Monday, April 25, 2016

Athaya Vintage AV001R:Type B Limited Edition Automatic Pilot Watch - A True Pilot Watch of an Bygone Era, A Review

My first love has always been dive watches. In my collection, the bulk of the watches comes from that particular genre (Click the following links for the list: & However, in the last year or so, my interest has started to shift towards pilot watches.

As you know, I bought a watch from Athaya Vintage last year, the Athaya Vintage AV002 Lamafa Diver Watch. I was quite impressed with the watch, especially the price. A few months ago, Athaya Vintage announced a plan to relaunch its first offering, the AV001R Pilot watch subject to possible design changes. Subsequently, Athaya Vintage conducted a market survey and the majority of those surveyed wanted something similar apart from a better movement, better luminous paint and real heat-treated blue hands.

This latest incarnation has been given the reference AV001R. The additional "R" in the reference denotes a 're-issue' from the original model. This time around only 60 pieces will be made (original AV001 was 100 unites).

Like the Athaya Vintage AV002 Lamafa Diver Watch which is a close homage to the famous Seiko 6105 diver watch, the AV001R is also a homage of the classic German-style pilot watch (or known as 'flieger') produced by Laco and Stowa until the end of World War 2. For short history lesson on the B-Uhr watches, go to the end of this posting for more information.

The AV001R adopts the “B-Uhr” B-type variation dial. In this style, there are two tracks of markers. The outer scale is for the minutes and seconds. Apart from the line markers, there are also Arabic numerals indicating the minutes (or seconds). The inner scale is for the hours and there are dot-markers for each hour as well as Arabic numerals (but of a smaller font). The contrast between the white markers and numerals against the black dial background is the best for legibility. The use of an off-white colour Swiss C1 GL Luminova luminous paint on them as well as on the hands allows good legibility in the dark.

For this re-issue model, Athaya Vintage incorporated heat-treatment blue steel hands. The original model only had painted blue hands. The hands are in the classic sword shape, with an extra long seconds-hand.

The AV001R is a large watch. Measuring 47.00 mm in diameter, it has a thickness of 17.00 mm. Its lug-to-lug width is 54.75 mm. At the 3 o’clock position is a large 8.20 mm wide onion shaped crown, typical of 'flieger' watches. Made out 316L stainless steel with its straight, welded lugs, the AV001R is weighty and sits prominently on any wrist, regardless whether you have a ‘small’ or ‘common’ wrist size. This is because the original design of 'flieger' watches was supposed to be worn on top of thick flight jackets and be large enough so that pilots do not have problems reading it. In fact, such specifications would require watches for this genre to be beyond 50.00 mm wide. I believe Athaya Vintage considered this but decided against following strictly the original design requirements considering most, if not all of its buyers would only wear it directly on their wrists. As a compromise, the 47.00 mm size was chosen as it would still be large enough but not bordering on the ridiculous.

The lug width for the AV001R is 22.00 mm. This opens up the opportunity for owners to source for after-market straps to complement their AV001R. As part of the standard combination provided by Athaya Vintage, the watch comes with a vintage-like handmade leather strap with roller buckle. The two rivet studs at both ends of the strap near the lugs plus the use of black threads near the rivets and buckle creates a utilitarian coolness which is rather stylish.

The case has a sandblasted matte grey finished that has the effect of creating an impression of a vintage-patina on the watch casing. The dial is protected by a domed sapphire crystal with AR coating. The crystal is seated slightly beyond the thin bezel and its edge is beveled. I would have preferred the crystal to be seated below the bezel. By designing it to be above the bezel, there is a potential of damage especially from a glancing blow from the side.

The solid case-back has detailed product information and serial number engraved into it in a table format. I quite like this method of displaying the product information.

Under the case-back lies the Miyota automatic caliber 9015 with hacked second movement and winding capabilities. The 9015 is powered up by either an oscillating weighted rotor movement (counter clockwise movements) or manually winding it by the crown. This caliber beats at 28,800 BPH or 4 Hertz and has a power reserve that can last, on average, 42 hours with full tension in the main spring. The movement has 24 jewels.

This is an upgrade over the AV001 which uses the caliber 8215. In the previous model, users report a very distracting stutter in the sweep of the seconds-hand. It would seem that the caliber 8215 may not have the necessary torque in its gears to move an exceedingly long seconds-hand (more of a weight issue). I've checked mine and thankfully I don't seem to suffer the same problems like the other users.

Just realised that I forgotten to take off the plastic covering over the sapphire crystal
The watch has a water rating of 5 ATM or 50 meters. A respectable water rating in my view considering most 'flieger' type watches generally are not designed to be capable of handling anything beyond 3 ATM or 30 meters.

The watch box by Athaya Vintage is just exquisite. The watch comes packed in a vintage handmade leather watch travel case. All leather construction with a zip running along the side of the rectangle, it has a lot of useful spaces to keep many things. In fact, it is more of a traveling watch case. Handsomely made with nice evenly stitching with inner suede lining that is soft to the touch.

