One of the most surprising watches to be released this year from BaselWorld has to be Tudor’s Black Bay P01…
While the world was provided with teaser shots of an hour index close-up from Tudor leading up to Baselworld, the watch community started to salivate at the prospect of Tudor releasing a Submariner, and the internet was awash with rumours connecting the significance of the year 2019 as an anniversary of note. However the world was simply stunned by what Tudor actually released. The “Black Bay P01”
Back in the late 1960’s after having provided watches to the United States Navy, Tudor embarked on “Project Commando” to meet the US Navy’s latest specifications and requirements for their new watches. It was here that a prototype was created that has seen little light of day since as Tudor did not win the contract to supply the US Navy.
The design incorporates a special locking mechanism that is integrated into the pivot points for the strap. In effect, once the watch is placed on the users wrist and the strap is tightened, the pivoting clamps on the top are pulled down and the teeth lock the rotation of the bezel thereby preventing accidental rotation. However this does mean that in order to actually rotate the Bezel intentionally, the wearer has to take the watch off their wrist.
While the engineering behind the design is clever, it has also resulted in an over-engineered solution that compromises usability in the modern world we live in.
Unfortunately this industrial design aesthetic has not been received well by the watch community. Journalists who have been present at Baselworld have been respectful of Tudor and some have gently acknowledged that it is “better in person…” However social media and most notably Instagram has been awash with expressions of horror from collectors and watch enthusiasts alike mostly expressing their utter dismay.
Tudor’s stole the limelight with the re-birth of the brand in 2012 when it launched the Black Bay. A Watch designed by Davide Cerrato and drawing on a number of heritage models to create a watch that ostensibly embodies the modern-vintage timepiece. For years Tudor could do little wrong as it continued to iterate on the success of previous years, re-building the brands’ cachet of credibility. However in the years following Cerrato’s departure for Mont Blanc, Tudor has come under heavy criticism for its lack of imagination and becoming a one-watch success as almost every model is a new Black Bay model of some kind.
Ironically, the two most notable watches from last year’s Baselworld – The BlackBay 58 and the BlackBay GMT were so hot that demand for these is still outstripping supply with many still unable to buy either watch a whole year later.
The forthcoming months will be interesting ground for Tudor who has won the hearts of so many since 2012 as we will witness the popularity of their most divisive watch so far.
What do you think of the new BlackBay P01? Let us know in the comments below.
Celebrating 10 years of working with Martin Baker, today at their iconic townhouse event, Bremont announce their Martin Baker MBIII anniversary Limited Edition.
Limited to just 310 pieces worldwide, the new MBIII Limited Edition features a titanium barrel and for the first time a white dial with a red warning triangle in the lower half with a reminder: “Danger Ejection Seat”. The case back features a beautiful detailed etching of the Martin Baker MK16 seat from the F35 Lightning.
10 years ago in 2009, Bremont launched the iconic Martin Baker I with a red barrel designed and tested to withstand the tremendous forces that pilots undergo upon ejecting from a modern jet fighter. Exclusively available to prior ejectees, the MBI is easily identified by its red barrel and can only be purchased once you have been verified as having survived a live ejection. Subsequently Bremont launched the MBII available to civilians and with a variety of barrel colours available including orange, green, black and blue (paired with a white face) and identical to the MBI from a technical perspective.
The MBIII adds a GMT hand and differs from the MBII as it includes the date but not a day complication. Until today, the MBIII was only available with a black dial.
The new MBIII 10th anniversary limited edition is available to pre-order today for the same price as the regular MBIII – £4195 including VAT According to Bremont, they have already taken a number of pre-orders for the new MBIII in the first an hour this morning, so they wont be around for long!
Today at their annual Townhouse event, Bremont announced their partnership with the Ministry of Defence and in celebration of this, their new Armed Forces Collection.
The new HMAF (Her Majesty’s Armed Forces) collection signifies a significant step in the evolution of Bremont’s relationship with Her Majesty’s Government. Until now, although Bremont has been commissioned to produce one off pieces by specific military units uniquely for them, Bremont have not had a formal relationship with the Ministry of Defence. Today that changes. Bremont is proud to announce its partnership with the Ministry of Defence honouring Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Through this partnership, Bremont has become the sole luxury watch producer allowed to legitimately use the signs, symbols and insignia of all three services. This is also the first time that civilians can purchase official Bremont military timepieces bearing these symbols.
