Some say you shouldn’t change a winning formula, but in the case of the new generation Baltic Bicompax 003, I don’t mind a bit of experimentation. While the MR01 is the current favourite of the French brand’s line-up and the Aquascaphe diver is their original signature, the Bicompax and associated time-only sibling the HMS are their bread and butter. And while fresh sourdough and proper salted butter are a winning combination, a touch of something extra is never bad – hence this welcome upgrade to the 002 series.
Baltic has always been billed as one of the best vintage-designed brands on the market at their wonderfully accessible price point. And they are. But there’s always been a slight issue in that 38mm is small for now… but it’s not a truly vintage size. Try on anything from the 1950s and ‘60s and it’ll likely feel tiny compared to modern watches, even at the smaller end of the scale. Not so the Bicompax 003, which has been downsized from 38mm of stainless steel to 36.5mm.
You might expect that to feel much smaller on the wrist, but honestly not so much. It’s still the same thickness, which is already a svelte 13mm, and if you can comfortably wear a 38mm watch, you won’t have an issue here. It’s just much truer to the vintage inspirations behind Baltic as a whole. It’s actually not a new size for Baltic either; they released the same case in their collaboration with Revolution and The Rake a couple years ago, this just brings it mainstream. Thank god.
Funnily enough, despite the smaller size, Baltic have managed to do more with the dial. Gone are all the Arabic numerals, replaced instead by 12, six, and a series of indexes for a more minimal, elegant look. More importantly though, they’re now applied rather than painted. Not only does this bring some added three dimensionality to the dial, but it looks and feels far, far more sophisticated. There are a few subtler changes too; the minute track has been made narrower and more technical with five minute markings and the word ‘manual’ has been removed from under the Bicompax lettering.
The result is a dial that has more room to breathe. The various concentric circles of the Bicompax 002 gave it an Art Deco-adjacent look, one that on a smaller watch would have looked way too crowded. Even then, I much prefer the less-is-more approach the Bicompax 003 has adopted. It might just be the most handsome vintage-styled chronograph around right now. Definitely in this price range.
The new version comes in three colourways, two of which will be familiar to fans. There’s the signature blue gilt, which is a combination of dark blue and gold that Baltic have adopted as their de facto signature. There’s also the version we have here, in silver and blue, that’s just a slightly palette- tweaked take on the black and silver. Then there’s the salmon, which ostensibly replaces the plain black, but has likely been adopted more because of the MR01’s success than anything else. And more power to it. I’m personally a bit done with salmon right now, but there’s definitely a market for it. It’ll do very, very well.
The silver blue though is my favourite. It’s crisper, cleaner and lets the additional level of finishing speak for itself a bit more, especially with the contrast between dial and applied numerals and indexes. There’s something very 1940s about it that I adore.
Now, onto the negatives. While the Bicompax 003 is a marked step up from the 002 aesthetically (feel free to argue with me on that but know that you’re wrong), it’s exactly the same mechanically. I completely understand that at this price point, you want an accessible movement, but Seagull are increasingly feeling cheap to me. They look the part, especially through the massively open sapphire caseback here, but don’t feel as solid or reliable as their Swiss or Japanese counterparts.
You could quite rightly argue that at under £500, you need to cut corners, and at least Seagull have fewer supply issues than some movement-makers, but these days Baltic are up against some stiff competition. They nailed the look; they just need to up the ante mechanically. Honestly, I’d happily pay a bit more for an upgraded version too.
That is, honestly what I expected with the Bicompax 003, a bit of a price increase in line with the overhauled looks and better finishing. But no, Baltic have kept it exactly the same – €540, or just over £460. That I can really admire. Does it make it the best value for money chronograph on the market? Probably not. But there’s an argument for it being the best vintage-styled one.
Price & Specs:
- Model: Baltic Bicompax 003
- Case/dial: 36.5mm diameter x 13mm thickness, stainless steel case, silver blue, salmon or blue gilt dial
- Water resistance: 50m (5 bar)
- Movement: Seagull calibre ST1901, manual winding
- Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz)
- Power reserve: 42h
- Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph
- Strap: Italian calf leather, stainless steel beads of rice, flat link or beads of rice straight bracelet
- Price/availability: €540 (approx. £460)