The state I’m in right now is in between feeling awesome and quite sentimental. The watch I have in front of me is the Fortis B-42 Official Cosmonauts, not a special edition or a unique version, “just” a classic Cosmo. Even if I have been a very lucky guy, being allowed to check out and test a lot of brilliant watches since the creation of “A Chickenwrists Delight” eight months ago, this review is very special to me and will probably be as much a personal (love)story as a presentation of measurements and facts.
Fortis is the brand that got me into mechanical wristwatches and I remember the day I go hold on my first, a black and orange flieger. The gates were opened and there was no way back. I knew that I was to lose myself into the vast depths of beautiful watches, legends and countless stores that wanted to empty my wallet.
Several years later, Fortis was also the brand that made me go further and create my own watch blog. After spending years with researching, learning about, buying, trading and selling watches, I got so tired of seeing the same brands over and over and over again. I started to wonder if the majority didn’t know about other brands than the five or six that covered about 90% of the space in every single watch forum worldwide? The last drop was when a guy, a so-called aficionado, was looking for a new watch and I told him about Fortis. He had never heard of them and wanted a “real” watch from a quality manufacturer…After a long walk, filled with anger and frustration, A Chickenwrists Delight was born, a place where I wanted to write about all the “unknown” watches that the majority would miss on their journey through the big brands. As humble as that sounds and the fact that I probably will reach out to only a fraction of those, I will do my part. I’m on a mission!
Through the years I’ve had my shares of watches from the B-42 collection. Cosmonauts, Fliegers and Marinemasters has come and gone. Today, as a composed grown up, I can’t understand why I parted with them. Being young, restless and always on the search for the next “hit” probably must take most of the blame. Some of the joys of getting older is the ability to slow down, enjoy and appreciate the watches, instead of being in a flipper’s haze, panicking when a watch has been in the collection for more than three weeks. Having Cosmo in front of me again makes my heart beat a little faster and this time, this hot and tooly timepiece will stay.
Fortis’ history dates to 1912, founded by Walter Vogt in Grenchen. The name Fortis is Latin and can be translated into strong, powerful, lasting, solid, bold, brave and fearless, keywords that sums up Vogt’s vision for his brand and watches; the most reliable watches in the world. In 1926, at the Basel Trade Fair (now Baselworld) Fortis, together with Harwood presented the world’s first, mass-produced, fully automatic wristwatch. John Harwood was a British watchmaker that was awarded with a patent for his invention of the first self-winding wristwatch by the Swiss Confederation in Bern. In 1928, from the Fortis factory in Grenchen, Vogt and Harwood, assembled and distributed the watches to the international markets.
To get to the space story of Fortis, the division where the Official Cosmonauts belong, I must make a big leap in years. Across their first chronograph presented in the mid-thirties and their early waterproof watches from the mid-forties. Fortis entered the Space Race in the sixties with the Fortis Spacematic AR, a watch manufactured for the crew of the Project Gemini, the second manned space program in the United States.
Soviet, later Russia, also play an important role in Fortis’ space story. From 1986 to 1996 the MIR space station was built, in orbit, and at the same time Fortis was developing the Official Cosmonauts, the watch that became the official watch for the Russian Space Program, Roscosmos. In 1994, two years before the last parts of MIR were assembled, the watch flew into space for the first time. In 2004 Fortis released the B-42 Official Cosmonauts, the watch that has the most hours in both space and open space. Still today, the Official Cosmonauts is part of the standard space equipment for the Russian Space Program.
It’s time to put history aside and look at the watch. It arrived in the box Fortis has used for some years now. The outer box is made from solid, black, cardboard and has a big Fortis logo on top and name on the frontside. The black, wooden inner box has some synthetic filling and a synthetic leather pillow. The certificate, manual and warranty card is placed in a small slot behind the watch. It’s a clean and simple box that does its job properly. I do feel Fortis has upgraded their boxes from earlier years, boxes that disintegrated and fell apart after some years in storage. But after all, Fortis makes watches that belongs outside the box, high-quality watches that last for decades. One of the most delightful moments in my Fortis-journey was when I bought the Spacematic GMT, a second-hand watch that was purchased by the original owner in 2003. The watch arrived and I was a bit worried. The box looked like it had gone through the atmosphere on its way back from a mission and I wondered how the gem inside would appear. After tearing, dusting and cleaning off some parts of the box that had stuck onto the crystal, I had a look at the fifteen-year-old classic, not a single scratch or mark, the movement purred like a kitten and I was in heaven. Not bad for a watch that had been worn daily for years and not been to service once.
Today’s watch, the fabulous Cosmo, is a tool-watch and has the measurements you would expect a tool to have. As the name reveals, the B-42 is 42mm across, without the crown. The bezel is a bit larger and measures 44mm. From lug to lug it is 53mm and the thickness clocks in just under 13mm. Back in the days, when I loved bigger watches, this was the perfect size, but in recent years I have settled with approximately 40mm as the preferred fit. I have to say that the size of the Cosmonauts brings back some good memories and I understand why I loved them a bit bigger than today’s standards. I’m feeling a little more masculine, a little more like a man that wants to explore the rougher parts of my neighborhood. I’m even feeling that my wrists aren’t that thin, which of course is a grand illusion…The classic shape of the B42’s brushed case brings a lot of comfort to the table. It wraps nicely around the wrist due to the excellent shaped lugs. The watch I have got is fitted with a solid bracelet with a standard folding clasp. The removeable links are fastened with screws and pins. It took a while to adjust, but at the same time you will notice that this bracelet is made to last. There are plenty of room for small adjustments and I promise that you’ll find your preferred fit. An advice I can give is to check the screws occasionally, tighten them a bit to secure them from un-screwing and falling off. Remember that these screws are tiny and will break if too much power is applied. I know this, for sure… This is something that should be done with all bracelets with screws, not only the ones from Fortis.