To celebrate this new relationship, Bremont today have released three pieces incorporating the Heraldic badges of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air force. These are the Argonaut, the Broadsword and the Arrow. These have been designed around a new traditional two piece case with a screw in, stamped caseback.
For the Navy, Bremont announced the Argonaut: a 42mm steel cased dive watch with an internal unidirectional bezel and a 300m water resistance on a Royal Navy blue sailcloth strap and is available for £2795. For Land forces, Bremont announced the Broadsword: a 40mm Field watch with small seconds on a traditional British Army green canvas strap and is available for £2595. For the Airforce Bremont announced the Arrow: a 42mm Monopusher chronograph on a Royal Airforce blue canvas strap which is available for £3595.
This is the third year that Bremont have organised their now Iconic townhouse event – naturally a typically British approach to showcasing their latest collection. Bremont will be hosting sister Townhouse event in New York this year following on from this event.
To mark the celebration of 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing, Omega have announced that they have put the infamous Calibre 321 movement back into production!
Over the last 2 years and operating in total secrecy under the codename Alaska II Omega have set up a dedicated Calibre 321 facility in Bienne.
Eugene Cernan’s watch – an ST 105.003 which incidentally is the reference model that NASA tested to to become flight certified, is currently in the Omega Museum in Bienne. This was digitally scanned using to create the reference model for re-creating the reborn Calibre 321.
The new facility in Bienne will see end to end production of Calibre 321 watches by the same watchmaker including the movement, watch head and bracelet.
The Calibre 321 – Omega’s column wheel chronograph movement was last seen in the original Speedmaster before it was replaced by the calibre 861 (a cam actuated movement) before finally being updated to the calibre 1861 which is till used today. For more information, take a read of our recently published article “An introduction to chronograph movements“
Omega fans have long been waiting to see the return of the Calibre 321 as it was last produced in 1968 and it will surprise few that Omega have chosen to bring this back as we look to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
We expect to see an announcement from Omega within the next few months of a Apollo 11 50th anniversary limited edition Speedmaster to be released this year.
What do you think? – Will you be rushing to place a deposit for one as soon as its announced? Let us know in the comments!
When it comes to chronographs, the movement is king, but did you know that there are a number of different ways of making a chronograph movement? Manufacturers will typically charge a hefty premium for a ‘high end’ chronograph so why is this and what differentiates one movement from another?
Firstly, There are two types of chronograph – modular & integrated…
A modular chronograph comprises two elements. The base movement and the chronograph module itself. An example of a modular chronograph is the ETA 2894, which comprises the 2892 base movement that can be used on its own, delivers basic timekeeping in a compact movement just 3.6mm in height. It contains all the ‘usual suspects’ (hacking, hand winding, hours, mins, seconds etc) for basic timekeeping, and also provides a drive that can deliver power from the mainspring to drive the additional module. In this case, ETA’s modular chronograph module sits on top.
The benefit of a modular movement is that if there’s a problem, a watchmaker can separate the two halves, and work on the just the bit that needs his attention. This also keeps costs down in both time, and replacement elements, as it’s possible to replace one or other elements (base movement or chronograph module) rather than the entire movement.
On the other hand, modular movements suffer from a lubrication issue: as the movement is basically built in two halves, unlike an integrated movement, each half needs separate lubrication and can, if left for too long dry up. As a guide, it is therefore important to run the chronograph on the movement periodically to ensure its all running smoothly and the lubrication has not dried up. Running the chronograph once a month for an hour should help prevent this.
One of the easy ways of identifying a modular movement, is to look at the placement of chronograph pushers on the case. If the two chronograph pushers sit higher than the winding crown, then they are attached to a module sitting on top of a base movement.
An integrated movement as you might imagine incorporates all the components in a single design. This invariably delivers a slimmer overall thickness of movement, and will include all of the expected characteristics of a chronograph. Overall it’s more efficient not to have space wasted with extra plates and drive wheels to transfer power to another module. A typical example of an integrated movement is the valjoux 7750 – one of the most prolific chronograph movements used in watchmaking for decades.
