Fortis Stratoliner S-41 white dust review - ready for the Space Travel

Published on 25 February 2023 at 21:32

Fortis. As far as I remember one of my first Swiss brand that joined my collection. And from that moment one of my most beloved brands. Let me explain, why.

The very first beginning of my watch collection madness started with USSR/Russian watches and after several years it was extended to space watches in general. So - Fortis was a natural choice for the first contact with Swiss brands. Namely in 1994 Fortis launched first watch which had label "Official cosmonauts". That label was "earned" by official certificate issued by Jurij Gagarin space center "Centr Podgotovkov Kosmonautov im. Jurij Gagarin" - CPK. With that certificate CPK confirmed that Fortis watch passed all tests and that it is certified for space flights. First certified Fortis was chronograph with Lemania 5100 movement. Soon Lemania was replaced by Valjoux/ETA 7750. The cooperation lasted officially until 2005, from that year on no brand was an official provider anymore but Fortis stayed in close contact with Russian space agency.

When I extended my interest also to alarm wrist watches, Fortis popped up again with the first alarm chronograph watch ever made. I made a review of two alarm chronographs, if you have not read it, check here. So in all my main collections Fortis watches represents an important part of it. Beside that - Fortis watches were always good watches, with very good p/q ratio and - it was a small and independent family owned brand. That were just additional positive facts that made Fortis more attractive to me.

 You can imagine how disappointed was I when in 2017 it was announced that the bankruptcy procedure started over the Fortis. And how glad I was when a watch enthusiast Jupp Philipp (check the interesting interview with him) bought Fortis and set the brand on it's new path. And what and interesting path that is! New, refreshed design on an old iconic basis. I know that a lot of ex. Fortis lovers might have serious questions and doubts (similar to the total refreshment of the Breitling brand in last few years), but in general, as far as I am concerned I must say that I like what the new Fortis is doing. No surprise then, that when I spotted the launch of the Stratoliner S-41 in 2022 I put that watch on my whish list at once. The reason for my enthusiasm was lying in the remarkable idea to join the new fresh design of the watch with the most important Fortis heritage - space travel watch chronographs. 

Watch was released in mid 2022. I did not buy it at once (as you will see later, watch is quite expensive). But when, which is an official dealer of Fortis watches (among other brands), introduced a trade in option as a new offer for their clients recently, I decided to try and offer a trade of some of my watches for Stratoliner white dust dial on a bracelet. Let me say at once that Mark from Seriouswatches was very supportive, I was very glad how quickly we agreed on the value of my watches and we were able to make a fair deal for both of us. As a result, I am a happy owner of the stated watch. So let me start with the description and my view to this watch.

In contrary to my previous reviews I will start my review with the movement. Why? Because Fortis did not make shortcuts here by simply taking some of existing chronographs movements. Instead of that approach, Fortis - together with the La Joux-Perret (btw: again a company important for my alarm collection - it produces the alarm movements based on AS5008 movement) - developed a new, in-house column wheel chronograph movement called WERK17. And they did not stop there. In collaboration with the Swedish Space Corporation they sent in November 2021 13 encased movements to test into Stratosphere with a peak altitude of 30kms and temperatures of -60°C. Here is a nice video about that. In order to offer better resistance and higher accuracy for every environment, including the harsh conditions of space travel, the bridges have been redesigned and reinforced and a tangential micro screw regulation has been added for ultimate robustness and timing accuracy. 

Decision to develop an own column wheel chronograph was quite bold and it shows to which direction in the market Fortis wants to place itself into the future. From the pictures you can see that they are actually quite proud of column wheel construction since on the back plate glass there is clear circle mark which shows where beneath the glass the column wheel is placed. With the appropriate position of the rotor the wheel can actually be seen. And in fact that is more or less the only thing you can see due to the upper bridge which covers almost entire movement. Only the balance wheel is also fully exposed.

It is pity that they developed "just" 4Hz (28800 bph) movement. It's OK, but it could be better for this class of movement. The declared power reserve of 60 hours (I have not tested that) is again very good but it could be better. If I add that chronograph totalizers and day/date complications are almost identical to 7750 family movements, all effort in development a column wheel chronograph is ruined. Watch from the outside looks like "just another" 7750 movement watch. Only true watch enthusiasts will understand and appreciate the column wheel approach instead of 7750 cam system. And to say right away - WERK17 has a very smooth start/stop chronograph pusher, the difference to the 7750 is here obvious! But the reset button is extremely hard, harder than the 7750.

