A tourbillon watch that everyone can afford? That’s the bold claim made about the Waldhoff Ultramatic. It’s one of several tourbillon-equipped timepieces that hit Kickstarter in the second half of 2018. Can it live up to the hype?
A Week on the Wrist – Waldhoff Ultramatic
I will admit that I did not back the Kickstarter campaign for the Waldhoff Ultramatic. From the renders on the website, it looked too big and too busy for my taste. However, when I started to see photos of the finished product I relented and bought one from the Microbrand Store, which is an authorised dealer – this is one watch you really need to see “in the metal” to truly appreciate.
What is a tourbillon?
A slight digression is in order, as many readers will be unfamiliar with what a tourbillon is and why they should care. It’s a widely misused term that is wrongly used to describe some really low-end skeleton dial watches. In a couple of sentences: it’s a complication originated by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1795 which mounts the escapement and balance wheel of a watch in a rotating cage. The idea is that it counteracts the effect of gravity on the watch mechanism (assuming, like a pocket watch, it is always held upright). In answer to the obvious question that arises – no, it really isn’t necessary in a modern watch movement and probably won’t improve accuracy. However, it looks really cool and is usually only found in watches cost upwards of £15,000. Usually a lot more…
The Waldhoff Ultramatic arrived from the Microbrand Store securely packaged in a cardboard box. Within that, you get a Waldhoff-branded paper bag containing a cardboard presentation box within a cardboard sleeve. Opening the box reveals the watch on its cushion, a guarantee card and a lift-up flap beneath which you get a branded polishing cloth.
It all looks very nice in photos but the box itself is actually made from a relatively cheap-feeling material and looks like it won’t withstand the test of time very well. Compared with the quality wooden box of, say, the Arcturus LC-1, it’s a bit of a let-down. Whilst boxes (certainly for my watches) usually end up in the loft, a dress watch like this is lifted by good presentation.
Upon removing the Waldhoff Ultramatic from its box I was far more impressed. The watch is in a thick (13.8mm) steel case that’s 42.5mm in diameter. It’s imposing and solid without being heavy. Perhaps a bit too big for some but it sits well on my 7.5 inch (19cm) wrist. A sapphire crystal is fitted to the front and there is a display case back (which I assume is mineral glass as it’s not specified as being sapphire). Inside is the star of the show, the Chinese-made Peacock 5212 co-axial tourbillon movement. It’s self-winding, has 29 jewels, and – let’s make this absolutely clear – it is absolutely stunning to look at. This is one watch where it’s well worth watching the video review! There’s no decoration on the movement, and it’s hard to read the gold text on the rotor (which is decorated) but who’s looking at the back of this watch?
The case sides are ribbed, which adds some interesting reflections to the overall appearance and the crown is lightly engraved with the Waldhoff logo. What looks like a pair of screwed bars to secure the strap are actually decorative only – the strap has standard quick-release springbars. I’m in two minds about this – I don’t think it’s misleading, but not sure what is added to the watch by pretending to have screws there.
Dial and Hands
I’d better mention the dial: it’s a multi-layered, multi-textured beauty. At the bottom, we have a tasteful “tuxedo stripes” effect that is visible in certain lighting conditions. The top section has a sunburst quadrant. On top of this, we have an applied metallic logo and borders for the sub-dials. The next layer is a chamfered metallic outer ring with circular brushing and screws, around which we have more applied indices and Roman numerals. It looks brilliant – like a far more expensive watch – and the dial’s complexity makes the watch really fun to wear and use.
There is a lot going on with the dial – especially with the addition of text on most of the metallic surrounds which I feel goes just a little too far. I found that the text isn’t noticeable in normal conditions and I suppose it saves me taking a book into the bathroom… The subdials are power reserve (in hours), 24-hour indicator and the tourbillon itself, which is a de facto second hand. In all honesty, I’d prefer a date to either of the dials but they do add to the looks. The lumed hands are black and white, and very legible against the neutered tones elsewhere. I initially thought they were too “cartoonish” and would have been better in blued steel but quickly realised that actually, they make the watch a practical watch to wear – without this bold look it would be hard to read the time.
Strap and Buckle
The strap supplied with the Waldhoff Ultramatic is made of “echt leder” embossed with a faux crocodile pattern. I understand that it is the German equivalent of “genuine leather” – the lowest grade that can legally be described as such. It was not for me. It was thinner than I’d like and felt like it was made from a plastic cow. On a watch with an RRP of more than £1000, I expected far, far better. I immediately replaced it with a plain leather “Old Chester” strap from Geckota (click here to view on eBay) that looks and feels ten times better. The photographs show the stock strap; the video review has the WatchGecko. I recommend immediately upgrading it – the watch will take a standard 22mm watch strap – the buckle is 20mm if you want to reuse it.
The deployant buckle is better than the strap. It’s an odd half-butterfly design with one long side and one short. I found that I could remove the watch by only opening one half of it, which was handy, as the long part is opened by squeezing another false screwbar but the small end just clips in. I was pleasantly surprised to find a real screwed bar holding on the fixed end of the deployant. Overall, a nice piece of engineering and a pleasant change from the usual “stock” designs. Waldhoff have laser-etched the buckle with their logo.
Waldhoff Ultramatic – Video Review
What I Liked
- The watch looks great – the layering of the dial is superb
- The price is excellent for a tourbillon watch
- The tourbillon itself is mesmerising. It’s a watch geek’s dream!
What I Didn’t Like
- The strap is unexciting but easily replaceable
- The watch will be a bit big and thick for some wrists
- There’s a lot going on with the dial, which some people will find too busy
Waldhoff Ultramatic – the WRUK verdict
Overall, I’m really impressed by the Waldhoff Ultramatic. It wasn’t cheap, and there were customs fees to pay on top, which must be factored in if you buy one from outside the EU. On the other hand there is simply no other way I will ever be able to afford a watch with a tourbillon – the only others I have seen use cheaper, less reliable movements, or have designs which are not to my taste at all.
Overall? It’s not been off my wrist since it arrived, well past the week I usually commit to for a review. The Waldhoff Ultramatic is big and bold but it’s also beautiful and I can highly recommend it.
Buy a Waldhoff Ultramatic
At the time of writing, you can buy an Ultramatic direct from Waldhoff for $1,299 but the price will go up in subsequent production runs. The best price I have found – and the place where I bought my watch – is the Microbrand Store. The watches ship from Japan so you’ll need to pay 20% VAT and a handling charge on top of the £675-ish price when the parcel arrives in the UK but their service was second to none.
Here’s a video by Neil from the Microbrand Store showing all three colour variants:
Update 6th October 2020
We are not picking sides in this dispute and the Ultramatic remains a very good watch for the price – wherever it is assembled – but feel it is important to highlight some allegations relating to the Waldhoff brand that have come to light through the owner’s postings on Facebook (about The Microbrand Store allegedly failing to meet a minimum pricing agreement and threatening not to honour customers’ warranties), and the response from the Microbrand Store that makes some allegations that Wadhoff watches are made in China, not Germany: https://microbrand.store/pages/manufaktur-waldhoff-2020-10