Of the two, modular movements are often regarded as the poor cousin of an integrated movement (as it results in bulkier watch cases due to the increased depth of the movement) and as I’ve mentioned is less efficient. Integrated movements are generally much more commonplace.
Again, on a side view of the case, if the chronograph pushers line up with the winding crown then they are part of an integrated movement.
In addition, there are two architectures of chronograph movements, cam actuated and column wheel. As you might imagine each has its benefits, so I’ll attempt to cover some of the basics.
In a cam actuated chronograph, levers activated by the top pusher engage and disengage the wheels that drive the chronograph hands with the main timekeeping parts of the watch using a layered cam where one layer receives input from the pusher, and the other engages and disengages the clutch connecting the chronograph to the movement. In addition the cam is designed to block the reset mechanism so that this cannot be performed while the chronograph is running as this would be fairly catastrophic while the chronograph is engaged to the main movement. The flyback chronograph was specifically developed to allow the reset of the chronograph while its running and in a single movement disengages the clutch, resets the chrono and re-engages the clutch. These movements are much rarer and more complicated as a result.
Incidentally, all modular chronographs are cam operated, as they have a limited depth to build the chronograph module without making the entire movement prohibitively thick whereas in an integrated chronograph, there is more depth to be able to include a column wheel which is deeper.
A column wheel was designed to do the same job but with less parts. Instead of multiple cam plates that are stacked, a single turret shaped wheel is used. However as you can imagine, this is a more complicated and difficult part to manufacture. However with less parts come less friction (and therefore wear) and also a more consistent feel requiring less pressure to actuate.
Many have also noted that the operation of a cam actuated chronograph experiences a jerk when it sets off however this has been attributed more to the lateral clutches present in cam operated chronographs as opposed to vertical clutches on column wheel chronographs.
So column wheel chronographs are more complicated to design and build resulting in an increased cost by the manufacturer however these movements are smoother to operate by the user, and more desirable as a consequence. Column wheel chronograph movements include the infamous Zenith El Primero and the manually wound Omega 321 movement used in the original Speedmaster. As you can imagine, pretty much all high end chronographs have column wheels including Patek Philippe’s CH 29-535 PS and A. Lange & Söhne’s L951.5
You may have noticed that trying to get hold of an original Speedmaster with a 321 movement will be a little pricey as will almost any watch with an El Primero movement (which not only has a column wheel by also a Hi-beat of 36,000 vibrations per hour) let alone a Patek or Lange.
However would it surprise you to learn that you can in fact buy a column wheel chronograph for a few hundred pounds that has a movement stretching back nearly 80 years?
Back in the 1940s Venus had created a pair of chronograph movements that became ubiquitous. The Calibre.170 and Calibre 175. The Calibre 170 was a twin register, vertically aligned, manually wound column wheel chronograph, and its sister the Calibre 175 was identical except its chronograph registers were horizontally aligned. These were not only highly regarded as exceptional movements but were adopted by a huge quantity of manufacturers including Breitling, Aristo, Birks, Helbros, Telda, Silvana, Bovet, Loyal and many more.
By the 1960’s, Venus decided to sell off the movement to raise capital in the light of newer architectures and future developments and sold the rights (as well as the tooling to produce the movements) to the Chinese who in 1963 in Tianjin released a pilots chronograph for the Chinese airforce. In 1992 the Tianjin Seagull Corporation was created as the foundation for the Seagull watch brand.
In 2011, Seagull re-issued this watch (the “Seagull 1963”pilots chronograph) which contains the very same movement. Seagull refer to this movement as the ST19 movement however this is in fact the Venus Calibre 175 still produced using the machinery and tooling procured during the 1960’s.
This watch is still available to buy today for under £300 (in a variety of models including the original 37.5mm with a hesalite crystal) which quite frankly is an astonishing value proposition.
If Seagull are able to produce this watch today with a manually wound column wheel chronograph movement, there is nothing stopping brands such as Omega producing a modern column wheel chronograph. If Omega released a column wheel as part of their yearly announcements I can imagine that it would only be part of a limited edition re-issue commemorating the Speedmaster and based on the last two limited editions – sold out within minutes. So if you would like to own a chronograph with a piece of heritage and history without breaking the bank, and from a supplier that is not sold out within minutes, look no further…
Do you own a column wheel chronograph? – What’s been your ownership experience? – let us know in the comments below.
