French independent Reservoir takes inspiration from vintage audio and creates the Sonomaster Chronograph with design elements taken from the VU meters. We received a review loaner for about 2 weeks, and put the watch to its paces. Here is our comprehensive review.
Review: Reservoir Sonomaster Chronograph
Retail price for the Reservoir Sonomaster Chronograph is set at SGD 8,600 inclusive of GST. The watches are available at Red Army Watches in Singapore. Two models are available, labelled as Vintage as reviewed, and Modern sporting a silver dial with black sub-dials for the bi-retrograde indicators.
The case, dial and hands
The case is a rather large 43mm case, with significant 14.5mm thichkess does feel and wear large. The case is a classic round stainless steel case shape with rather short lugs. The bezel is also in steel and engraved with a tachymeter scale. The pushers for the chronograph are plain pushers. Activation of the chronograph is very smooth with a nice positive feel. The crown is screw down, but in our usage, we found it to be rather smooth, and can be difficult to wind. However, as an automatic winding watch, this should be not a huge issue as wearing the watch or placing it on a winder will keep it running.
But the most striking feature is the dial. The dial is black, with the dual (very) large 120° sectors arranged vertically in a very fetching cream colour. These sub-dials, so to speak, carry the 30 seconds retrograde indication on the left side, and retrograde date on the right.
The cream colour of the sub-dials are reminiscent of analog VU (Volume Unit) meters on vintage amplifiers. Reservoir tells us that the insipiration was from the Luxman M10 Mk II power amplifier, which feature two massive VU meters on the front facia, with red markings to indicate “danger zones” where the level of the signal may overload the speakers. On the Sonomaster, these red accent markings are present, but however they are purely cosmetic. Our photographs pose the Sonomaster in front of the VU meters of the legendary vintage Studer 962 16 channel mixer, typically used in a small recording studios, broadcast radio and even on-site during the analog heydays. In a mixer like the Studer, the red markings are there to warn the recording engineer that the levels may overload the recording media and distort.
“Thinking out of the box, Reservoir turned the dials on their sides, to be read vertically. The dial on the left provided retrograde seconds, its scale marked 0-30, with the needle – or hand in this case – flying back every half-minute. The dial on the right was chosen for the date display, its indications marked 0-31, with a retrograde fly-back return at the end of the month.”Reservoir press release verbiage.
We find the look of the dial to be very attractive. The layout with the dual fan shaped sub-counters for the retrograde indicators does evoke a very vintage feel, and as the effect of the VU meters was what the designers were going for. We think it meets the specifications very well. The feel of being in the company of analog VU meters with the soft amber glow lighting and the dancing needles is palpable, though the retrograde indicators do move much slower than volume units in a typical amplifier or mixer. And yet, especially on the left side of the dial, the hand moves sufficiently quick to give a sense of motion – 30 seconds over the 120° arc provides some visual movement cues. Both retrograde counters are sunken into the main dial, which adds depth to the dial.
The dial carries two additional sub-dials for the chronograph totalisers, and a minute track around the peripheral. The indices are marked in appliqué arabic numerals. In good lighting, time reading is easy, but the silver hands over dark background of the chronograph totalisers are a bit more challenging to read. The retrograde features are clear and very legible, and as mentioned there is somewhat of an excitement in observing the seconds hand make its way from the bottom to the top of the sub-dial, and springing back to its start once every 30 seconds. SuperLuminova is applied only on the minute and hour hands, and the watch is eminently legible in the dark, but only for time telling. The chronograph indicators are not visible in the dark.
Overall, a very fine and attractive dial, with excellent choice of hues. During our wear over the 2 week loan period, we got numerous compliments from watch collectors and the general public alike. Nice touch in the design of the Sonomaster!
The movement: Calibre RSV-Bi120
The movement is the Calibre RSV-Bi120, which is based on the La Joux Perret LJP-LC0, which Reservoir tells us is a manufacture movement made just for them. While we are not sure (please tell us if you know for a fact), if the movement is used in other watches. La Joux Perret is currently a subsidiary of Citizen Watches (Japan) and provide movements to house brands Arnold & Sons and Citizen. They also provide ébauches to other brands.
From the case back, we can clearly see that the movement is equipped with a column wheel, and automatic winding rotor bearing the Reservoir brand logo in red. From what we can see, movement finishing is not haute horlogerie, but judged to be adequate for good engineering practice. Knowing the lineage of the movement, we will not hesitate to call this a competently designed and manufactured movement, which can be relied on for many years of reliable and accurate service. The movement is not certified by any outside agency, like COSC, but during the fortnight with us, we see no reason that it is any less reliable or accurate.
As mentioned the activation of the chronograph pushers is very pleasant, requiring a soft, but firm push to engage for all the three functions of start, stop and reset.
The competitive landscape
The landscape of a modestly priced chronograph is a huge one. But one which sports dual bi-retrograde indicators is much more (severely) limited. The Sonographe not brings with it the functional chronographs functions, but in a very aesthetically pleasing package with the strong vintage vibes. The bi-retrograde indicators add a level of complication not offered by the competition at the price level of under SGD 7k.
As we survey the chronographs in the same price bracket, we spy perhaps the Breitling Super Avenger Chronograph 48 Night Mission (retail price SGD 7,890) and the Tudor Black Bay Chronographs (retail SGD 7,350) as potentials to vie for the same dollar. But neither offer the vintage aesthetics, nor the bi-retrograde feature.
The Sonomaster’s 43mm diameter case wears larger than the dimensions, but a regular male wrist should carry the watch off without issues. Those with smaller wrists may want try it out before purchase.
And overall, the Sonomaster is a very beautiful time piece. Reservoir has gotten the elements correct, and the final product is beautiful, functional and rather unique in its aesthetic interpretation. We highly recommend it, but first, please go to your authorized dealer and try one on for size. And also if you like the aesthetics. Your mileage may vary, but to us, this is one heckuva bang for the buck.
Revervoir Sonomasster Technical specifications
Case size: 43mm
Case material: 316L stainless steel
Case back: Exhibition caseback protected by sapphire crystal
Movement type: Automatic
Movement no.: Calibre RSV-Bi120: manufacture bi-retrograde chronograph movement, automatic mechanical winding and column wheel (base LJP-L1C0)
Power reserve: Approx 60hrs
Dial: Black and beige for the Vintage or silver and black for the Modern; hands with Superluminova; tachymeter bezel
Glass: Double-domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating
Water resistance: 5ATM
Strap type: Leather
Strap material: Black leather with white stitching
Buckle: Stainless steel deployant buckle
Features: Chronograph (central second, 30-minute counter at 12 o’ clock, hour counter at 6 o’ clock), bi-retrograde date and seconds at 120°, hour, minute
Warranty: 2 years + 1 additional year with registration at reservoir- watch.com
The photographs were taken in our studio during the loan period. With the exception of the wrist shot, which was taken with an iPhone 8 Plus, the other watermarked photographs were taken with our usual Fujifilm GFX 50S II with Hasselblad HC 4/120 Macro lens attached with the Fujifilm H Adapter G. Profoto strobes.