As I said in my previous post, I'm ready to buy my first mechanical watch.
Now people in this situation usually look to well-known Japanese brands like Seiko and Orient since these companies produce excellent quality mechanical watches that aren't very expensive.
And if I was looking for a dive style watch I'd definitely get the Seiko SKX007K1 or Orient Ray EM6500CD. Or, if I was looking for a field style watch I'd get the Seiko SNZG11K1. Or, if I was looking for a dress watch, I'd get the Orient Bambino ER2400CN.
But, no, I'm an aviation enthusiast so I want to get a pilot watch.
Eventually, I'll want to get myself something like the Breitling Navitimer 01 (which costs $9,800) or the Breitling Navitimer 1461 ($13,400) but that won't happen for another couple of decades at least. Which is fine because the type of pilot's watch that I adore is the flieger style watch from WWII.
Now the Seiko 5 Military SNK809K2 does have some pilot/flieger characteristics but it's not quite what I'm after. And the Orient Flight ER2A001B is closer, but it's still a loose interpretation of the original and I'd rather get something more visually authentic.
Of course, before I go any further, I should explain what a flieger style watch is.
Flieger style watches
Pilot watches have been around since 1904 and, if you want to learn more about them, check out this excellent five-part history on Monochrome:
- History of the Pilot Watch Part I - Cartier Santos 1904
- History of the Pilot Watch Part II - Zenith Montre d'Aéronef Type 20
- The History of the Pilot Watch Part III: Mark IV.A and Mark V
- The History of the Pilot Watch Part Four: Longines and Lindbergh
- The History of the Pilot Watch Part Five: B-Uhr
For flieger style watches we're interested in part five of that series.
Or, if you want a quicker introduction, check out this blog post:
But, basically, these 'beobachtungs-uhr' (i.e. 'observer watches') were created for the Luftwaffe in the 1940s by five German watchmakers:
- A. Lange & Söhne
These watches were required to:
- Be super readable (so they were 55mm in size and had white Arabic numerals on a black dial plus blue-flamed sword hands filled with luminous material)
- Have an anti-magnetic case
- Be chronometer certified
- Have a hack-capable second hand (i.e. the seconds hand would stop when you pulled the crown out so you could precisely synchronize your watch)
- Have a large diamond or onion-shaped crown (so you could adjust them while wearing gloves)
- Have a large strap (so they fit around your flight jacket or on your thigh)
- Have a triangle marker at the 12 o'clock position (so you could use the dial as a basic solar compass)
They came in two types: Type A for pilots and Type B for navigators.
And they looked like this:
Flieger watches on the market
Because no one company can claim to have designed or built the original flieger style watch lots of companies now make them.
Most of the luxury flieger style watch are Type A, though, and I much prefer Type B. The one Type B I do like from this bunch (the Bell & Ross Vintage WWI) happens to be the cheapest of the lot - but is still not something I can afford just yet.
Yes, Hamilton have tweaked the design a bit and have even added a day/date complication - but I really like their interpretation. In fact, I like it so much that, as far as pilot watches go, I'll settle on this on till I'm ready to buy a Breitling. But, for now, these watches are still out of my price range.
The watches that are in my price range also come from enthusiast-level brands - though from the lower end. I love both the STEINHART Nav B-Uhr B-Type and the Laco Aachen Type B Dial Automatic but, on balance, I think I prefer the Laco.
Aside from the fact that Laco is one of the companies that made the original B-Uhr watches back in the 1940s, I prefer its full lume and open case back. Also, Laco's movement is made in-house - which is a plus for any watchmaker.
The one last category of watch brands I should mention are the less well-known consumer brands. So not the Seikos and Orients of the world, but the brands that build cheaper watches that generally work well and are still decent enough looking.
For example, TISELL is a Korean brand that uses off-the-shelf Chinese watch movements from Sea-Gull. And Ticino is a German brand that uses both Chinese Sea-Gull and Japanese Miyota movements (Miyota is owned by Citizen). Watches with Sea-Gull movements used to be hit-and-miss but both TISELL and Ticino do their own quality control with these movements so their watches generally run well.
Each of these brands makes a Type B flieger style watch. The TISELL Type B Pilot uses a Sea-Gull movement while the Ticino Type B Automatic uses a Miyota movement (their Type B watch from last year used a Sea-Gull movement but this year they're moving a little up-market).
Both of these are decent enough watches. They have stainless steel cases and sapphire crystals, and they generally run well. But brand like these save money with cheaper movements, lower production costs and fewer subtle refinements. Which means these two watches are less water resistant, they're not quite as well-built or finished, they use a dimmer lume, and their straps aren't particularly good. Also, they don't have much of an after-sales support, maintenance and repair network to turn to if they're not working as well as you'd like.
What will I buy?
Deciding which watch I'm going to get depends on a number of things:
- What's my budget?
- And, given that I have a limited budget, what am I willing to compromise on?
- Finally, do I have a brand preference?
Keeping all that in mind, this is what I'd get at each budget level:
- $4,000: Bell & Ross Vintage WWI - choosing the Type B over Type A and picking one of my favourite watch brands
- $1,500: Hamilton Pilot Auto - choosing the more modern interpretation
- $500: Laco Aachen Type B - choosing the more authentic interpretation and my preferred feature set
- $200: None
That $200 decision was the hardest. If I had just $200 I'd either have to get the Orient Flight, which is not my favourite flieger interpretation but I know will be built well and is guaranteed to run really well. Or I'd have to get a TISELL or Ticino that, while more faithful to the original design, may not be built as well or run as well.
As it happens, I'm not willing to compromise on either flieger design faithfulness or watch features and quality so I'd probably go with neither of those options. Instead, I'd wait till I had $500 to spend so I could get the Laco, instead :)
Also, for completeness' sake, if I actually had $4,000 just lying around, I wouldn't go for that particular Bell & Ross watch, either. I'd already own those Laco and Hamilton Type B flieger watches and I wouldn't want another one. Instead I'd go for a different Bell & Ross watch or something else entirely.
So there you have it: my thought process (or, well, brain dump) on buying my first mechanical watch given all that I've learnt about the world of watches in the last few months. I'm hoping at least a couple of you enjoyed reading it. Or at least you looked at the pictures and though: "Ah, so that's what he's been on about these last few weeks!" :)