In the inimitable words of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, “ … there are dinner jackets and there are dinner jackets….. this is the latter….” she was of course referring to the truth that not all things are created equal!
The traditional and somewhat humble NATO strap was purely utilitarian by creation – there to ensure that the watch head wasn’t lost in the event of a spring bar failure. However nowadays, few of us undertake frequent activities that are likely to cause this (as well as the quality of spring-bars improving over the years) so nowadays most of us are buying and wearing NATO straps as watch accessories to complement both the watch itself and our attire. Indeed watch manufacturers have themselves caught on to this with Omega having launched a NATO configurator on its website allowing you to see what various straps will look like on a variety of their watches, and as you can imagine Omega NATO straps are not cheap – but controversially they are proportionate.
Like Omega, Tudor also made a name for themselves when they launched the ubiquitous Black Bay for their inclusion of an extremely high quality fabric strap that while not a strict NATO does embody the same purpose and function of a traditional NATO. Most if not all who have ever worn this will attest to the fact its probably the most comfortable strap they have ever put on.
It’s not a hard correlation to accept but clearly the quality of the strap directly affects the comfort of how your watch will feel and wear. With this in mind, if you’ve spent hundreds or thousands on a watch, you wont want the strap you wear it on to either be uncomfortable or to adversely affect its look.
With this in mind, I’d like to suggest that “…there are NATO straps and there are NATO straps”
Buying a quality NATO can be transformational in how it wears, but who makes a really good quality NATO strap and what sets apart one manufacturer from another?
We have probably bought more NATO straps than we care to admit – which as chance would have it means we have experienced some awesome (and some not so awesome) straps along the way…
There are ostensibly three things that contribute to a decent NATO (or for that matter any strap). The quality of the material used, the quality of the hardware (buckles & keepers etc) and the attention to detail. On a cheap strap, often quality control is the first thing that suffers. Cheap straps are much more susceptible to loose threads, fraying holes and before long the strap will deteriorate. Not to mention that poor quality fabric can be itchy & uncomfortable. The buckles are thin, cheap and flimsy, and overall instead of enhancing the look of your watch, you have in fact deteriorated not only the look and feel, but also the enjoyment of your watch.
While it’s not in our nature to put others down, it is in our nature to extol the virtues of people and products that we believe are excellent. With that in mind, we’ve shared a few or our personal recommendations below. We have spent time getting to know the owners of all three brands below and can attest to their focus on care and customer service. We have first hand experience of the straps having worn them extensively on a variety of watches so as usual these are our recommendations based on our own (unfortunately very extensive) experience!
Ever since I first discovered BluSharkstraps I fell in love with their premium feel – and this in fact has been their defining characteristic and mission in life. Joe’s relentless pursuit of designing, building and delivering high-quality NATO straps has produced some of the best NATO’s on the market. Our favourites are the Alphashark and AlphaPremier ranges that feature the very best hardware with brushed, polished or black PVD finishing available across their range of 18, 20, 22 & 24mm sizes. This allows you to choose, match and pair your NATO precisely to the watch that you are buying it for. The quality of fabric is excellent as is their attention to detail, stitching and hardware used.
The AlphaPremier straps are differentiated by a silky smooth material that is only 1.2mm thick, and a sliding first keeper. The AlphaShark straps are $32 (£25) and the AlphaPremier straps are $36 (£28) If you are looking for a conventional NATO strap in quite possibly the most diverse range of colours & sizes built to an extremely high standard that will complement an expensive watch you will not find better.
The only down side to BluShark’s straps if you live here in the UK (and this is not their fault) is that you will typically take advantage of their buy 2 get one free offer which will then cost you $72 (£56) for three – which still represents extremely good value in the light of Omega’s NATO at £120 however this then puts you above the import duty charges and will incur additional customs fees as it crosses into the UK.
