The history of mechanical alarm wrist watches is quite interesting and extensive. First true alarm wrist watch was developed by Vulcain in early 1940's, until today more than 50 different movements were developed and almost every serious watch company issued at least one of the model with alarm complication (but the fact is that only few of them developed it's own movement, they mainly used one of the "standard" movements). So it is a bit unusual fact that despite all of the variety of the mechanical alarms, only two companies developed chronograph movement with alarm function - Fortis and Zenith. What is even more surprisingly is the fact that no other company tried to launch a chronograph alarm watch which would use Fortis or Zenith movement. And that is not the end of the surprises. First alarm chronograph was developed very late, namely the first alarm chronograph was developed for Fortis by Paul Gerber after the Russian space agency ordered such a chronograph only in 1995!
Paul Geber developed a movement called F2001 based on Valjoux (ETA) 7750 chronograph movement. It is a movement with two spring barrels, so separate barrel for watch/ chronograph functions and separate one for alarm. Both are powered by the same rotor. The rotor is bigger and heavier than the one in 7750, so that it has enough power for charging two barrels. For the ringing, a tone spring is mounted beneath the rotor, that is why this alarm is not very loud.
Day of the week complication was removed and used for setting the alarm hand, "free" window was used for alarm on/off indicator instead.
Just for the information, ten years later, F2001 was upgraded to F-2012, where GMT complication was added. Watches with this movement are extremely rare! I don't have it...
First alarm movements were installed into a 38 mm case which was at that time standard case for Cosmonauts series. I also have this version of the watch and you can see pictures above. But Fortis kept the movement in the production also for other series and there are quite a lot of different models of Fortis chronographs in a bigger case. For the sake of better comparability between two companies in this article I will not compare 38 mm Fortis cosmonauts but rather one of it's bigger brothers B-42 Marinemaster.
I must also emphasize that even though both watches use the same family of the movements, B-42 use the sub version F2001-5, which has COSC certificate, while in the Official cosmonauts first version was used, which was not certified for COSC.
There are of course a lot of other differences but since I will focus on Fortis vs. Zenith, I will stop here with "old" version of the Fortis alarm chronograph. As said for this comparison I have chosen Marinemaster to be the Fortis representative.
Now, let me introduce also the competitor - Zenith Pilot Doublematic.
It is more than logical that Zenith decided to use it's own chronograph movement El Primero for the base on which chronograph alarm was developed.
So based on El Primero, in 2005 Zenit launched state of the art watch called Zenith Grande Class Traveler Repetition Minutes with the alarm chronograph movement called Zenith 4031. Basic chronograph movement was beside alarm upgraded also with GMT, minute repeater, big date and double power reserve complications. This watch was launched in a very limited edition and it is almost impossible to get it (plus it is very expensive!). Sadly I don't have this watch either.
In 2009 simplification of 4031 was released. That simplified alarm movement version was called Zenith 4046 and it was integrated into two models of the Zenith watches - Class Traveler Open Multicity and Pilot Doublematic. Compared to original 4031 movement, this 4046 movement lost minute repeater complication and only alarm power reserve remains present (alarm is hand winding). It is obvious that two spring barrels are used with two separate crowns. Beside alarm and alarm power indicator big date and GMT complications remain in simplified version. Of the two versions of the watches with this movement I have only Pilot version so I had no problems with choosing the candidate for the "race" against the Fortis Marinemaster.
OK, everything is set now to begin with comparison. I will compare different aspects and for each I will give my subjective assessment valued in number from 1 to 10, where 10 is the best.
General outlook and comfort:
|Diameter of the watch without crowns||42 mm case; 46 mm bezel||45 mm|
|max. diameter with all crowns||49,1 mm||51,2 mm|
|Height||17,75 mm||15,7 mm|
|Weight||158 g||124 g|
|L2L||47 mm||50 mm|
|Diameter if the dial||35 mm||37 mm total / 29,5 mm "pure" dial|
Some remarks are needed here, before making any conclusions. Both watches are stainless steel versions with sapphire glass on both sides. Weight was measured together with the strap where Fortis is on rubber strap and Zenith on leather strap. Both straps use similar clasps (Fortis has a bigger one).
Even though Zenith is a bigger watch, it is quite obvious that Zenith is more elegant and comfortable to wear. The main reason is the fact that due to the construction of the movement where base movement is bulkier 7750 the height of Fortis is problematic.
I also have to point out that Marinemaster has a very big bezel with big teeth. Majority of the Fortis alarm chronographs have standard 42 mm final diameter, on those watches proportion between diameter and a height is even more drastic. What is also interesting is that original "official cosmonaut" version in titanium case and with titanium backplate is not so thick, it's just 16 mm.
