Trintec Zulu-03 Altimeter – Full Review of the first aircraft instrument watch (live photos, specs & price)
The recent anniversary of the Bell & Ross BR01 collection, which came to light some 10 years ago, led me to a question that I couldn’t answer immediately. The square Bell & Ross might be iconic at this moment in time, but is it the first aircraft instrument inspired watch? The question would slip to the back of my mind as life continued, but as luck would have it, an answer recently emerged: the Trintec Zulu-03 Altimeter.
Before we head deeper into what’s what, I have to point out the obvious here. The Trintec watches are in no ways comparable in terms of watchmaking and finishing to the Bell & Ross watches. Yes, they come with automatic movements, and yes are directly inspired by aircraft instruments but they are a) not Swiss Made and b) not in the same price bracket by far as the Parisian counterpart. Speaking in terms of watchmaking, it isn’t something we tend to cover on Monochrome but there is a story here that is worth investigating.
Even though the Bell & Ross BR01 saw the light of day 10 years ago, and quite quickly became an icon for the brand but also for aviation inspired timepieces, the Trintec series have been around considerably longer than that. They outdate the Bell & Ross collection by a good number of years and the funny part is some of them seem to be straight copies of each other. The Trintec Zulu-03 Altimeter shares the same design as the Bell & Ross BR01-96 Altimeter (one is visible here). Of course this is a logical fact when finding inspiration in aircraft instruments. An Altimeter in a Boeing is about the same as an altimeter in an Airbus or McDonald-Douglas (or a Catalina PBY for that matter) so you end up with watches that tend to look alike (a LOT).
So what makes it that practically no-one, or at least none of us at Monochrome Watches knew about the brand? Well, that depends on what angle you approach the subject. At first it is definitely the level of watchmaking we are talking about here. Bell & Ross is a brand widely known for using quality materials and above all, it is Swiss Made. As we’ve concluded in several reviews, Bell & Ross watches pack a punch in design and in quality. Not just the straight-up instrument watches, but also examples like the B-Rocket or the WWII Regulateur Officer. Well built, very wearable watches with a distinct level of craftsmanship even if the movements are outsourced/bought from third parties.
The second fact why Trintec wasn’t on our radar was the price point. Monochrome Watches is dedicated to fine watches and watchmaking, as you all know, and thus eliminates a certain segment of the market. Not that there is nothing interesting to be found there, as we’ve covered watches for a budget before (Think of the Hamilton Pan-Europ Automatic or the Don Kylne & Co watch, both sub-1000 euro watches) but it is just the field of view we opted for. OK, enough with the ramblings and let’s find out more about the Trintec Zulu-03 Altimeter.
First off, it just looks pretty cool. It has a stealthy, tool watch feel to it of course emphasized by the matte black PVD coating. The specifications however, do not necessarily make it a proper tool watch. It has no rotatable bezel or tachymeter scale or anything, and a pretty standard depth rating of 100 meters.
Despite the squared shape, it is a modest watch in terms of dimensions. A Bell & Ross, the obvious comparison, seems a bit more bulky on the wrist. This is partly due to the more rounded corners of the case, which make it look a bit smaller. At 42mm wide it is not a small watch but also not overly large. The fit on the wrist is aided by the short, angled lugs and the supple rubber strap.
The features of the Trintec Zulu-03 Altimeter are mostly esthetical, and inspired by the aforementioned aircraft instrument. It is designed to mimic an actual altimeter as close as possible. And to be honest, they have absolutely nailed it. Perhaps even as well as Bell & Ross, if not better. The main difference between the two is that the Bell & Ross uses the inches of mercury indication (more on that later on in this review) as a date indication with a two-disc setup. The dial of the Trintec is thus a closer resemblance to the real thing, despite being a bit on the busy side.
In terms of watchmaking, or telling time if you will, the Zulu-03 displays the hours, minutes and seconds through three centrally mounted hands. The movement is equipped with a date-indication, displayed on a contrasting disc (black on white) between the 4 and 5 o’clock position.
Dial and hands
The dial of the Trintec Zulu-03 Altimeter is just like an airplane’s altimeter. And, that design element makes it busy. There are a lot of markings on the dial, distracting you a little bit from reading the time. The upside of the altimeter inspiration is the very strong contrast between the black dial and white markings, which still keep it very legible.
All the markings aside, it only shows you time and date. At three o’clock you will see a little window, displaying the inches of mercury, which is a unit of pressure. Not to make it too technical, but altimeters indicate altitude through aneroid capsules (where have we seen that before?) and measure the pressure levels at altitude and compare this to a regulated level on the ground. In the US and Canada it is common to display this in inches of mercury, the pressure on a circular column of mercury, one inch tall, which exerts at the standard acceleration of gravity.
