While we see a huge number of small brands that operate off the beaten path, some stand out more than others. We can’t cover them all, and we are critical about which ones we bring you, but every now and then we come across a project that we believe is worth our (and your) time. Today, we are investigating a brand dedicated to aviation, founded on the lineage of three generations of pilots: presenting Orologi Calamai and its CR42 Chronograph.
One of the most difficult things to create as a brand is content, a soul surrounding your watches. Something that gives your brand, and the watches you produce an identity, something to grasp onto and trigger an emotion in your potential clients, like I explained in the coverage of the Fortis Rolf Sachs 2.4ml. In all fairness, there are plenty of brands out there that fail to tick enough boxes to cement their legacy and keep their business afloat. The story of Orologi Calamai is at least interesting enough to give the brand credit, considering it is backed by historical and aeronautical relevance and contains actual pieces of one of the most famous jet fighters in its cases. In search of the perfect pilot’s watch, Mr. Francesco Calamai himself failed to find it and decided to produce his own.
We are talking three generations of pilot’s here. The bloodline goes as far back as the second world war, where Mr. Francesco Calamai’s father fought in various battles throughout Europe in the earliest of fighter planes. He’s seen combat in the famed Battle of Britain, and fought in a Fiat CR42 and G50 for the Royal Italian Airforce. Mr. Francesco Calamai, second in line in the history of Orologi Calamai, has 40 years of acrobatic aviation under its belt and Manfredi Calamai (Francesco’s son) is training to get his pilot’s license and thus wraps up the aeronautical lineage of the brand.
In 2012, Francesco Calamai founded the brand after retiring as an acrobatic pilot, setting out to create his version of a pilot’s watch. It all started with a Soprod powered G50 (named after the fighter plane) chronographs in a run of 100 pieces. Also 100 three-handed watches were produced, again with Soprod movements inside. These models are almost gone now, and development of the new G50 three-handed collection was shown during Baselworld 2017.
Now, Orologi Calamai can call itself the official supplier of the Italian air force since almost two years, after joining forces with them in November of 2015. The watches produced by Orologi Calamai all feature steel cases made with parts of an actual turbine. This turbine is salvaged from an F104 Starfighter jet and dismantled into pieces. The steel is melted down and forged into ingots which are then cut, ground and finished to be used as cases. The CR42 Chronograph you see in this review is an example of that principle.
Overall appearances and features
The Orologi Calamai CR42 Chronograph is quite a large watch, with serious wrist-presence. The most noticeable feature is the placement of the Chronograph pushers and a secondary crown on the left. This is rarely seen, and could make this watch a “lefty” for sure, but it also sets it apart from the masses.
The overall visual appeal of the CR42 is another strong selling point. The combination of red, black and grey on the dial, combined with white markers, just somehow works well – despite the fact that the dial is quite cluttered. There are “cleaner” or more restraint chronographs out, however, the Orologi Calamai CR42 Chronograph has its own style that permeates throughout the rest of the collection.
Dial and hands
As mentioned, the combination of colors on the dial just works well. The dial is busy though, with various markings and little details throughout. Red rings for the chronograph counters, a little red airplane with looping vapor trail shaped like a “C” for Calamai stand out against the slate grey dial.
The black subdials and outer rotating bezel, bi-directional, contrast subtlety against the grey centerpiece. The layout of the chronograph counters is a classical one, due to the type of movement obviously – a 7750 – however it has been reversed because of the “lefty” style. We have hours and minutes on the central axis, small second at 3, 30-minute counter at 6, 12-hour counter at 12 and the chronograph second hand on the central axis. Classic. The white hands stand out well against the black background. The centrally mounted hour and minute hands mimic the hands found on airplane instruments and are coated with luminous material.
The Valjoux 7750 is of course also fitted with a date wheel, positioned at 4h30 and visible through the small cutout. I always find this to be somewhat clumsy positioning to be honest, regardless the watch.
Case and strap
The 42,5mm wide steel case looks well proportioned. Not too small, not too large and modestly sized when it comes to the thickness. The Valjoux 7750 movement inside is quite large in diameter and height, which mostly results in 40mm+ sized watches, as is the case with this Orologi Calamai. An unusual detail of the CR42 is the placement of the crown and the pushers that set and operate the movement, as they are on the left side of the case. Basically, it is a “lefty”. On the right side of the case you will find a second crown which operates the internal rotatable bezel. This is to determine the starting moment of your mission objective upon starting the chronograph. A nice little touch that adds a useful feature, making this quite an all-round tool.
The entire case is brushed, which adds to the utilitarian look of the watch. It features an engraved, closed caseback with a slight bulge to give room to the movement inside. This does not subtract from the comfort when wearing the watch one bit. On that backside, you will also find an engraving of the serial number of the turbine of the F104 Starfighter the case is made of. The lugs are decent, and angle downwards nicely adding to the comfort of the watch despite the width and height of it. It did move around on my wrist a little bit more than I wanted though. This was mainly because my wrist size landed me exactly in the middle of two holes in the strap.
The Orologi Calamai CR42 Chronograph comes on various straps, including the grey suede leather strap you see in the pictures. The only drawback to this is that it stains quite easily, so do take this into consideration. Besides the suede leather strap, you could go for a cognac, vintage styled leather strap or the optional steel bracelet. Personally, I think the strongest combination for this one is on a leather strap but that is entirely up to you of course.
The movement used is the familiar Valjoux 7750 chronograph movement. This workhorse amongst the chronographs is a tried and tested source to power a watch. The trademark Valjoux-wobble is present of course, which makes the watch a bit more “alive” on the wrist.
All in all, the Orologi Calamai CR42 Chronograph surprised me. It is a well-constructed, sturdy piece with a cool story behind it. The fact that it has a somewhat cluttered dial could put you off. However, as a timing instrument, it ticks a few of the right boxes. The added internal rotatable bezel is a bonus you don’t see on many watches, and combined with the lefty design of the pushers and crowns, it stands out from the crowd. For more information visit Orologi-Calamai.it
- Genuine “content” for the brand and watches due to three generations of aviators
- Readability (in terms of contrast) is good, despite busy dial for this CR42 model
- Cases made from F104 Starfighter material set it apart from other pilot’s watches
- “Lefty” layout of the pushers and crowns
- Internal, bidirectional bezel operated through second crown as added functionality
- Cluttered dial due to various markings and details, whilst maintaining readability due to use of contrasting colors
- Unusual layout of pushers and crowns is not for everyone
- Personally; the staining of the suede strap is not to my liking but intentional by the brand, creating patina and personality
Technical specifications – Orologi Calamai CR42 Chronograph
- Case: 42.5mm diameter – steel case – Chronograph pushers on left side – internal rotatable bezel through crown on right side
- Movement: Valjoux 7750 – automatic – 4Hz frequency – 48H power reserve – hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph, date
- Strap: Grey suede leather strap – steel pin buckle
- Price: EUR 2,850