chronograph. However, I have to say I think I prefer the Corniche because it is a pretty original design that looks outstanding and isn’t trying to be something else. The Autodromo chronographs are a similar price as the Corniche and sport very cool, very Autodromo designs. These also use the meca-quartz movement. Now only talking about the current production model, I actually prefer the Corniche. This is because I think the watch is far more versatile. However, If the older Autodromo Protopido was in question, this would be a different story but, due to the fact these are essentially impossible to find now, I discounted them from the comparison. Finally, when comparing the Corniche to the Baltic chronograph, I can’t say I prefer the Corniche. The Baltic chronograph with its manual wind Seagull chronograph movement, 38mm case and old school pump pushers, comes in at just over the price of the Corniche. A truly timeless, versatile design, the Baltic Bicompax is probably one of the best modern watches you can buy for £500. (Excluding the Sarb035 of course).

 

The outstanding Baltic Bicompax. 36mm case, pump pushers, vintage Gilt-style dial and manual wind movement. £500. Need I say more 

 

To conclude round two and subsequently this comparison, right now I wouldn’t choose a Corniche over its competitors. However, I would admit that I was wrong: Corniche is in the same market as micro-brands such as Baltic, Dan Henry and Autodromo and not fairly comparable with the dog-shit designer watch brands.

 

However, I do feel that if this new chronograph model from Corniche was in fact fully automatic or manual wind I may choose it over the Baltic. I think the design of the dial is excellent, the case size and shape brilliant and the price point exceptionally appealing. I think if Corniche took Baltics approach and started using sea-gull or Seiko fully mechanical movements, this brand could be a very exciting one to watch. They definitely have the design and execution now and they are almost there with the movements. Keep your eyes pealed nerds.

 

 

 

 

 

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