In the lower part of the dial you can see a display of angled lines, indicating the aircraft is closer to the ground than perhaps is desirable and to warn the pilot. Furthermore there are markings indicating levels of altitude (100 feet, 10.000 feet, 100.000 feet), of course the company name and the numerals needed to tell the time and a date window between 4 and 5. To help visibility in darker circumstances, all the necessary markings needed to tell time are coated in luminous material, so that includes the hour digits, the minute ring on the edge of the dial and the sword shaped hands. The hands have nicely shaped counterweights, all finished in a glossy black.
Case and strap
The squar-ish case of the Trintec measures 42x42mm although it feels a bit larger on the wrist. The corners are slightly cut off so it becomes a little more octagonal to be honest. There is obvious way to descried the actual shape, but it works for this watch as the vast majority of altimeters used in airplanes share are shaped like this. I have to say, what is slightly disappointing are the faux screws surrounding the round part on the front of the case. I get it from a design standpoint, but it always bothers me to see something like this. Putting on little esthetical touches on perhaps the dial is not an issue for me but the rest has to be functional in one way or another.
The steel case is coated in a black PVD coating with a nice, even shine to it. It does feel that the coating isn’t that thick but it is dispersed evenly around the case. The edges and surfaces of the case feel crisp and smooth to the touch so there is nothing to complain here. The screw-down crown is also treated with a black PVD coating and knurled on the edge to give you some traction. Weirdly, the top of the crown is polished and stands out from the matte surface of the rest of the case and crown. Handling the crown is easy, and the different positions for winding, setting the date and adjusting the time are easily found. The only drawback here is that when adjusting the time you feel a distinct resistance, probably down to the movement inside. I felt a bit uneasy when first turning the crown, especially compared to the smooth feel we are used to normally.
A rubber strap is a difficult thing to execute right. Being able to handle a lot of watches allows us to see many different options when it comes to straps. We’ve seen rubber straps that are too stiff, that pinch your skin or snagging hairs on your wrist which is not very enjoyable to say the least. Other straps are too soft, and are absolute dust-magnets despite having a comfy feel. And then there are straps that just smell like, well, rubber. Not the best smell, and it can get pretty pungent. Chopard bypasses this by adding a vanilla sent to the rubber.
The 22mm wide silicon rubber strap on the Trintec is quite ok. It is soft enough to be comfy, doesn’t smell like you’re wearing a Goodyear and sturdy enough to make you feel confident to strap it on. The only downside is that it attracts quite a lot of dust, as you can see in the pictures I took.
You will not find a highly refined Swiss movement inside the Trintec Zulu-03 Altimeter. Inside is an automatic Japanese Miyota 8215 movement. Miyota is a Citizen Group owned company, and this 8215 movement is a non-hacking three handed time and date movement with 21 jewels. It has a power reserve of 40 hours and beats at 21,600 beats per minute. The movement is very similar with an ETA 2824, with the difference being the number of jewels (25 in the ETA) and the oscillations of the balance wheel (28,800 beats per minute for the ETA).
The automatic movement is visible through the mineral crystal on the caseback. In terms of finishing, it is not the prettiest movement, I can also say that it is far from impressive to look at but that would be product-bashing. No, the choice for a clear caseback isn’t a logical one on a watch with this kind of inspiration. Aviation inspired watches would need a closed caseback, it feels more befitting with the tool-like use of the timepiece.
First off, I have to remind you all at what level we are talking watches here. It is not an extremely complicated high-tech creation like an Urwerk, nor is it an entry-level Swiss manufacture timepiece. This is watchmaking on a budget, but with a clear message to everyone who enjoys watches. It doesn’t take a large corporation with limitless budget to be original. The entry level of the industry still offers some very enjoyable watches, inspired by something as cool as aviation instruments. That said, of course there are upsides to this watch, and there are drawbacks, but we do have to look at it with the right goggles.
- Entry-level watchmaking, attainable for everyone.
- Clear inspiration, no cutbacks unless needed.
- Extremely legible, good night-time visibility.
- Well executed case and strap, sturdy feel.
- Faux screws on the case from a mere esthetical standpoint.
- Resistance when turning the crown in time-setting position.
- Cluttered, and thus a distracting dial.
The Trintec Zulu-03 Altimeter will set you back a $499,95 and is available directly from their website.
Looks very similar to the Rhyno outfit Rubicon Al. (Maybe Rhyno ripped off this design)
Indeed Sam, however Trintec was the first to come with these designs.
This is NOT the first aircraft instrument inspired watch. You should take a look on Seiko PEQ-011 ‘Silver Wave'(Ref. 2628-0040a). Due to its design based on a cockpit instrument, the Seiko won Japan Good Design Award in 1981.