After over a year delay, I finally received my Chronotechna Ultimate Black watch, with its NanoBlack coated dial, cut-out luminous numerals, and black case and strap. It’s really black, but was it really worth the wait? Yes and no. It’s a good watch with a cool dial, iffy lume, and a horrible strap. But at least I got mine!
- Blacker-than-black dial
- Quality case, hands, crown
- Decent movement
- Unique look
- Good value for the money
- Unimpressive lume and crystal
- Sandwich dial was a poor design choice
- Awful leather strap
- Long wait, poor experience
The Long Wait, and What was Promised
More than a year ago, I backed a Kickstarter project to produce a watch with a blacker-than-black dial. The Chrontechna Ultimate Black watch held a lot of promise, but delay stretched into delay and after a year of waiting I despaired of ever receiving my watch. Then, suddenly, it arrived!
I was shocked when the delivery driver rang the bell and dropped off a shoddy cardboard box. What had I ordered? Since Chronotechna never sent the promised tracking number, and no one from customs contacted me, I did not expect that it was my Ultimate Black watch. In fact, at first, I suspected it was a gift from a friend in the Czech Republic! Although Chronotechna is a historic Czech brand, the watch was made in Switzerland. I did not expect a random shipment from another country.
Still, the watch had arrived! I quickly set about opening the box to see what’s inside. I even recorded a quick unboxing video to share with the others who were still waiting for their watch.
As mentioned in my previous post, we must evaluate the Chronotechna Ultimate Black according to the following criteria:
- Is the dial a deep, even black?
- Is the lume notable?
- Is the product up to Swiss quality standards?
- Is it in the hands of backers on time?
These, after all, were the implicit promises made by Chronotechna in the Kickstarter campaign. After handling the watch, I can confidently answer these questions differently from my expectations.
- Yes! My watch has a lovely deep, even black dial.
- No! The lume is disappointing and doesn’t “work” with the design.
- Yes and no. The watch is really quite nicely made and it uses quality components. But the strap is so bad it detracts from the total package.
- No. Chronotechna let everyone down with repeated delays, poor communication, and a recall due to poor quality.
Now let’s take a deep dive into this flawed but ultimately decent watch.
Chronotechna Ultimate Black Deep Dive Review
The watch came in a decent cardboard box with a pull-out tray. Inside I found a reasonable imitation of watch materials, including a branded microfiber cloth and instruction book. One amusing inclusion was a paper pocket that looks like it was made to hold a warranty or serial number card. But mine was empty. This does not bode well for Chronotechna!
The Chronotechna dial is blacker-than-black and, on my watch, perfectly even from center to edge. After all the criticism from those who received their watches last year, I was concerned that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. But mine absolutely does. I hope the others, with recalled, re-painted, or replaced dials have the same experience. When it comes to the blackness of the dial, at least on my watch, Chronotechna delivered on their Kickstarter promise.
Unfortunately, the crystal really detracts from the enjoyment of this black dial. Perhaps it’s just because of the contrast, but it’s hard to actually see clearly through the crystal to enjoy the dial. It does appear to have anti-reflective coating applied, so this could be an unavoidable issue for a watch with such a flat black dial. I even found it hard to photograph, with the reflections attracting focus rather than the black hole of a dial.
Another complaint I have heard is in reference to the sandwich dial, specifically the finishing around the lume cut-outs. Indeed, using a loupe, mine is somewhat ragged and off-color. This ranges from moderately-visible to invisible, but it’s clear that this is an issue all around. I’d call this a design defect due to the fact that the NanoBlack coating is painted on a (necessarily) lighter layer. Perhaps it would have been wiser to use applied markers with a NanoBlack dial.
Then there’s the vaunted “RC Tritec Grade X1” lume. Frankly, it’s not very bright and doesn’t glow very long. This really detracts from the experience, since the contrast of bright lume shining through cut-outs in the black dial was so strongly emphasized in the original product pitch. The lume isn’t awful, it’s just nothing to write home about. It certainly doesn’t live up to Chronotechna’s Kickstarter hype.