Despite the fact that Zenith is a big watch it has some issues with the dial size. In the upper table I presented two measures, total size and "pure" size. If you check carefully, you will notice that a big part of the dial is used for the GMT.
On the outer ring there are the names of the cities which represents time zones followed by inner ring which shows the time for each of them. Those two rings reduce the effective watch and chronograph dial to just 29,5mm.
Saying all that I must admit that both watches are very wearable if of course your wrist is big enough for 44+ watches. For a smaller wrist sizes Fortis might even be better, due to smaller L2L and basic case.
I decided not to value the straps, just clasps. Zenith has a thinner and more elegant double clasp, Fortis more robust single clasp. Together with the strap (Fortis on rubber, Zenith on leather) clasps show the nature of the watch. Here I just have to point out - I like rubber straps but I hate when straps needs to be cut for setting the length. Irreversible operation... And Marinemaster has exactly this kind of strap. I did not take this fact into consideration.
Both watches have excellent luminova. On the picture you can see Marinemaster, Zenith and Official cosmonauts in the night view. Bigger dial allows bigger numbers so Fortis has here a small advantage against Zenith but Zenith compensate this with very clean and sharp numbers. By the way, I always ask myself what is the purpose of having lume on chrono second hand (and only on that of all chrono hands). But that is another story, let's just say both watches are equal here.
Before giving the final verdict, I have to mention rotor which powers the barrel(s). Namely, as said in the introduction,
Fortis has a very heavy rotor which powers both barrels. And this weight can be felt by the user. On some sudden moves with your hand you can often feels on your wrist how the rotor turns around and you can even hear it. Interesting in the first time, annoying latter. Zenith on the other hand runs quiet without really noticing it.
And the final remark. Fortis has a better general visibility of the hour and minute hands than Zenith. On Zenith alarm hand can give false impression that it is minute hand. Both hands have very similar design and length and that might make a confusion on a different light conditions. As said on Fortis this can't happen, alarm hand is very different to minute hand.
So, based on all stated information so far, I have decided to give Fortis 6/10 and Zenith 8/10 for the general outlook and comfort of wearing it.
Both watches have chronograph and alarm complications. While Fortis has a standard date, Zenith has a big date. Zenith has also a GMT complication, Fortis not (as said movement F-2012 introduced also a GMT).
What is interesting, Zenith does not have a second hand for the watch. The standard small second which we are used to see in El primero is omitted. Fortis of course has a standard 7750 small second.
In general 7750 offers also day of the week complication, however as mentioned earlier, in this movement this feature is sacrificed for the alarm purposes (what will be considered in the alarm valuation). So no added value here compared to Zenith.
Clearly Fortis has a bezel with a 15 min markings, Zenith does not. In general this bezel might give some competitive advantage, but not so important in the chronograph watch.
When deciding about the final assessment I was also thinking what to do with big date vs. standard date. At the end I valued both equal since for the end customer both do the same function.
So my final verdict was to give Fortis 7/10 and Zenith 8/10.
Watch and chronograph:
Here we can open a discussion, which chronograph is better - 7750 or El Primero. Even though my hart is for El Primero, the fact is that 7750 is an extremely reliable and robust movement, easy to maintain, by far the most popular automatic chronograph movement in the world. While Zenith is more complicated column wheel chronograph, with higher A/h, higher priced, better looking movement...
Since both have chronometer certificate, I decided to value them equally. Again, as in big date, the main reason behind this valuation is the "normal" user's experience, not the horological master piece of the movement. I am sure there are a lot of pros and cons for this decision..
However I can not treat equally that on Zenith only 30 min sub dial is present while on Fortis there are two sub dials - 30 min and 12h. So with Zenith you can measure only up to 30 min, while on Fortis up to 12 hours. That is an important difference! So for the watch/chronograph function I decided to give Fortis 9/10, Zenith 7/10.
For the beginning, let us first hear alarm in action. All watches ring with similar loudness while type of the ringing is not the same. Length of the ringing is very similar. I made a shot for all three watches, so also for official cosmonauts watch:
Before starting a discussion about the alarm complication, I have to point out again the very important difference - even though both watches have separate barrel for alarm, there is a conceptual difference how the alarm barrel is powered. In Fortis, alarm barrel is powered automatically together with the watch barrel while in Zenith alarm barrel is powered independently and manually.