If you are looking for the security of a NATO strap without the extra bulk that comes with multiple passes of material lifting your watch off your wrist as well as keepers to the side of your wrist holding excess material, then look no further than Haveston. Based here in the UK, Alex has taken the time to re-engineer the traditional NATO as a single pass strap delivering the benefits of a NATO strap while delivering the feel of a two piece canvas strap. We wrote an article on the straps and would recommend having a further read here. Ostensibly, because the single pass still passes between both spring bars, in the event of a failure the watch will still remain on your wrist. However because it only has a single piece of material beneath the watch, it sits much closer to your wrist. In addition, because there is no “third keeper” you can move the head of the watch further down the fabric ensuring the buckle and keepers are precisely underneath your wrist. Furthermore, Alex has engineered the second keeper as a ‘floating’ keeper allowing the flexibility of securing your watch consistently depending on how much excess is left. The buckles and hardware deliver a premium yet slender aesthetic and complement the fabric of the strap well. Havestons straps are available for $28.55 (£22) here in the UK. Although the price is listed in dollars this is more as a representation of a universal currency as a lot of customers are based overseas. Alex has informed us that the revised site will list the straps in local currencies which will be launching soon.
Bark & Jack
If on the other hand you prefer the look of a traditional NATO strap but don’t want the bulk, then I would urge you to try a strap from Bark&Jack. Adrian has been working very hard finessing and prototyping a silky smooth, and extremely slender NATO resulting in a strap that has the traditional look of a NATO that is extremely comfortable to wear but doesn’t lift the watch head far from your wrist resulting in a much better aesthetic. In addition if you buy two, you are also provided with a ‘watch sock’ for protecting your watch from scratches while storing it. Currently available in 4 colours: black, green grey and sand in 20mm widths only. What is astonishing is that the quality is on a par with the best and yet these are available for a mere £18 here in the UK! In my humble opinion these are as good as (if not better than) the Omega NATO straps available in terms of quality. The only negative is that some may prefer a wider range of colours and sizes of NATO straps, however as this is a new product range and is Adrian’s first product, there is no doubt he has hit the ground running with a fantastic product, and we look forward to more colour choices and widths in the future!
With such excellent straps available at very reasonable prices it would be sacrilege to endure discomfort or a poor quality strap when both your wrist and your timepiece deserve better!
What’s your experience of NATO straps? Let us know in the comments below!
They say that there are in fact only two kinds of watch enthusiasts, those who have discovered the Seiko SKX, and those who are yet to discover the SKX!
The Seiko SKX is one of the worlds most ubiquitous watches. Universally loved by so many around the world, it manages to achieve the seemingly impossible. Let me explain the problem…
As a divers watch it is inherently robust, yet the case of the SKX has curved sides ensuring the watch is extremely comfortable when you flex your wrist. The lug to lug dimensions are modest at 46mm meaning it can be comfortably worn by wrists of all sizes (for comparison the 38mm NOMOS Club campus has a considerably larger lug to lug distance of 48.5mm). The crown is offset to the 4oclock position ensuring it doesn’t dig into the back of your hand. The dial is extremely legible and includes both a day and date, and it has an in-house movement that is so robust, people typically count the time between services in decades! What’s more this isn’t just water resistant to 200m – its an ISO6425 rated dive watch which means every single SKX has been tested to 125% of this depth(250m). The icing on the cake is that this amazing watch does not cost the earth but is available for the quite frankly unbelievable price in the UK of around £200.
The Seiko SKX is by no means perfect though. The action of the bezel leaves a lot to be desired, there are comments from numerous owners complaining that their chapter ring is misaligned, and you would be forgiven for thinking the jubilee bracelet available was a free gift in a box of cereal! Seiko uses their proprietary Hardlex crystal which is not as scratch resistant as sapphire glass, and the movement cannot be hand wound or stopped to synchronise it to a reference time.
However despite these shortcomings, every SKX owner will tell you they love their SKX – probably disproportionately – which is where the problems start…
If you were to look through watch collections you might be able to spot a theme. A series of beautiful, strategic and valuable watches from one or more manufacturers brought together to form the collectors choices and lurking at the back somewhere you will find the obligatory SKX. The most common ‘excuse’ that a collector will publicly admit to, is that they bought it as an everyday ‘beater’. In other words they bought it with the intention that they didn’t mind what happened to this cheap watch and that any damage it sustained while doing the gardening or other activity was damage not received by the rest of the collection. However if you look closely you will discover the SKX rarely has any damage. Why? because after buying this cheap watch he’s discovered how incredibly wearable it is. For some reason it looks great on almost any strap! Leather, NATO, canvas, crocodile, sailcloth, cordura – everything seems to go with an SKX.
