Carpathia Watch Company Review: The Ascent

By: Baird Brown

Once upon a time there were days when American and Swiss watchmaking were a glistening city on the hill. A place where watches were produced by craftsman and worn by all classes of people. Everyone’s grandfather surely had an old mechanical or automatically wound art-deco style piece that he would whip out and pair with a jacket to take his best girl out on a date in a neon-lit world. Then, the dreaded day came when Seiko released the Astron onto the world and its technological offspring stomped that glistening, unprepared city on the hill into the earth like Godzilla upon Tokyo. Dark days followed. Swiss watchmaking survived narrowly as American watchmaking ground to halt. It would be decades before Americans began producing watches again.

We are in that decade. American microbrand companies are popping up left and right, and while manufacturing is still elusive in this country the seeds are being planted toward that future. Recently, I was lucky enough to spend some time with a watch from a microbrand based in Chicago and run by a first generation American who is inspired by European design and the city that he lives in. This is the review of that watch – The Carpathia Ascent.

Right out of the burlwood box, the Carpathia Ascent is a sight to take in. Lifting the lid was almost like that scene in Pulp Fiction when Vincent Vega opens the case only to have a bright green light shine across his face. Only this was gold, and a lot of it. While I’ve dabbled in gold here and there, this was something this working man wasn’t prepared for. The Carpathia watch I received was brushed gold, which, unlike polished gold, makes the watch look like a vintage piece you found in a drawer after many years. It’s actually a neat effect and was something I really came to like about the Carpathia Ascent as time went on.

The Case

The Carpathia Ascent’s case measures 42mm across and 47.5mm lug to lug and is pretty much on par with a lot of current watches on the market. The design is simple and elegant. It’s round but has no sharp edges as the case rolls into the sides ever so softly (even from top to bottom), and stretches the twisted lugs out and around your wrist. As the Carpathia Ascent has no bezel, the domed and AR coated sapphire crystal spreads from end to end. This tends to make the watch feel quite large in comparison to other watches of a similar stature. However, since the Carpathia Ascent only measures 10.85 mm thick, it still retains a dressy look with practically any shirt you want to wear with it. Rounding out the case is a large, signed, onion crown, which I love. They never dig into your wrist and are always easy to turn. At the back is a sapphire display window surrounded by a brushed stainless-steel case back with the normal information sharply and deeply engraved. We’ll get to the magic under the glass in a moment.

The Dial

Depending on your choice of finish, the dial will come in a different colorway. The brushed gold comes with a stylish black sunburst dial that catches the light in streaks of grey and even, on occasion, chocolate. Applied indices surround the almost entirely black dial (save for the large applied logo on the top half of the watch and Arabic numerals at the even markers (rather than the odd)). The big C in Carpathia wraps around the word almost like a vintage advertisement or a sign you may see above an old Cabaret. White markers fill in every minute that isn’t represented by the sharp gold indices. You don’t think much of it until the lights go out and all those white markers shine lume back at you, giving you a large field to watch the arrow-head second hand sweep around. A dress watch really doesn’t need lume, but in this case it was a welcome surprise. The long pencil hands come straight out of the vintage watch catalog and were easy to read at merely a glance during any time of the day. Like the white minute marks on the dial, the hands are all evenly lumed. That’s a nice touch.

So many watches seem to have uneven lume between the hands and dial. As the days went on, the Carpathia Ascent dial really seemed to stand out to me. I don’t recall ever having trouble reading it or having to look twice. With that said, there did seem to be a blemish on such a beautiful face. Does a dress watch like this really need a date window? I understand that’s a modern thing. Everybody wants the date! However, I felt like the date somehow didn’t fit. It might be because the date window sits slightly inboard of the invisible ring the numbers on the dial seem to sit on. If you have an OCD about things being uniform, it’s going to stand out.

The Strap:

There’s nothing I love more than a watch that comes with two straps. The Carpathia Ascent came with a bracelet and a strap! The bracelet was installed when I got it, so I wore it first. I love mesh bracelets as they really drive home a vintage look, and as you would expect it wore very comfortably. What I didn’t expect was the added fold over clasp on the interlocking buckle. It’s a modern touch that gives you a little extra piece of mind that it won’t fly open and fall off after brushing it against something.

Having a 22mm width and no taper can be intimidating for anyone that wants more subtlety out of a watch. With the bracelet on, this watch is anything but subtle. In fact, it seemed to scream and was always the center of attention while it was on. If that’s too loud for you, the leather strap washes all that away. Almost like a second skin, the leather strap takes on marks and oils to give character to your wrist, while toning down the watch into something suitable to wear with a smoking jacket after a long day at the office. Also, the leather strap tapers from 22mm to 18mm at the brushed gold and signed clasp.

The Movement

Earlier I mentioned the magic under the glass on the case back of the Carpathia Watches Ascent. Under that clear crystal sits an ETA 2824-2 Elabore grade movement adorned with blued screws and Geneva stripes. Not only is it prettier to look at than the run-of-the-mill 2824s, but it’s also how you know a watch lover is involved in the design and creation of Carpathia watches. The brand claims that the movement is adjusted in three positions and runs at a rate of +/- 7 seconds a day. That’s excellent for a watch in this price range, and it was observed to be performing within those specs over the seven days I had it. This is the extra mile taken by someone who loves their watch and wants it to be with them every day in their life whether it be in the boardroom or on the town.

Ultimately, the Carpathia Ascent is a beautiful art-deco inspired piece that harkens back to the watches that once stood on the wrists of our grandfathers while being luxurious enough for the modern man. It’s a versatile watch that can be as loud or a subdued as you choose it to be.

Final Thoughts

Personally, this size of the watch is something I wrestled with. Sometimes 42mm dress watches can teeter-totter on the edge of fashion watch territory and get overlooked by the so-called “watch snobs” of the world. Carpathia’s website states that they may introduce a 38mm in the future, and I would really like to see that one. It may even fix the issue I have with the date window, even though I feel like I would like it just as much if it wasn’t there. At the time of this writing, the watch was $525 on Kickstarter, and that is a stellar deal for a watch that could “almost” be COSC certified. Once the KS campaign ends, the retail price jumps to $1200. Since everyone’s tastes are different, I’d rather you be the judge here.

That price puts it squarely into competition with brands like Longines, Tissot, and even Frederique Constant. All those brands offer ETA or Sellita power in smaller cases. That having been said, those brands aren’t doing anything to help an American family that has worked tirelessly for three years to bring you such a nice piece or rejuvenate any kind of watch related business here in the US. The Chicago metropolitan area was once the home of American watchmaking powerhouse, Elgin. Maybe now, thanks to the hard work and meticulous quality control of Mark and Helena Para, one of our greatest cities is rising from the ashes left behind by decades of mundane, throw-away quartz watches. We can all get behind that.

Editor’s Note: At the time of publishing this piece Carpathia’s Kickstart Campaign was successfully completed. The Carpathia Ascent however is still available for pre-order directly on the brand’s site for approx. $675 – $725 USD.

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