It’s often forgotten, when watch enthusiasts tally up the relatively few remaining independent, family-owned Swiss watch brands, that Carl F. Bucherer is one of them. The watch brand is a subsidiary of the Bucherer Group, which traces its origins to 1888, when founder Carl Friedrich Bucherer opened a jewelry and watch boutique in Lucerne, Switzerland. Today the Bucherer Group is still family, with Jörg G. Bucherer – 82, and the grandson of the founder, Carl Friedrich Bucherer – still active as chairman of the company’s board of directors. One of the most notable recent events in the Group’s history is its 2017 acquisition of Tourneau, which should give you some idea of the considerable clout the company has globally, and it seems reasonable to assume that the subsidiary watch brand (Carl F. Bucherer was established in 2001) will almost certainly become more visible in the U.S. market than has been the case.
The Carl F.Bucherer Manero Flyback Chronograph collection is one of five main collections, and, along with the Patravi collection, it is made up of what would traditionally be considered men’s watches. Though of course the distinction is a bit outmoded these days, many Swiss watch companies define their collections in terms of conventionally masculine or conventionally feminine products. In the same vein, the Patravi watches have a bit more of a sports-luxury feel, while the Manero collection features cases and designs that would not, at least in terms of design details, have looked out of place in the 1950s, although physical dimensions are contemporary – the Manero Flyback Chronograph has a 43mm x 14.5mm case. Both collections feature watches that use variations on the company’s in-house CFB A1000 movement, which is a peripheral rotor caliber first introduced in 2008, and which was followed up with the A2000 series in 2016 (for more, check out our hands-on with the Manero Peripheral, right here).
The Carl F.Bucherer Manero Flyback Chronograph was also first introduced in 2016, and it represents a very conventional and very much Swiss approach to making a chronograph. The movement is not in-house, although that is certainly not a knock against the watch at this under-$10,000 price point – in-house self-winding chronographs are relatively rare, and at the Manero Flyback Chronograph’s price, even more so. They do exist, and so the Manero Flyback Chronograph, at $8,700 in steel (and $21,400 in rose gold) is not without competition – two contenders are the Zenith El Primero in steel (the 38mm model is $6,700) and, at an even gentler price, Seiko’s Presage Chronograph, which, with an enamel dial, and a vertical clutch, column wheel movement, is €2,650 (approximately $2,815).
On the Manero’s side, however, is the fact that while the movement is not strictly speaking in-house (caliber CFB 1970 is derived from the ETA 7750) it has been significantly modified, including the addition of a column-wheel control system rather than the stock lever-and-cam mechanism, as well as the addition of a flyback function. Longines does column wheel chronographs for as little as $3,000 however again, the flyback function is absent.
Of course, a feature-set comparison is only part of the story. It’s an often-repeated retailer’s truism that to sell a watch you just have to sell the dial, and the Manero’s quality of construction, fit and finish should enter into the equation as well, when evaluating it against the competition. After all, on features alone a steel Daytona is overpriced, at least at first glance, at $12,400, but there are plenty of people who would willingly sell a parent to a Barbary corsair to get their hands on one. Carl F. Bucherer’s watches in general, live in the details, and the diamond-shaped applied indexes, skeletonized hands, and combination of brushed and matte dial finishes, as well as the nicely beveled lugs on the case, all speak positively of CFB’s attention to detail in the design and construction of the watch. The two-register design and placement of the date window at 6:00 create a balanced, informative, and legible dial and albeit the date window is not a generally favored element to the Hodinkee reader (at least, those who leave comments!) it’s well incorporated into the overall dial design.The movement is well and appropriately finished for the price: neatly executed Geneva stripes on the rotor and plate, with blued screws. CFB has also gone to the trouble to integrate the case-back engraving into the overall design of the case itself; the engraving flows nicely around the indentations for the caseback wrench.
Overall, the first impression one has in the metal of the Carl F.Bucherer Manero Flyback Chronograph (in steel, with light grey alligator strap) is of quietly solid execution, if not actual inspiration in design. With the exception of the size (and the fact that it’s self-winding; automatic chronographs didn’t hit the market until 1969) this is a watch that’s almost completely drawn from the mid-20th century playbook of watch design, which is all to the good. Where I do think the Manero Flyback may struggle is with its dimensions.
There are no absolutes when it comes to size and watches – the wearability of a watch is affected by everything from its overall weight, to its diameter, thickness, and lug-to-lug dimensions, to how the strap or bracelet is attached to the watch, the use of a pin buckle or folding clasp, and so on. However, 43mm x 14.5mm is going to present a problem to exactly the group of potential clients who might otherwise find the design compelling enough to seek out the watch in person: people interested in a traditionally designed, two-register chronograph with good attention to dial and construction details and a slightly vintage feel. It’s not so much that the watch feels awkwardly large on the wrist; it doesn’t, and there are many popular modern chronographs with similar dimensions (including the Speedmaster Professional at 42mm; the Heuer Heritage at 42mm; the Presage Chronograph at 42mm.
Despite the fact that the size is challenging, given the tastes of likely customers for the watch, the Carl F.Bucherer Manero Flyback Chronograph represents some very attractive, honest watchmaking. It would be very interesting to see CFB bring out some smaller watches, though – the one consistent impression I have of both the Patravi and Manero collections, is that they would benefit from offering CFB’s undeniable facility with classic wristwatch design, with more classically oriented physical dimensions. Of course, size is relative and for the more physically imposing gent for whom a 38mm watch is less attractive, or for someone who just prefers a larger watch, the Carl F.Bucherer Manero Flyback Chronograph is an interesting alternative to the usual suspects.