Its at this point that things take a further turn for the worse. “If the watch is so wearable, how about fixing one or two of the shortcomings?” Well as you might imagine there is a whole host of companies producing parts specifically for the SKX including crystals, movements, bezels, dials, hands and many other alternative components should you wish to truly customise your watch. A common disposition is to replace the movement upgrading it to the NH35 and replace the Hardlex crystal with a sapphire crystal.
By this point in time some owners have spent as much getting the watch modified with the cost of a watchmakers time and parts as it cost them to buy in the first place and are left wondering why they had to do all this themselves and Seiko didn’t produce a more ‘premium’ Seiko SKX
This year at Baselworld, Seiko launched the SPB079 – while in derivative terms, its not a direct lineage of the SKX, it is in form. It’s powered by the 6R15 movement (Seiko’s in-house name for the NE15 which is an upgraded NH35 with a better main spring and a longer 50 hour power reserve) with hacking and hand winding, a sapphire crystal with AR coating, a quality rotating bezel, applied markers on the dial, a traditional crown at 4o’clock and like the SKX is an ISO6425 rated divers watch. The case design is sympathetic to the SKX’s iconic shape but with every contributory element improved, these all add up to a whole lot more. Once you hold the SPB079 the quality improvements are immediately apparent and the watch feels altogether a much more premium watch. The SPB079 retails at £799 and while that is considerably more that the SKX, it is far cheaper than the build quality suggests!
While it may be a little cheaper (but not much) to buy an SKX and upgrade the dial, hands, crystal, movement, bezel insert, bezel and strap, once you have added the watchmakers time you will be pretty close to the price of the SPB079.
The problem with the SKX is that it is such an amazing watch and so versatile that it connects with people causing them to fall in love with it for so many reasons. So here’s my advice: Buy one and love it. Don’t upgrade it – appreciate it for what it is. If you want a more premium watch buy a different watch. and if you want a beater watch – buy a G-Shock!
For the first time ever, Seiko have released two limited edition watches specifically for the European market. These are the Seiko Prospex “Dawn Grey” Turtle SRPD01K1 and Seiko Prospex “Dawn Grey” Samurai SRPD03K1. Each watch is Limited to just 2018 pieces each and available exclusively in Europe. The Dawn Grey theme pairs a silver/grey dial, bezel and chapter ring with a highlight burst of orange marking the initial dive time on the bezel, orange tip seconds hand, and subtle orange markers at the 3,6,9,12 on the chapter ring. I visited the only UK Seiko boutique to take a look.
The Dawn Grey Turtle (SRPD01K1) is priced at £470 and comes with both a steel bracelet with divers extension as well as a Grey colour matched silicone strap in a Limited Edition box. The dial is a beautiful metallic silver/grey dial with the dive time marking running round to the 20 minute marker aligning with the position of the crown. This was my first experience of a Seiko Turtle and I must say I was very impressed with the build quality and attention to detail. It certainly is a massive step up from the build quality of an SKX (a great watch in its own right but not in the same league) and many “accessible” high street Seiko’s. The 4R35 movement was beautifully smooth to wind and adjust, and the bezel action was superbly smooth with no play whatsoever.
The Dawn Grey Samurai (SRPD03K1) is priced lower at £410 however this only comes on the steel bracelet with divers extension and does not include the additional silicone rubber strap. The Samurai’s execution of the colours, fit and finish is essentially the same. In keeping with the design intention of the turtle, the orange marker on the bezel for the dive time runs to the 15 minute marker where the crown is located. This design element may seem trivial, however on execution demonstrates a level of intentionality with each watch and ensures a balanced aesthetic that is not immediately obvious.
Interestingly, the Dawn Grey Samurai is selling faster than the Turtle here in the UK with the last one of their initial stock sold as I was in the boutique on Monday afternoon. Rest assured, more are available and the London Seiko boutique will be receiving more next week as they we sent an initial stock only.