Since I already described the movement, let me finalize the movement description by the accuracy test. My watch runs out of the box constantly in the -4 to -6 interval, there is no positional error at all. In all positions it runs within this interval. With a bit of fine tuning I am sure watch can be set to extreme daily precision. Running the chronograph does not affect the precision. I have not tested the power reserve with running chronograph either!

WERK 17 is described as bidirectional rotor system, so that is again an advantage compared to 7750.

Now, let's move to the watch itself. When I first saw this watch on the web, three important things dragged my attention: very light, clean design, without more or less thick "standard" bezel, beautiful light blue chrono hand and markings on the dial for which I did not know what their purpose was at that time, and the design of guard of chrono pushers which reminded me to "tits" pushers known from the Fortis first versions of "official cosmonaut" watches. Those "tits" were there intended for screwing the pushers, but here they are just guarding it. My guess is that there have to be some sealing rings inside for the water resistance.

So all together a nice mixture of new, fresh light design with a heritage touch. 

In theory and according to the Fortis leaflet, watch has a "Fixed Flat Orbit Bezel". To be honest, I am not sure what this could be, most probably the rubber inlay ring in the case is treated as the bezel. I also learned from the same leaflet, what those blue markings represent. Each of those three represent the particular phase of the Virgin Galactic flight into space. 90 min interval on the lower totalizer represent the phase 1 which last 60-90 minutes, where "the Mothership takes off with the Spaceship mated under its wings". In phase 2, which last 60-90 seconds "The Spaceship is released and propels towards the stars with up to 3.5x the speed of sound". This phase is marked by the outer chrono ring (30 sec). Next phase is Zero gravity phase, which last 15 minutes, and is shown in the upper totalizer. Reentry to the Earth, which last 20-30 minutes is not marked. So, if you have a ticket for a Virgin Galactic commercial flight, here you have the watch which tells you, how long this experience last, and which has been tested to work normally during the flight.

I did not put much attention to the dial before the purchase. It seemed just ordinary white dial. But when I received the watch, the dial itself was the nicest surprise for me. The rough dial really gives the impression that thin layer of the dust is covering the dial. Simple but very attractive.

Speaking of the dial - all the totalizers seems to be just printed on the dial, all is flat. The numbers are hardly being raised, most probably they just follow the "dust" on the dial. The same is true for the Fortis and Stratoliner sign. All fonts are light, relatively small. There are no hour digits, the minute markers are placed on a very tiny inner black circle (which is smooth).  Each minute marker is split to four sub markers (for chrono purpose - 4Hz). Five minutes intervals are marked with the number.

In theory all OK. In practice, all those markings in the inner ring are too small for a normal use! You need a hawk eye to read all this without the magnifying glass.

And speaking of (too) small fonts, I have to point out day and date. Even though the windows for both are big enough, the fonts are too small! The both windows (and both plates) allows bigger, more user friendly ones!

This is not the first watch where I complain about the date size. And I just keep asking myself, dear watch designers, why the hell do you put day and date complication on the watch if they can't be read? We are not all young...

But if I go back to Stratoliner - all stated indicates that designers really tried to make very "light", clean, modern dial. They succeed but the usability paid the price for it.

I almost forgot - number 13 on the date scale is colored in orange. Interesting, I don't know if there is some special reason for that, again connected to Virgin Galactic or it is just a superstition joke.

I like the hands very much, Simple, effective. Long enough, clear distinction between hour and minute hand. Minute hand has needle at the end. 

Special praise must go to a beautiful blue Superluminova. Very visible, long lasting. As you can see, not just hour and minutes are luminous, luminous are also Virgin Galactic markings and a chrono hand. All this give the great first impression. But again, after regular use - those blue markings disturb clear view and time reading in the dark.

But - probably Virgin Galactic passengers travel also in the dark, and they need to see those markings :)

Ok, let's move on. Watch case and the bracelet are made from recycled stainless steel. So, environmental friendly approach, nice. Bracelet is very heavy and thick. Originally it comes extremely long. My wrist size is 19,4cm and I had to remove 5 links, plus the micro adjustment link is set to the first tooth. The mentioned micro adjustment clasp is just wonderful. With just one press to the button you can extend the bracelet for nearly 1 cm in eight steps! And you don't even have to take the bracelet of the wrist. Really good indeed.

On the other hand, removing the links is a nightmare. At least it was on my bracelet. On the promo video which Fortis has on a Youtube, removing is easy. You just need two!! small screwdrivers, unscrew the screws, remove the link, screw back.