Since I’m a nato-guy, I probably will end up removing the bracelet after a while. For now, I have no issues wearing the watch as it is, but I know myself and my wrists too good to believe the rugged bracelet will stay on forever. And then the biggest issue with the Cosmo appears. The pins are just a bit too close to the case, meaning I can’t choose freely from my collection of nato straps. After breaking the screws holding the pins in place several times, due to the thickness of the strap, I know that everything above 1,2mm in thickness is risky business. Any thicker, the pins will bend slightly, causing the screws to jam and often break. At 20mm, the width is perfect, adding a sleek look to the large case. Being the same size as all my other watches, there’s no need to getting a ton of new straps. Another plus is the range of matching straps Fortis offers. Colorful silicone, classic leather and durable nato straps are on the menu and ready to be shipped. The ones in leather and silicone, that are made especially for the B42 series have a tailored fit to the case, something I find extremely attractive.
The closed, screwed down case back has a matte center with the Fortis, UNK and Roscosmos logo. The outer edges contain information about the water resistance, model name and serial number. It’s a very classic and clean case back used on many of Fortis’ models. Except from the matt center at the back, the complete case is very smoothly brushed, adding a refined touch to its robust appearance. The large, classic crown with the Fortis logo is placed at three o’clock and turns very firm and nicely. This is not a screw down, but sealed with high quality o-rings, the water resistance is guaranteed to withstand 20 atmospheres. The wide bezel is covering the inner part of the crown, preventing you from getting the maximum grip when winding or setting time. It’s such a small issue and if you weren’t told, you would probably not notice.
The face of the Official Cosmonauts is all about readability. From the outer edges of the unidirectional, 120-click bezel to the center of the matte, pitch black surface with white details. A brilliant contrast to the black and white is the almost vibrant, neon-like, orange, lollipop second-hand. Earlier models of the Cosmo have had a standard orange hand, but this one really pops out from the dial. The only other color to be found, when darkness arrives, is the green lume. It’s not the kind of glow that will burn in your eyes or lit up the dancefloor, but it shines more than enough to let you know what time it is when your kid wakes you up half an hour after you went to bed. All the numerals, the hour- and minute hand, the pips on the second-hand and bezel and the triangle at three o’clock has luminova applied. If you wonder what that triangle stands for, it tells you which way to turn the crown to adjust the date. Since this is a day/date, you will find another triangle on the left side of the window, pointing downwards, showing you the direction to adjust the day. To fulfill the remarkable readability, Fortis has applied anti-reflective coating on both sides of the sapphire crystal. This is very functional and from many angles it might seem like the crystal isn’t there. A small downside is that the outer layer can/will be scratched up over time. It’s not the biggest worry since this layer can be removed with proper tools and solutions. I strongly recommend that this is done by professionals.
The beating heart of this tool is the well-known ETA2836-2. I have had approximately a dozen watches from Fortis over the years and from new ones to beaten up old-timers, the accuracy and reliability has been superb. 28800 bph and a power reserve of 40 hours are standard figures for this movement. It also has hacking seconds, allowing you to set the time very precisely as the second-hand stops when pulling the crown out.
Moving away from the watch again, I want to tell you a little bit about who I am as a watch collector and buyer. I am the worst customer ever, not because I complain and argue a lot, but I have issues. I can’t go to a store and just pick up a watch, and if someone tries to suggest or recommend a watch, I will definitely not buy it. I can’t have anything that others tell me to have. When online, I probably search through ten thousand watches per week, saving twenty of them, ending up buying none. For me to purchase a watch, it must light a spark in my heart, be something different and challenge me. I must do a lot of research and get to know the brand, their history, getting under their skin and try to feel how it’s like to own the watch. Even if all boxes are checked, a bad experience with customer service or an unanswered request to the service department can ruin it all.
When I mention that Fortis has sponsored me with this watch, so I could test it and write this review, when you might feel this is a subjective presentation of a watch and a brand, think of the length Fortis, unknowingly had to go to reach the dark and unreachable parts of my heart. There are many, many great brands out there, offering the same quality as Fortis, offering more bang for the bucks or more status to your wrist. So why this love for the 107-year-old Grenchen beauty? Why do we fall in love with anything or anybody at all? There is no single answer to that, but when we connect to something or someone, learn about and take part in their history, something magical can happen. Issues has been and will appear again, joy and frustration will be a part of my relationship with Fortis, but when in love, these small things make me feel closer to and in a position where I want to care for and cherish the watch. If you ever find yourself in a state of mind like this, don’t be surprised if you suddenly understand that you have got yourself a keeper. Yes, these exists.
So, the only way to wrap this up is to say; Cosmo, welcome home!