As far as watch collecting is concerned, toolwatches with the Lemania 5100 and the Valjoux 7750 movements are my kryptonite. Show me something that ticks these boxes and chances are I will not be able to resist. I avoid using the term grail but one watch I have not yet been able to track down and own is a Sinn EZM1. A titanium chronograph using a stripped-down version of the legendary Lemania 5100 movement and worn by German Commandos. But this entry is not about the EZM1, it is about the Kobold Polar Surveyor which was bought to fill the gap but is here to stay instead…
When I first started getting interested in watches I came across the Kobold brand and was very pleasantly taken by their designs. Models such as the Phantom and the Polar Surveyor seemed ideal and right up my street. As time went by, I did a bit more research and found out that during their early days, they had some very strong ties with Sinn. Helmut’s nod of approval is always a welcome bonus. Unfortunately, the fact remained that I couldn’t afford them at the time and that I couldn’t find any readily available in Europe. A couple of years later the brand started suffering from a number of quality and customer servicing issues that completely put me off and decided that I was better off staying clear… I couldn’t be more wrong…
A few of months ago a very early, wonderfully patinated, titanium Polar Surveyor popped up in one of the forums I frequent but I was too slow to pull the trigger and missed it. Unable to accept defeat I got in touch with the buyer and after a few months of unashamed pestering the watch found its way to me. As soon as I got my hands on it I knew it was going to be a keeper. If an EZM1 ever joins the stable it will have to co-exist with the Kobold.
So, what is the deal with this particular Kobold and why was I taken aback with it? First of all, it is a very early model, retailed in 2003 for the staggering amount of $6350. It is also the first watch to use Kobold’s Soarway case type and it is one of the very few, thought to be less than 50, to use a titanium case and bracelet. Furthermore, it is an absolute full set with box, all the papers, original receipt and even service invoices. I have bought cars that had less paperwork and documented service history than this!
Is that all? Someone might ask… And the answer is no. it features screw down crown, pushers and a solid screw down caseback giving it a 300m water resistance. It also sports a mesmerizing, patinated dial with a splash of red but most importantly, it is a GMT chronograph. Fortunately, the good bits do not end here! It uses an elabore version of the Valjoux 7750 movement modified to include both the GMT and the day/night indicator function and powered by a bespoke gold/bronze coloured rotor.
According to the Kobold website the original version of the Polar Surveyor was developed in collaboration with Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a record holder explorer and Gerd-R. Lang, a master watchmaker. Just by looking at it, it can easily be concluded that it was designed from the ground up with functionality in mind. Its titanium construction makes it extremely light, its matte black bezel, anti-reflective treated sapphire and brushed finish inhibit any unnecessary reflections and the big numerals and bold hands are designed in order to improve legibility. The day/night indicator shares the same subdial with the running seconds and the 24h hand is connected to the local time and cannot be adjusted independently. This is very useful in the poles or in a cave environment where the distinction between night and day is not very straightforward. The GMT hand can be adjusted independently in order to track a second time zone but could also be set to ZULU time which might be more useful to an explorer/adventurer.
The watch features minimal writing on the dial which discloses the brand in white and the model in red. It also features a date function with the disk colour coded to the dial and the date presented with white writing. All functions are easily distinguishable and the legibility is superb despite the volume of information that is displayed.
I have mounted the watch on an NDC strap inspired by those used by the French frogmen and combined with its minimal weight it makes for an amazingly comfortable combination. Although a very nice titanium bracelet is included I feel that the watch is best worn on a NATO or a fabric strap in order to keep the weight down. Furthermore, the screwed spring bars feel very solid and they are a pain to unscrew so a NATO is a no brainer here.
Do I have any criticisms? There is always something. I would have liked to see a rotatable bezel on the watch instead of a fixed one. Later versions featured this but they lost some of the original appeal such as the luminous markings and the brushed case, so given the choice I would always go back to this.
As mentioned above, it seems that the company has gone through a turmoil and its only recently starting to get back on track. An expose regarding the company’s owner recently surfaced in the internet and it does not paint a very nice picture. Does this retract from the value of the watch? For me it clearly doesn’t. This one came out in 2003 and it was indeed ground breaking at the time. The design philosophy is clear and so is the Sinn influence. This should be more than enough for any hardcore toolwatch enthusiast…