The watch itself is reasonably well-finished. The hands are well-made, without the jagged edges found on most cheap watches, and everything was put together correctly. The Chronotechna case, hands, and crown are much nicer than I expected at this price point. The components look more like a Seiko Presage or Tissot than an Orient. And it’s leagues better than most Kickstarter mushroom-brand watches. Set the Chronotechna next to the awful Xeriscope and you’ll see just how crappy that watch is!
Then there’s the strap. I am not a fan of the current “rough-stitched leather thong” school of watch strap design, but this thing is particularly awful. It’s excessively thick and inflexible, poorly stitched, and roughly finished. The leather is laughably low quality, with the thin loops showing a distinctive (and worrisome) cracking right out of the box. And did I mention how uncomfortable it is? Even after a few weeks of wear it’s still more oval than round, and it chafes and scratches like nothing else I own. As soon as I get a chance to shop, I will be replacing it.
Sellita SW200-1 Movement Performance
Chronotechna equipped the watch with a Sellita SW200-1 movement. This ETA 2824-2 clone is well-regarded as a workhorse of Swiss watches and was a good choice for this watch. Chronotechna equips the movement with a modified keyless works lever so it only has two crown positions, skipping the date setting position. But you can hear and feel the date mechanism advance every other time the hour hand passes midnight. This is not unusual for a no-date watch with a date movement, but it’s worth noting.
The SW200-1 movement performed well, gaining an average of 8 seconds per day over an 8-day test. This puts it even with or ahead of many watches in my collection, and says a lot about the Sellita movement since I doubt Chronotechna or their supplier went to any trouble to regulate it beyond the factory tune. I’m not a chronometry fanatic, but it’s nice to know that the watch will keep decent time.
Power reserve is just under 2 days when fully wound, and this is no great shakes. I also noted a (typical) power generation issue: Wind it just enough to start, put it on, and it will sometimes stop during the day if you’re not moving quite a lot. This is a common complaint with Swiss movements (especially the micro-rotor Parmigiani) but I never have this issue with my Seikos! The solution is simple: Give the crown a few extra twists to wind it before wearing. And don’t expect that a day of wear will fully wind the movement.
The Trouble with Kickstarter
Chronotechna deserves kudos for the basic construction of the watch. But the poor communication and repeated delays are damning. The team missed deadline after deadline, failed to deliver promise after promise, and often went silent for a month or more at a time. This is the fundamental trouble with Kickstarter: It’s too easy to go direct from design to sale without ever proving that the product is viable.
VantaBlack and NanoBlack sound like they would be a great material for a watch dial: They provide an unusual velvet-black look. People are rarely able to experience this blacker-than-black technology and are always excited to give it a look. But these materials are obviously difficult to work with, leading to a ridiculous defect rate that ultimately caused Chronotechna to recall most of the production run. And the uniform black dial is at odds with the traditional watch design, emphasizing the reflections on even a coated crystal. Perhaps a design with more depth would have looked better.
A NanoBlack-painted sandwich dial with cut-outs for lume should never have been taken to production. Given the nature of the NanoBlack coating, any holes in the dial would necessarily look ragged. And these have lume shining through them, emphasizing any the off-black dial substrate. Applied markers would have radically changed the design, but would have been much easier to produce.
A conventional watch company never would have made these mistakes. They would have experimented with NanoBlack, tried a sandwich dial, and seen how hard it was to work with. Perhaps this is why this material remains so rare. But Chronotechna committed to the design and made financial commitments before learning these lessons. This was their ultimate mistake with the Ultimate Black.
Is the Chronotechna Ultimate Black Worth the Wait?
The Chronotechna Ultimate Black is a decent watch, and I look forward to wearing it. Given the quality components and construction, it represents a solid value, even taking into account the long wait and the need to purchase a decent strap. The design is modern and attractive, though the sandwich dial represents a fundamental design flaw and explains why no other brand beat Chronotechna to the punch. Is it worth €399? Probably, but the €1,995 MSRP is ludicrous.
Year: 2010's, 2019
Style: Tool watch, Wristwatch
Case: Common Metals, Stainless Steel
Country: Czech Republic, Europe, Switzerland
Tags: Chronotechna, Kickstarter, NanoBlack, Sellita SW200-1