The AV001R offered by Athaya Vintage was priced at USD375 (add US25 for a secured courier service under the EMS Postal service). I was allocated a watch with the serial number of 25 (or 25/60).

With a diameter of 47 mm, this watch looks more balanced if worn over the sleeves. This is not a criticism but a compliment on how well Athaya Vintage has kept the original spirit of the ‘flieger’ watch alive in the AV001R. For pilots of World War Two, the regulation states the correct way to wear such watches would be above the thick fleece lined leather flight jackets using the longer-than-usual straps. In fact, typical ‘flieger’ are usually in the 50 mm and above diameter range to minimize eye strain on the pilot.

I believe the 47 mm choice was taken to create that original wearing experience and yet bring it to proportions that would be more acceptable to people. Anything beyond that could make the watch deemed comical to the general public.

The handmade leather strap was slightly stiff when I first got my hands on it. I suspect this ‘problem’ will eventually disappear with continuous wearing. The leather will soften as it absorbs the essential oils from the skin and hydrates itself.

I personally like the design of the leather strap. I don’t think there is any need to even consider replacing the stock with an after-market piece. Rugged vintage-look straps would be the best fit for the AV001R.

This watch is not for office wear. The height and size of the AV001R makes it impractical as it will definitely snag on shirt cuffs. The best is to wear it with a short sleeve shirt and a sports jacket to give that ‘cool’ look. 

The height and size of the AV001R will definitely attract attention. The large domed sapphire crystal shines bright in the sun and sparkles like a diamond. Expect a lot of interest from friends and strangers if you wear the watch in public.

A word of caution every owner must keep in mind. The watch casing is heavy. Putting it on the wrist requires you to hold on to it properly. If you lose control and the watch falls to the ground, it will suffer damage due to its weight. One problem identified by users of the older AV001 model is the ‘looseness’ of the lug wells to the strap spring bars. A few of them reported that the spring bars would detach if tugged. I don’t face with the same problem with this watch. The welded lugs are properly done with fine tolerances. This in turn ensures the spring bars remain captive in the lug-holes once set in place. I believe Athaya Vintage would have taken the feedback seriously (if it was ever a problem in the first place) and made sure its products are safe.

You would also note a code etched on the side wall of the watch; FL23883. On the original 'flieger' watches, you would also find the same codes. It is something like a proof marking by the German aeronautical testing office to ensure such watches are good for pilots. Something like the precursor of the COSC certification one would find now.

Athaya Vintage has been able to replicate the spirit behind the ‘fliger’ or more correctly, ‘B-Uhr’ style watch in the AV001R. Despite some modernization, the watch is an excellent homage to World War 2 German pilot watches. The wide face and the distinctive markings make it easily readable.

The watch sits nicely on the wrist. The leather strap becomes softer and more pliable with the passing hours wearing it.

In conclusion, the AV001R is a truly a pilot watch.



History of the German 'B-Uhr' Watch (or Observation watch)

As Germany prepared for war the German Ministry of Aviation responsible for aircraft development understood that being able to coordinate mass attacks combined with the use of cutting edge weaponry would ensure overwhelming results in their war efforts.

As timing was a key element to unmatched precision, the German Ministry of Aviation sought a special time piece for its bomber navigators. The responsibility to produce accurate and usable timepieces with which to control the war was given to five manufacturers: A.Lange & Sohne, IWC, Wempe, Stowa and Laco.

The B-Uhr watches (B-Uhr in German stands for Beobachtungsuhr or observation watch in English) were 55 mm wide to accommodated large hand-wound movements typically used in pocket watches. It has black dials with white Arabic numerals and flame-blued sword hands covered in luminous material to aid in the task of precise reading.

There were two variations of the B-Uhr; the A- and B-Dials. The A-dial is a much cleaner design with large Arabic numerals (1 to 11). All numerical markers were also filled with luminous material. The B dial is slightly complicated as it showed 5 to 55 minutes markers on the outer rim and a inner circle with the typical Arabic numerals (1 to 12). Compared to the A-dial, the B-dial has a much shorter hour hand.

Both A-dial and B-dial designs also featured a unique triangle mark at the 12 o’clock position designed for ease of orientation in any condition.

The movements were capable of stopping the central seconds hand by pulling the crown (hacking) and comes with oversized diamond or onion crowns (could be operated with gloved hands). It also comes with a very long double-riveted leather strap.

Wempe and Stowa used Swiss movements; Wempe used the Thommen cal. 31, Stowa used the Unitas cal. 2812. Only two companies to use in-house German movements; Lange used its cal. 48 and cal. 48.1; and Laco used its (Durowe) cal. 5.

All the watches were marked FL23883, FL meaning fliegnummer (flying number), 23 designated it as a device for flight monitoring and the 883 was assigned by the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (German Testing Office for Aeronautics).

Photo Gallery

Athaya Vintage AV001RAthaya Vintage AV001R

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