A new Autodromo is always exciting news. Over the last 5 years, Autodromo has really shown what can be achieved by a microbrand with a vision. Each release is more interesting than the last and all featuring designs and finishing that surpass big-brand Swiss replica watches at the same price points. Apart from design and build, they are also one of the very few brands that tells a story with each replica watch. They all draw inspiration from automotive and horological sources, and have aesthetics and collateral that bring life to something specific, making each replica watch richer than just a physical object.
For their fifth anniversary, Autodromo released a replica watch that fans of the brand have been eagerly awaiting; their first mechanical chronograph. Powered by Seiko’s NE88 automatic chronograph movement, the Monoposto Chronograph revives a limited edition from 2012 (which not-so-coincidentally was their first mechanical replica watch). A divisive replica watch, the original Monoposto featured a design based on tachometers from early 20th Italian race cars, with a gorgeous case, distinct dial and signature red line printed on the sapphire itself. With the chronograph, Autodromo brought back the feeling of that replica watch, but made a few changes to the overall design, and of course, added stop replica watch functionality. With a price tag of $1,800, this is the costliest Autodromo to date, but one that impresses with overall design and build quality.
The case of the Monoposto Chronograph stays true to the original, though with changed proportions to accommodate the larger movement. Before getting to the dimensions, it’s worth noting that I found the case of the original to be a real highlight of the replica watch. At the time, wirelug replica watches were less common (their still uncommon though there have been more in the microbrand world since) and the overall design and geometry just really stood out. That’s still true. Though I’ve seen a lot of replica watches since, the elegant simplicity of this design, which is simultaneously sophisticated and able to communicate motoring, is still admirable.
Like the original, the case measure 43mm in diameter with a 48mm lug-to-lug. This is deceptive however, because wirelugs don’t wear like traditional lugs, making the replica watch feel more like a 43mm lugless round replica watch. Obviously 43mm is not a small replica watch, it’s actually quite big and since the design is all dial, it looks substantial on the wrist as well, but it doesn’t wear like a big replica watch with long lugs. Where the chrono has changed is in height, now at 14.8mm, including the domed sapphire. That’s tall, a side effect of having the NE88, though there are some details that help mitigate that visually.
First off, the case is bowl shaped, which immediately makes it less severe looking than a 14.8mm cylinder would be. It also allows the replica watch to sit “in” one’s wrist more, there by sitting lower. Second, there is a dividing line that sits about one third of the way down the case from the dial side, separating the bezel from the mid-case, but also creating a break in the metal. The pushers and crown further help in this.
The bowl shape and bezel helps tame the thickness big pushers Enjoying the view of the NE88
Looking closer, the crown is about the same as it was on the previous Monoposto, with a straightforward design that allows for ease of use. The pushers get a little more eccentric, and are a nice addition to the overall design. Rather than more typical pump pushers, Autodromo went with large rectangular ones that measure 7.5mm in width and 3.5mm in height . This makes them very easy and frankly enjoyable to push, as there is a large amount of surface area to press against. They are also nicely finished. Their outer-surfaces are curved, reflecting the round bezel, and they feature a mix of brushed and polished textures.
A favorite detail of the case is the texturing on the bezel, another carry over detail from the original. Rather than polished, brushed or matte, the top surface of the bezel features finely engraved concentric circles about the dial. It’s a unique detail that adds a certain flare to the replica watch as well as a sense of quality. Little details like this seem out of the ordinary and thus complex and expensive. It speaks to the brand’s good eye for design and ability to get quality out of their manufactures.
Flipping the replica watch over, you’ll find a display case back, held on with six small screws. The steel outer area of the case back has a radius, finishing the bowl shape of the case. Around the crystal is an etched pattern of lines which adds some texture. Through the glass you get a view of the NE88 movement. It’s not the most exciting looking movement, but I’ll get into that more later.
The dial of the Monoposto chrono stays generally true to the original replica watch, but has changes as well as additions that make it more of an evolution on the concept. The chronograph is available in three colors; black, silver and a new blue called Azzuro. The black and silver are classic and clean, giving the replica watch a mature overall look. The Azzuro is something all together different. I can’t count how many blue replica watches I’ve seen in the last six years. Some good, some great, others not so much, but few really stand out in memory.