First impression is that for sure it is much better to have also alarm barrel powered automatically. That is why by default Fortis should be better. Well the truth is not so straight forward. Namely, manual winding of the alarm barrel gives much more control of the alarm status. What is the most important thing on the alarm? That it will ring on the desired time, right? And if the spring barrel is empty, it will not ring. If you have to manually wind the alarm spring barrel, then you can know for sure if the barrel is full or not. With the automatic powered barrels, that is not the case. For example JLC, which is known to be one of the most important alarm movement producers deliberately does not power alarm barrel in their automatic movements.
So, for the automatically powered alarm barrels it is quite important that the alarm power indicator is present. And Fortis does not have one. Fun fact - Zenit has it! Even though alarm barrel is hand winding, it has a power indicator for alarm. Why? Well, winding the alarm spring barrel allows infinitely winding. You can not over wind it. Just power indicator (which is very unusual) shows, that alarm is full and that you don't have to wind anymore. But if you want, you can. Without any consequences.
What has to be said for Fortis in favor is, that you can wind alarm barrel also manually. Saying that - if you are not certain what the status of the alarm power is, simply wind it manually for a few times, just in case. Since alarm has a separate barrel, alarm barrel stays fully powered until the next ringing, watch movement does not exhaust it! And that is FAR better than some other automatic alarm movements where alarm and watch use the same barrel.
Back to the beginning - is Fortis really better than Zenith just because alarm is automatic as well? No, the truth is rather opposite. Hand winding Zenith is probably better solution.
Let's move on. Both watches have an alarm indicator, which shows if alarm is activated or deactivated. Both watches equal here.
Setting the alarm time is done by the central alarm hand on both watches. On Fortis, only 5 minute intervals are shown on the hour dial what gives the 12 minute accuracy span for setting the alarm. Zenith has a minute interval on the hour dial, that allows 2,4 minute accuracy span for setting the alarm. But you need great eyes for being able to set the alarm with such a great accuracy. In reality on the Fortis it is easier to set the alarm time. Particularly in the interval 6.00-8.00 (when the majority of us needs an alarm, right ?). Zenith has exactly in this interval a power indicator which covers number 7 on the dial.
Both watches allows setting (or better said activating) the alarm only 12 hours in advance. As almost all other alarm mechanical watches, but better ones exist! For example, there are watches which allows setting the alarm 24h hours in advance, there is a watch (Glashutte Diary/Terminkaledner) which allows setting the alarm 31 days in advance!!
To conclude the verdict for the alarm function is: Fortis 7/10; Zenith 8/10.
Hmm, I have a problem here. All watches mentioned in this comparison are out of production for a long time. So the only thing than can be compared is what is the price for the used watches on the existing market. Very rough evaluation is that on today's EU market Official chronograph (or better 38 mm versions) is around 3000 EUR, Marinemaster or some other 42 mm version around 5000 EUR, Zenith around 9000 EUR. Give or take 20% to each of stated prices. Based on that I give Fortis 7/10 and Zenith 5/10.
So, do we have a winner? YES and NO, I am afraid.
If we just sum the individual points, we get - Fortis 36 points, Zenith 36 points. I was NOT trying to get the same total score! So no winner here.
But the truth is more complex and hidden in the details. The most important question is - why do you want to buy an alarm chronograph. Based on that, you need to give additional weight to particular evaluation. For example, for one general outlook is the most important thing and number of complications not important at all. Alarm function is very important, chrono not at all (or vice versa). For someone price is the most important thing, for others not at all. Etc.
So, let's put some weight to my valuations as I see it. I have given to those stated parameters the following weight:
a) general overlook - weight 3. Reason, in that section I covered the main standard questions that any user values in every watch;
b) alarm - weight 3. Reason - at the end of the day, this is the most important feature of those two watches. If you don't want or need an alarm complication, you can choose tons of other chronographs, right?
c) Price - weight 2. For the majority of us price is always a factor...
d) Chronograph - weight 1,5. I know that in fact 99% of the chronograph users don't need chronograph at all, but similar to b), there are tons of alarm watches without chronograph functions, so chronograph has to have some additional weight.
d) Complications - weight 0,5. Nice features but not the main reasons for buying this kind of watch.
So, having applied all weights, the new scores for Fortis are (18+21+14+13,5+3,5)/100, so total 70/100. New scores for Zenith are (24+24+10+10,5+4)/100 so 72,5/100. Zenith is now a winner, but again results are tight.
To confuse everything even more, for a lot of users, even though not valued, the real winner here is 38 mm Fortis version. Cheapest, smallest with almost everything what the Marinemaster has. If you have a smaller wrist, decision is evident.
To conclude - my only fair final verdict can be - you can not make a mistake here. Both (or all) watches are excellent!