However if you want one I would advise you to act quickly as these are already showing up on Ebay with listings as high as £750!
The German Flieger or Pilots watch in the form it exists today is more a modern interpretation of traditional pilots watches produced and worn during world war II where these watches were strapped to the outside of flight suits. Although the flieger watches available today are much smaller than the 55mm watches produced during wartime, they carry many of the same features and specifications, drawing their identity from their heritage in producing clean, functional and reliable watches. While many brands might be accused of producing year after year the same watch, Stowa have continued to evolve and innovate their take on the traditional pilots watch and have more recently introduced a more contemporary model called the Ikarus. So we reached out to Stowa who were kind enough to send us one to spend some time with.
A little history of Stowa…
In 1927, Walter Storz founded Stowa in Hornberg, Black forest, Germany. In 1935, just 8 years later the company had outgrown its building and moved to Pforzheim. By 1937 Stowa had been producing numerous ‘Bauhaus’ watches inspired by the German school of art, design & architecture of the same name. With near constant growth, in 1938 Stowa moved to their new building which was built for them in Bismarckstraße in Pforzheim. However this growth would show little signs of letting up as the start of World War II brought even more demand…
Although it had long been established that pilots required accurate timekeeping for navigation, flight time and fuel use, the start of the second world war meant the German airforce – the ‘Luftwaffe’ was going to need watches in bulk. Specifications for official flieger watcher were drawn up and 5 companies commissioned to produce them – IWC, Laco, Wempe, A.Lang & Sohne and of course Stowa. These specifications were designed to ensure that no matter who produced these watches, they would be physically and functionally the same – these were critical tool watches after all. This specification included the case size (55mm) to aid legibility in poor conditions, crown – so it can be easily operated by pilots wearing gloves, the dial needed to include the (now iconic) triangle with two dots easily denoting the 12oclock position and confirming orientation, the dial, hour, minute, and seconds hands were all coated with radium in order to provide strong luminescence, and of course were accurate and able to be synchronised to a reference time (had a hacking function). The German Testing Office created an appropriate designation for the specification identifying that the watch was approved for flight (FL), navigation (23), and aeronautics (883) thus creating the official Flieger designation of FL23883 which would be applied to the watches from all 5 manufacturers.
Our first impressions…
Its always reassuring when a manufacturer provides an ‘appropriate’ box for the watch they are selling. Its not a good sign when its obvious that a large proportion of the price you have paid for the watch has gone on the box and presentation. Indeed Omega have often been chastised for some of the more ridiculous packages that are more akin to a suitcase and clearly cost a lot of money but once home will be shelved or put in the loft rarely to see the light of day again and making you feel like you have wasted a proportion of what you spent on the box. Alternatively if you’re spending good money on a good watch, receiving it in a carboard sleeve akin to free gift from a Kelloggs box of cornflakes is also not very reassuring! Its therefore refreshing to see Stowa provide the Ikarus in a modest but sturdy metal box that is sure to protect the watch, is not enormous, and yet is not overly expensive. The box is lined with a simple leather lining and contains the Ikarus and the Stowa guarantee.
The case of the Ikarus has a matte finish. Although it might look like its brushed, upon closer inspection there are no brush marks at all. The case is actually hand ground to a matte finish which starts to show how serious Stowa are about even their more affordable watches. The case measures 40mm without the crown, and is 10.2mm thick from top to bottom. These are a sweet-spot for proportions and allow it to wear comfortably on a variety of wrist sizes where it neither looks too large on a smaller wrist nor out of place on larger wrists, and allowing it to slip easily under the cuff. The flieger designation ‘FL23883’ is laser etched into the side of the case as a visual reminder of this watch’s heritage.
The Dial of the Stowa Ikarus is the most notable element setting it apart from its peers. As Stowa continues to innovate and evolve the presence of the Flieger bringing it into the modern era, they have created a beautiful grey metallic dial that starts to bridge the gap between a tool watch and something a little more dressy. This has been created by rhodium plating the dial and then bead blasting with glass beads. The indices are then painted in C3 Superluminova.