The Azzuro is a completely different shade of blue from any other replica watch I’ve seen. It’s a bright, sky blue that is at once creamy and saturated. It’s near-matte, so no sunburst lines (nothing against sunburst, I’ve just seen so many blue sunburst dials I’m a bit over it) having just a slight sheen. It’s not a color that I would expect would work so well in a replica watch, as it’s fairly bright, but it’s really the standout of the group.
On to the graphics, each dial has the same indexes, with the difference of some colors and highlights. There is a primary index with hour numerals one through eleven in a wide, attractive typeface. This is the biggest difference from the original Monoposto, which featured a typeface based more closely on tachometers. The new typeface is a bit friendlier and bolder, making use of the dial’s negative space. Around the outer edge of the dial you will find a railroad index with triangles per hour, once again relating to tachometer design. From eleven to one you will find there is a gap, save the text “Ore 100x”, which is a play on the text found on an Italian tach.
The new typeface is very legible, and friendlier than the previous model The red highlights are very pronounced on the black dial Azzuro, the unexpected star of the show old vs new
At three, six and nine, you’ll find the addition of sub-dials for the active seconds and chronograph functions. Rather than printing them directly on the surface, they actually sit on a layer below, visible through cutouts. This creates a steep drop off from the top surface, adding depth to the dial. Emphasizing this further, each sub-dial is outlined in black (or white on the black dial) on the lower surface. Each sub-dial then has an index featuring very small numerals and lines, leaving the center areas of each fairly open. Lastly, they also feature a circular graining texture, which gives them a slightly more metallic sheen than the main surface. If I were to have a criticism of the original dial, it’s that there is a fair amount of empty space in the rather large dial. On the chrono, it is all well used between the sub-dials and new typeface, making for a balanced overall layout.
Before getting to the hands, let’s talk about the signature, albeit divisive detail that hovers above the dial; the line on the crystal. Printed on the back of the sapphire crystal, just past ten, is a line in either red or yellow (the latter only on blue) that refers to the markings that are found on tachometers to warn drivers. There’s no way around this being a love it or leave detail. On one hand, it’s unique, graphically interesting and works towards the story of the replica watch. On the other, it obscures part of the dial. While I get the argument or issue with obscuring part of the dial, it’s a negligible amount and a touch of common sense can work around it for reading the time. I’ll take a unique and frankly risky detail over safety any day.
For hands, Autodromo stuck with the same needle style found on the original with some slight changes. The minutes hand is a long, thin white needle that passes through the center. The hour is a tapering, skeletonized needle that is a touch wider and shorter than the minute. Though longer than a typical hour hand, it does point to the actual “hours” and the visual difference between the two is enough to not make legibility a concern. In lieu of an active central seconds, you have the chrono seconds hand, which is a thin stick with large counter balance in an accent color, red on black and silver, yellow on azzuro. For the sub-dials, they went with a simple tapering stick. The subtle change in width gives them a little extra appeal.
Powering the Autodromo Monoposto Chronograph is the Seiko NE88 automatic chronograph. This fairly new offering has been starting to pop up with more frequency in the microbrand world (actually more so than in the big-brand world) as it offers a very respectable alternative to the Valjoux 7750, in fact having some feature that are considered more high end than the 7750s. As for the basics, it’s a 34-jewel automatic with hand winding, hacking, date (not in use here), 45-hr power reserve and a frequency of 28,800bph.
One of the major differences between the NE88 and the 7750 is that the NE88 is a column-wheel, rather than a cam and lever driven chronograph. Column wheels are generally considered to be more complicated to manufacture and these days are generally found in higher priced replica watches and are said to give a chrono a smoother feel. In the Swiss replica watch world, the Longines L688.2, which is a modified 7750, is on the low end, starting at around $3k. With that said, the Seagull ST19, which is often in replica watches that cost only a couple hundred dollars is also a column-wheel, but in my experience, they do generally have a lower quality feel. Regardless, it’s certainly a feature chrono-fans are happy to have.
Next up is the vertical clutch. Another “higher end” detail, the vertical clutch, vs horizontal clutch, is said to prevent the “jumping” of the second hand when starting a chronograph by more smoothly engaging. It’s actually quite a rare feature at the price point (well, it was on vintage Seiko chronographs…) more commonly being in found in the likes of Rolex’s and IWCs.
