What’s a Flieger watch? Simply put, a Flieger watch is a German pilot’s watch, created originally in 1941 for the German Luftwaffe. Flieger literally means “flyer” in German, so it’s essentially the same as calling it a pilot’s watch; you might also see them referred to as Beobachtungs-Uhren, referring to the unit where they originated.
Intended at first merely as in-flight aviation instruments, these chronograph-style aviators watches served as backups in case the on-board clock or instrument panel got destroyed or went “offline,” allowing the pilots to determine the exact position and angle of the cockpit and plane. Without all the modern radars and computer technologies, flying required utmost precision and accuracy to properly calculate flight time and distance. They also came in decidedly handy for telling the time, too.
They were originally designed and manufactured by some classic names in watches – A. Lange und Sohne, Stowa, IWC, Wemple and Laco – and, like a good piece of equipment should be were built for precision, reliability and durability. Give the Flieger watch some time, and they eventually evolved into a classic piece of vintage men’s style, as so many other vintage military pieces tend to do – whether American or German.
If you’re looking for a piece of vintage military style for your wrist that stands out from the rest, a Flieger watch can be the way go to go. Here are the bests Flieger Watches For Fall 2018.
The original Flieger watches came in two style – types A and B – which look similar aesthetically but have a few differences – both large and small – setting them apart.
The first type was your classic 12-point watch layout, with smaller minute ticks and, instead of the number 12 at the top, a large triangle pointing upwards., with a dot on either side. The two dots allowed the triangle to be quickly told apart from the other numbers, as pilots could often only get a quick glance at them. Each type A Flieger features a 55mm case of gray varnished, brass or steel housing, with a snap-on case back. An onion-shaped crown allowed the pilots to use the watches without taking their gloves off. They also featured radium paint to give the watchface enough luminescence to be easily read in the dark.
Like the Type A Flieger, Type B also had the standard minute ticks, but instead of denoting the hours 1-12, denotes them with stops numbering 5 through 55. It also featured the large triangle at the 12 mark, as well as a small ring on the inside that denotes the hours 1-12.
Each Flieger watch had to be manufactured to and tested to withstand the strict, precise regulations set out by the Luftwaffe High Command. These tests and corresponding certification were conducted by the German Naval Observatory, which had to be able to adjust the watch properly in 6 different positions and several different temperatures, ensuring it could meet the demands of aviation and military use.
Many original Flieger watches were built using Breguet balance springs, which were designed to withstand lateral shocks (something you can run into quite a bit when flying) as well as magnetism – which could easily be found in an airplane.
The original Flieger watches also featured a spring-loaded movement “hack”, which allows you to stop the movement’s mainspring and gear train, essentially pausing “time” on the watch. This allows one to set the time precisely, down to the second, and was useful for air crews and pilots who needed to synchronize their watches for precise accuracy on missions. Not all Flieger watches made today will come with this, but original vintage one’s generally will.
Straps built for Fliegers are generally made of thick, quality leather, riveted, and cut extra long to ensure they can fit around the thick cuff a fighter pilot’s jacket sleeve. Brown leather is the most common, but you might also find black. Metal bracelet straps are also becoming more common on some of the more-modern takes on Flieger and pilot’s watches, and can be especially stylish for professional dress (aka with a suit).
There’s just something about vintage military gear that will be enduringly appealing for a long time to come. Maybe it’s the slight hints of gasoline and oil you can still detect wafting off them, or maybe it’s the appeal of a piece of gear that is so well-built and made to such high standards of quality that you can still use it three-quarters of a century later. With a bit of polishing and restoring, an original Flieger watch can be a rugged timepiece that will last you decades of repeated wear.
If, however, you decided to opt for a newer one, there a lot of excellent choices for modern out there – many of which are made by the original Flieger manufacturers and combine the best of modern watchmaking and style with classic, old-timey appeal.
Stowa is one of the original Flieger makers, having produced their first one in 1940, so if authenticity matters to you, you really can’t go wrong with one of their watches. The Type B Baumaster is a simple watch, but a classic rendition, combining a bit of modern style with the barely-changed style of the original Flieger. It rocks a 40mm case stainless steel with a nice matte finish, hand ground, and pairs it with blued steel Superluminova C3 hands, and a matte black with white print dial.
As a type B, the Classic 40 has the 5-55 minute track, paired with a smaller 1-12 hour track on the inside ring. It’s waterproof down to 5ATM, comes with a classic brown leather strap, and even features a handmade rotor with an original B-Uhr engraving. If classic Flieger with just a touch of contemporary style is what you’re looking for, the Stowa Classic 40 will do perfectly.