Reality? You receive one screwdriver together with the watch, one you need to have by yourself (if you gave me one and you know that I need two, why not giving me two??). But that is not the problem. The problem is that unscrewing is mission impossible. Before totally ruined my bracelet I gave up and take it to my watchmaker. He tried - without success. I had to give him much more time. He had to heat the bracelet and then step by step finally released the screws. By his opinion the screws have been glued and not just screwed. And I complained about the Gevril bracelet on my previous  review! Maybe it was just bad luck, but here all screws were problematic not just some of them (what was the Gevril case). 

So, when you finally set your bracelet, how does this watch fits your wrist? How wearable is it?

If you read the description of the watch and see that diameter is 41mm, you might consider this to be relatively small or at least mid size watch. The very clean dial just helps giving that optical impression. You can't be more wrong! If you want to wear this watch in comfort, you need big wrist. The main reason is hidden in the L2L dimension of 50!! mm. Which is enormous for 41mm diameter watch. This is more a 44-45 mm diameter measure. If you now check the upper photo again, pay attention just to lugs. You will notice a tonneau shaped form. And in fact this watch must be - from the wearing point of view - treated as a tonneau watch.

Thickness is expected  for a chrono automatic watch. It even is not extremely thick - just 15mm.

I like bigger watches so the reveal about the real character of the watch is just an added value for me in this respect for this watch. But be careful, if you like smaller watches. Since this is not the end of the story. Even though watch looks light beauty, it is in fact a heavy beast! Watch together with the bracelet, reduced to my 19,4cm wrist, weight 210g!! So if you don't like heavy watches, then avoid this watch on the bracelet. Take it on the strap. 

Watch is 20 ATM "Space" resistant, I hope it is also 20 ATM water resistant. Signed crown is sealed by a rubber ring and is screwed in. When you unscrew it, you can manually wind the movement, by pulling it out to the first step you can set date and day (in one direction date and in the other day), and by pulling it to the stage 2 you can set the time. No surprises here.

Glass is sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on both sides. Back case is declared as "smoked" sapphire. The marked ring which indicates column wheel Fortis declares as "spaceship window". 

The watch is packed in relatively small, far from exclusive watch box. Yet very functional. When I opened the box, there was just watch. If you raise the watch drawer, the already mentioned screwdriver can be found. But no papers anywhere! Raised the screwdriver's part as well, nothing. I contacted Mark from Seriouswatches, how come that there are no original papers if they are official dealers. He explained that the papers are in the upper lid and that 80% of the Fortis buyers can't find them. Checked again the upper lid, tried to pull the inner part out, couldn't do it. But I heard that something was rattling inside. And then I - more by accident - pressed the right lower corner on the top of the box and found the hidden drawer with all papers. In the meantime Mark already sent me also the video which showed where the papers were. I just had to laugh to myself! After so many watches that I had, one simple box made me a total fool.

Inside of the box there is a text "First automatic wristwatch". According to Fortis web page, the founder of Fortis, Walter Vogt, in 1926 joined forces with the designer of the first automatic watch John Harwood in order to start its first serial production in the world.

At the end, some thoughts about the price. I already gave the hint, that this watch is expensive - 5.300 EUR with EU taxes included for the version with the bracelet. Strap version is 4.950 EUR. This are for sure not the prices we were used to see from Fortis before. But to be honest, even before there were special Fortis watches with in house movements (or at least modules), for example alarm chronograph, which were expensive. So is it fair to compare price of this watch with "standard" Fortis watches with generic movements? In the light of what has been done in the development of this watch price simply follows the reality on the market. And also - the price reflect the proudness of the Fortis to it. That proudness is shown also from the statement in German "Der Himmel ist Nicht das Ende Der Welt" - Sky is not the end of the world - which is written on both side of the watch. You have to look carefully to find it, but it's there. The statement can be understood as, for us the Sky is not the limit ... We can do, what others can't. 

But on the other hand you also have to ask yourself, why would you like to buy this chronograph. Which has - from the end's user perspective - similar, or better say the same characteristic as some 7750 family chronograph. Just for the comparison - just in the Seriouswatches store I found two similar chronographs - Le Jour Le Mans for 1.300 EUR or BOLDR Odyssey Regatta for 1.500 EUR. 

To conclude. Even though I criticized several things I must be honest and say that in general watch impressed me and that I like it very much. Wearing it is a joy. So, all of you, who are on the Virgin Galactic list for the space travel, by all means buy this watch, it's made for you. If you are not that lucky or more likely can't afford the space travel - I think I gave you enough information to help you while considering buying this watch but personally I am glad I had  pulled the trigger for it.

And at the end just again a big thanks to Seriuswatches team, Mark in particular, for great service through the entire process. 

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