The hands are traditional flieger shaped hands and are thermally blued providing a subtle and authentic element of colour when the light catches them and are also filled with C3 Superluminova. This is well paired and contrasts with the depth of the grey dial behind. There is a date at 6 o’clock which has been thoughtfully executed. It does not ‘cut into’ any other element on the watch face and replaces the number 6 on the dial creating a balanced dial layout. To aid legibility, the date wheel has been implemented in black with white numerals which feels highly appropriate. Unlike a traditional Flieger the Stowa logo is subtly written on the dial under the traditional Triangle at 12.
The Onion crown is well proportioned and easy to wind & manipulate. Its a nice attention to detail harking back to traditional pilots watches. For anyone who has ever had any discomfort from the crown digging into the back of your hand, this crown will help as its predominantly round with no sharp edges.
The caseback is secured with 6 micro screws and has a sapphire porthole to view the movement. The watch is powered by an ETA 2824-2 in its base grade. Customers may if they wish upgrade the movement to a Top Grade ETA 2824-2 movement or alternative the 2804 hand wound derivative. The movement is not highly decorated, however it is supplied with a nice custom Stowa rotor. If customers elect for the top grade 2824 movement, Stowa will supply a traditional Flieger rotor. This is far more functional in design and contains specification text for the watch adding another touch of heritage.
The leather strap was a welcome surprise. Without handling the strap you would be forgiven for thinking its more ‘industrial’ than it actually is. Visually it would appear that with three keepers – one of which being metal it is a rugged strap engineered to be robust above all else, however the strap is made from a soft supple leather that is extremely comfortable to wear. The tang buckle is a solid milled buckle signed Stowa contributing to the “engineered” theme.
However if you left the Ikarus on the strap it comes with, you would be doing the watch an injustice as it pairs well with so many other straps. Throughout the time we had the Stowa, we continually changed the straps allowing the watch to show its versatility. In fact we thought it was such a versatile watch that we used in on a photoshoot for an article on Haveston’s watch straps which you can take a look here.
Casually, Stowa’s own strap dresses the watch down well. It allows the watch to take on a more ‘rugged look and feel while being extremely comfortable to wear. Canvas two piece straps suit the watch well and we spent some considerable time with these on the watch as they complement the slender proportions of the watch also allowing it to slip neatly under the cuff.
While the Ikarus is no dress watch, it definitely passes for a smarter casual watch suitable for most environments. Whether hanging out in coffee shops at the weekends, at work, or anywhere in between, the Stowa Ikarus makes for a compelling all round watch. Able to slip discretely under a cuff with a shirt thanks to its dimensions or brushing off the more formal looks with jeans. Either way the Ikarus is right at home.
The Stowa Ikarus presents a great value proposition. Its a modern iteration of a traditional German Flieger by a brand steeped in history and heritage, and yet it breaks away – bringing contemporary style to an otherwise traditional timepiece. The build quality is typically German – well engineered simplicity delivering everything necessary and nothing superfluous. The display case back is nice and at this price point the inclusion of an ETA movement is welcome.
Its hard to find something not to like about the Ikarus. We would have preferred the watch to have had a 100m water resistance allowing the watch to be worn comfortably near and in water. Interestingly Stowa make a larger model of the Ikarus called the Ikarus Sport at 43mm with 200m water resistance. This larger sport variant uses all the same components including the dial from the 40mm Ikarus, placing them in a larger case with a thicker bezel being the only difference.
So if you are considering an ‘all round watch’ I would encourage you to take a look at this fantastic piece at a great price of £600 (€680) which makes a pretty compelling value proposition.
Do you own a Flieger from One of the 5 above – if so what’s your experience of owning one? or are you interested in buying a pilots watch? Let us know in the comments below.
This evening at an invitation only event at the Design Museum in Kensington, Bremont launched a new limited edition timepiece – The Supersonic.
The launch of the Supersonic celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Concorde, and 100 years of British Airways. This is the eighth historical limited edition timepiece from Bremont and incorporates a ring of aluminium from Alpha Bravo – Heathrow’s last remaining Concorde in its construction.
The Supersonic contains Bremont’s first ever manual wind movement which features an 8 day power reserve with an indicator on the dial at the 12 o’clock position, an exhibition caseback and an elaborately decorated movement featuring the silhouette of Concorde within its construction.
The Bremont Supersonic will be available in three flavours.