I bought another pilot watch – and this one, finally, is a flieger! Say hello the fabulous Stowa Flieger Klassik 40 Baumuster B.
If you’re not familiar with flieger watches, by the way, here’s a nice overview from Watchuseek: ‘Flieger Friday: Everything You Need to Know About Flieger Watches’
Why the Stowa Flieger Klassik 40 Baumuster B?
There are lots of different flieger and flieger-style watches out there so I had a seriously difficult time deciding which one I was going to get.
I knew from the start that I wanted a Type B flieger (the observer/navigator’s watch) and my must-have features were a sapphire crystal and a hacking-seconds movement. Everything else I was flexible on (ie automatic or manual wind movement, open or closed case back, etc).
In the end my decision came down to four key criteria:
- Which brands I wanted to consider
- What category of watch I wanted
- Where along the historical-accuracy versus modern-evolution spectrum I wanted my watch to be situated
- What special thing about the watch, brand, or manufacturer appealed to me the most
1. Brand options
The original flieger watches from the 1940s were designed and manufactured by five companies: A. Lange & Söhne, IWC, Laco, Stowa, and Wempe.
Lange no longer make a pure flieger watch (only the Big Pilot’s and its variations) and Wempe no longer make watches at all, so the three remaining brands went straight onto my shortlist.
Since no one has a copyright on the flieger design, lots of other brands make flieger and flieger-inspired watches. Several of these brands went onto my shortlist, as well.
2. Watch category
Not counting quartz-based timepieces, flieger watches can be broadly divided into three quality categories: luxury, enthusiast, and consumer. Each category is served by several brands, for example:
- Luxury: Bell & Ross, IWC
- Enthusiast: Archimede, Aristo, Damasko, Fortis, Hamilton, Laco, Sinn, Steinhart, Stowa
- Consumer: Citizen, Orient, Seiko
I wanted to get something from the enthusiast category because that’s where all the professional/tool watches are (not that pilots need to use these types of watches professionally anymore). Like the original flieger watches, I wanted my flieger watch to be a robust, reliable, high quality tool watch.
From that category I eliminated Damsko and Sinn because they don’t make Type B flieger watches.
This left me with seven options.
3. Historical accuracy versus modern adaptation
I knew I wanted a watch with historical roots, but not necessarily a replica. I also didn’t want something too modern.
I eliminated Archimede because, even though Ickler (their manufacturer) has been around since 1924, the Archimede brand itself was launched in 2003 – so that’s not enough of a historical connection for me. Same with Steinhart: the brand itself is old, but its modern incarnation is from the 2000s.
I also eliminated Aristo because their modern-sized fliegers (40-44mm) have a huge Aristo logo on the dial (too modern) and their plain-dial version has a whopping 55m case size (far too historically accurate!).
Finally, much as I love what Fortis and Hamilton have done with their pilot watches, those interpretations are more modern that I would like for my first proper flieger.
This left me with two brands: Laco and Stowa – both original flieger manufacturers and both with modern versions of the Type B that I really like.
The Laco flieger versions are truer to the original: sand blasted grey case, closed case back, domed sapphire crystal, straight lugs. The Stowa versions are slightly more modernized: polished case, open case back, flat sapphire crystal, curved lugs.
Laco and Stowa’s brand philosophies are neatly represented in those design differences: Laco is selling you a piece of history (albeit a smaller version of the original) while Stowa is selling you a modern watch with strong historical roots (a slightly evolved version of the original). For my first flieger watch, I found myself leaning towards the latter.
4. That special thing
The other thing that got me to pick Stowa is that I like their brand strategy more than Laco’s.
Laco want everyone to own a piece of history so they have two tiers of pilot watches: ‘Original’ and ‘Basic’. The Basic models are more consumer level watches than they are enthusiast level ones. That means some models have lower cost automatic movements (that don’t have hacking seconds, for example) and some have quartz movements.
Stowa, on the other hand, want everyone to own an excellent quality mechanical timepiece that is deeply rooted in history so they don’t have any models that could be considered consumer level watches.
As someone who studies brands, I appreciate businesses that have identified the specific, narrow customer segment they want to target – in this case, people who want to buy enthusiast level watches – and then chosen to create products for only this segment.
I don’t dislike Laco’s approach, of course. I just respect Stowa’s willingness to ignore other potential market segments and stick to the one segment they specifically want to target with their timepieces.
This focus on selling only professional/tool level watches makes Stowa a slightly more exclusive brand. And, for my first flieger, this was something I liked the idea of.
(Laco have done a clever job of differentiating their Basic and Original tier watches from a brand perspective, by the way. None of their Basic tier watches, for example, have thermally blued hands. So, while Laco are willing to sell lower priced, lower perceived-value watches that have most of the historical markers of the original flieger watches, by holding some of the features back from the Basic tier, they still manage to protect the brand value of their Original tier models.)
Stowa were also among the first heritage watch brands to start selling directly to customers via their website. This means they understood their customer segment much sooner than others did – this is, our desire to easily purchase watches online, directly from the manufacturer.
And Stowa are still one of the only brands that offer several watch customization options up-front. The availability of these customisation options tells me they still understand their customers better than many other brands do. That is, customers wanting a consumer level pilot watch won’t necessarily want to spend extra on customization (eg a gold rotor, instead of a silver one). But someone who is after an enthusiast level pilot watch might. And given that’s the only segment they’re targeting, why not go the extra mile and offer this service? It helps their brand stand out from their competitors and it helps the customer’s watch stand out, as well – a nice win-win.
But this only works if you’ve done your research and have thoroughly understood your customer’s wants and needs (which Stowa has done) and you’re an innovative and nimble enough business to deliver on those customer wants and needs (which Stowa is).
All of which means…
All of which means I chose the Stowa flieger watch over the Laco one.
I do still plan on buying a Laco watch in the future – possible their Type A flieger replica or one of their fantastic special pilot models. But, for now, I’m happy with what I’ve got.
About the Stowa Flieger Klassik 40 Baumuster B
Normally this is where I’d run through the watch’s specs and talk about how awesome a timepiece it is. Fortunately, I don’t have to do that because lots of others have already done all that.
If you want to know more about the Klassik 40 Baumuster B, here’s a recent-ish review from 60Clicks that I quite like: ‘Stowa Flieger Klassik 40 Baumuster B-Uhr: Hands-On Review’.
I received my Stowa flieger in early October last year and, over the last four months, have worn almost none of my other watches. It’s rare that I give any one watch this much exclusive wrist time but that just goes to show just how much I love it!
So, yay for my first flieger and yay for how excellent both Stowa and this watch are :)