The Seiko NE88: What it lacks in in decor it makes up for in features
For greater detail on column wheels, cams and clutches, check out Chronography 2: Column Wheels & Cams by Mark McArthur Christie for more information.
Perhaps my favorite differences is simply that of the layout. Rather than the left-centric six, nine, twelve layout, you have the more classic three, six, nine layout. This allows for more symmetrical dial designs and because of simply the scarcity of mechanical chonograph movements with this setup (there are some modules as well as the valjoux 7753, but they aren’t found often in micro-brands) there is a lack of modern chronographs in that style. Lastly, and this is for 7750 owners, there’s no wobble.
So, in terms of features and functions, the NE88 is a great package. The downside, and this is obvious outweighed by the positive, is that it’s not especially attractive or fun to look at. Typically integrated chronographs (vs modular) are flashy. There are cams or column wheels, arms, bridges, gears, screws, jewels, etc… all interplaying before your eyes, putting on a show through a display window.. The NE88 just looks like any time-only automatic. Sure, there is the rotor and some plates and wheels, but the actual chronograph mechanism is hidden from sight.
Straps and Wearability
The Monoposto Chrono comes on a very similar strap to the original that suits the replica watch well. It’s a US-made 20mm leather strap with a slight taper, painted edges, a debossed line detail around the edge and no stitching. It has a nice, solid feel, speaking to the good-quality leather being used. The black and silver models come on black straps, while the Azzuro has an interesting tan leather. Further pushing the Azzuro model into unique territory, the strap pairing is quite cool. The leather is a touch creamy in color, verging on a flesh tone, but still a honey tan. It brings out the blue in the dial in a non-obvious way like something more complementary would.
On the wrist, the Monoposto wears well for a larger replica watch. There’s no way around that it’s 43mm in diameter with a big dial and 14.8mm tall, but it looks appropriate for what it is and the wire lugs prevent overhang. This is to say, it’s a sizable replica watch with a lot of presence. The dial is wide and makes a statement without being flashy and the case is tasteful and masculine. There are a couple of reasons why the size works. First, given that the replica watch is based on tachometers, there is an obvious and intentional “instrument” feeling to it. It’s still smaller than a real gauge, but had it been much smaller, say 38-40mm, it would feel too much like a miniature. As is, you could imagine it fitting into a smaller dash of sorts. The other reason is the thickness from the movement. 14.8mm spread over 43mm is more tolerable than at smaller diameters.
Rocking the Azzuro with a denim trucker and Natural chromexcel boots by Grantstone The Silver looks good with a casual blazer (and some striped socks) Black replica watch, black leather jacket, jeans and chucks… can’t go wrong
Style-wise, the Monoposto really has its own thing going. Most replica watches we try out are comparable to this or that, but the Monoposto Chrono feels different. It looks and feels like stylized machinery that happens to tell time and come on a strap. Yet, despite the obvious automotive references, it works on its own. It doesn’t feel too gear-head or literal, and has some surprisingly elegant details as well. So, despite being on the large and sporty side, it’s still easy to pull off in the office of other semi-formal situations. Naturally, however, it looks great with casual attire, such as a leather jacket, jeans and some boots or sneakers. And should you land the Azzuro model, it’s a very cool accent to an outfit.
The Autodromo Monoposto Chronograph is another successful model from the now veteran microbrand, and a great first foray into mechanical chronographs. They did what they do best and created an automotive inspired replica watch that looks like nothing else and will appeal to an audience beyond just car enthusiasts. One that is styled with a finesse few luxury brands can achieve and built to specs that are beyond its price tag. And in this instance, its price tag is $1,800, which isn’t inexpensive and a new high for the brand, but one that is reflective of the movement inside. While I’m sure people will bemoan the price tag, it is justified in what you are getting. NE88s cost as much as 7750s to brands, and $1800 would be on the low side for a replica watch with a 7750. And, as with other Autodromos, the fit and finish shouts quality.
As with the original Monopostos, the chronograph is a limited edition of 500 pieces. 200 in silver, 200 in black and only 100 in Azzuro. So, if you missed the original or are smitten with this version (particularly the Azzuro) don’t wait too long or you’ll regret it.