Another vintage style Flieger from one of the original five makers, the Laco Munster is this time a Type A Flieger watch. It has a 42mm sandblaste stainless steel case, paired with a black dial, again with Superluminova C3 hands and markings. Like a classic Type A, it has the minimalist 1-11 minute and hour track, with a triangular notch marking the 12 spot; the two distinctive dots are found on either side, and the hands are thermical blued steel – much like the Stowa Classic 40.
A domed and anti-reflective sapphire crystal protects the watch face and – again like the Stowa – it’s waterproof down to 5ATM. In fact, the Stowa and the Munster Type A are pretty similar: faithful renditions of their respective original models. When it comes to vintage looks, however, we give the edge to the Laco Munster – as it just nails down the vintage military look in a way that the Classic 40’s matte stainless finish doesn’t. It comes paired with a browed, riveted calf leather strap with 20mm lug width, and comes ready for any classic outfit you’d like to rock it with.
Another Made-in-Germany, the Archimede Pilot 42 is a slightly different rendition of a pilot’s watch; it’s based on the original Flieger design but features some additional time-telling elements and details that help set it apart. Case in point; the large red GMT hand, which allows it to track the time in multiple time zones. Useful for travelers, and anybody else who needs to know what’s happening somewhere else in the world at any time. It also features a small date window at 6 o’clock. These are surrounded by the customary Type A minute track and triangular marking at 12.
Apart from that, the Pilot 42 is a typical Flieger: brushed 42mm stainless steel case, anti-reflective sapphire coating, mineral crystal back, and water-resistance down to 5ATM. The movement is a Eta 2893-2 Elaborè, made in Switzerland, while the case and hands areassembled in Pforzheim by ICKLER – another long-time German watchmaker. Take your pick of black or brown leather strap, and try not to balk at the price; this a beautiful Flieger with a few updates for those of us who need a bit more from their watch.
On a bit more of a budget? Laco has you covered, again. The Aachen is a Type B watch, with inner hour ring, 5 to 55 minute track, and no dots accompanying the customary triangular notch. What sets it apart, then? Price. You can snag the Aachen for about half of the Munster Type A. (And if that’s not cheap enough, you could also opt for the Laco 1925, which costs about half what the Aachen does).
Like any good modern Flieger watch, the Aachen has a 42mm brushed stainless steel case, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, and brown leather wrist strap with rivets. It’s powered by a Laco 21 automatic movement. It’s also waterproof down to 50 meters.
If you’d like all the timeless looks of a Flieger watch, but simply don’t have all that money to spend, spring for this one.
The Fortis Flieger Professional perfectly combines the old-fashioned look of a Flieger with the sportiness and sleekness of a modern-day watch. The 41mm case is stainless steel but comes with a bit of polished shine missing on similar other watches. It has a cool see-through caseback, as well as anti-reflective sapphire crystal on both sides. The result? Shiny modern looks that make this watch perfect for dress and casual wear alike. It’s even waterproof down to 10ATM.
In addition to the Type A watchface and markings, the Flieger Professional also has a handy date window that tells you both the day of the week and what day of the month it is. The hands and numerals on the dial are raised and coated with Superluminova green, lending them a cool, almost-neon look in the dark. The ETA 2836-2 automatic movement is Swiss Made, comes with a 38-hour power reserve, and boasts 25 jewels. Your choice of brown leather, black leather or a metal bracelet strap seal the deal.
The Fortis Flieger Professional would be our pick for a Flieger watch that doesn’t sacrifice the time-tested style of the traditional Flieger, but still looks fresh and snappy enough for wearing at more up-to-date gatherings.
Another choice when you’re on a budget – and we mean a tight budget – the Parnis Classic is about as simple a take on a Flieger watch you’re going to find. This aviator’s watch is based on a Type A Flieger, with a manual winding Tianjin seagull movement and stainless steel case. A mineral crystal back and crystal ensure durability. It also has a small second minute window, not usually found on classic Fliegers.
Parnis watches aren’t exactly top-of-the-line, and you won’t be rocking the same bombproof quality and durability one of the original Flieger manufacturers can give you. Don’t expect it to last till the next century, like you might get from a Laco or Stowa. But if you really are on a budget, or just don’t feel like dropping a significant chunk of cash on a wristwatch, the Parnis Classic Flieger makes a perfectly fine choice that should last you several years of regular use. It’s the simple riveted-leather-and-stainless look down pat.
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