Some of us in this world are lucky enough to either be a pilot or own a plane. The closest some of us, like myself, will ever get to flying a plane is zipping down a country road at night in a car that claims to be “Born from Jets.” Nonetheless, even we ground dwellers have an attraction to pilots watches from time to time, and thus there are many options to choose from. At some point in time, again sitting on our computers or phones at night in our footy pajamas, we’ll be sitting in bed perusing various affordable watch sites looking at “pilot’s watches,” and what comes up the most tend to be flieger style watches.
Fliegers harken back to the days of the Luftwaffe in WWII. Large cases and dials that can be easily seen, big crowns that can be easily gripped, and a dial with various timing information on it. The design is extremely popular, but as we continue to search, the big classic name in fliegers (such as IWC and Stowa) can really put a punch in your wallet. But alas, even if your “jet” takes petrol, leaks a little oil, and is in need of a tire rotation, you too can “fly” through the hills thinking you’re Chuck Yeager with very little investment needed. All you need to do is find yourself a Citizen Avion AW1361-10H!
Now that you have your aviators on and the theme to top gun playing in the background, you’ll notice right out of the box that the Citizen Avion is a big watch. We all know that Citizen can sometimes have a size problem in that their watches can be on the larger side. But in this case, since it is trying to be a flieger, it can be forgiven. The case measures at 45mm wide and a whopping 52mm lug-to-lug. Like I said before, given that flieger watches originally measured around 55mm, I think this is going in the right direction. However, the size may make it intimidating to those of us with smaller wrists. Thickness is just 12mm (the great thing about a quartz watch) and that makes it wear quite nicely even though it is quite larger.
The case of the Citizen Avion tapers inward toward the back, giving the watch an almost bowl shape from the side with a bezel that extends all the way across the top of the case. Most of the surfaces are brushed aside from the edge of the bezel and the top edge of the case. The brushing on this particular Citizen watch is nice but it’s not the prettiest I’ve ever seen. This is the kind of brushing you see on some of Citizen’s (and Bulova, for that matter) more inexpensive watches. It’s ok, but it looks a little rougher than it should. It’s almost like someone took a 200-grit piece of sandpaper to it rather than a 2000-grit piece.
The lugs angle down somewhat sharply on the top but follow a gentle curve on the bottom, so they’ll fit the wrist nicely while looking very much like a tool from the top. There are slight cutouts at the base of the lugs where they meet the case which make me think of a set of calipers or pliers hugging the edges of the strap. Finishing out the Citizen Avion case is a flieger classic, a big crown that’s easy to grip with a set of gloves. It’s not an onion crown, but it grips well (even with gloves on) and does its duty.
Citizen Avion Dial
Another flieger trait of the Avion is the “type B” style dial, and Citizen does an excellent job here. The dial was one of my favorite parts of this watch as it’s fun, functional, and stands out. There’s a lot of information on the flat gray dial, but it’s all color coordinated so that it doesn’t run together. The minutes are on the outside in a mustard yellow; the hours are on the next ring down in orange; and the 24-hour scale inside is a white ring in the center of the dial in a slightly darker yellow. A large chapter ring sits high above the dial marked with four white markers at 12, 3, 6, and 9.
It all makes for an extremely functional and modern package, however, the Citizen Avion is not without its flaws. And there’s a big one. Pilot’s watches need to be functional at all times. As much as it pains me to say it, this is the watch for the daytime pilot only. There is absolutely no lume on the dial at all. None. The only lume on the watch is on the hands. It’s classic Citizen blue, but it’s not enough. Such a blemish on a beautiful package.
As for the hands, they are sword style, with the minute hand in black and the hour hand in orange, which corresponds with the hour makers on the dial. As I stated before, they are the only lumed piece on this watch. They are easily readable at all times, and the second hand reaches all the way to the edge making it impossible to misread the time. The second hand has an odd, but beautiful effect that I really enjoyed. It’s a black second hand with an orange tip.
The tip is only painted orange beyond the white center ring and the black almost can’t be seen against the Citizen watch’s gray dial, so the effect you get is a small orange line that ticks around the edge of the dial only. Some may not like it, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m not one to really like a ticking second hand, but this made it fun somehow. I caught myself watching it quite a few times.
Included Leather Strap
Since I know that you’re reaching for your Tom Cruise signed bomber jacket, let’s talk about the leather strap that comes with this Citizen Avion. It’s hefty and thick and definitely looks and feels like the kind of leather that most of us THINK of when we think of pilot’s watches. That luscious brown color shines with its closed contrast stitching. The sides of the strap are black and give it a worn look from a time gone by when everyone smoked cigars. It also takes on marks and wear from everyday use to add to the vintage appeal.
While it tapers from 22mm to 20mm, the strap is 4mm thick. This can make the strap a little hard to bend if you have a bigger wrist and you can only work with the last few centimeters. However, it looks like the kind of rich tobacco you would wrap your victory cigar in after shooting down those pesky MIGs in the local drive-thru and it looks great on this watch.
The Eco-Drive Movement
Fliegers needed to be as accurate as possible since time was literally life or death in those days, and there really isn’t a choice much better than the Citizen Eco-Drive quartz movement. This particular one is the J810, a standard three handed time-teller that boasts a +/- 15 second accuracy per MONTH. As long as you’re around a light source, the battery should never run down. But if it does, it comes with the standard two-tick end-of-life indication and putting it in a window for a few hours should charge it right back up. It’s a great pairing for a watch the commands great accuracy and dependability.
With good looks and decent functionality, the Avion can definitely be a watch for a real pilot, so long as they only fly during the day. Citizen offers a large lineup of pilot’s watches, including the incredible, and oft mentioned Nighthawk, which comes with a separate 24hr hand, a slide rule, and, above all, a lumed dial. However, the Nighthawk can tend to be a little busy for someone who may want more of a classic look. The Citizen Avion excels at being a fun, functional, and usable everyday pilot’s style watch. It may not be everything a classic flieger should be, but it definitely gives it a fighting chance. The watch is currently discontinued on Citizen’s website, but still available for around $80 dollars on Amazon and some other sites.
At $80 dollars, this Citizen watch is a mega-deal! It looks good – it’s great fun – and it’s my favorite word: functional, on an everyday basis. So whether you’re actually flying the friendly skies, or you have to settle for running Saabs around on a country road, the Citizen Avion is a beautiful piece that can give you years of good service, while looking great with your leather gloves or bomber jacket, and is well worth the money you pay for one.
Baird is an avid motoring enthusiast and a self taught hobbyist watchmaker from Bristol, TN. He has a love for all things mechanical and has an affinity for the style late 60s and 70s Chronographs and Dive watches. Baird views watches as engineering marvels and tools for everyday life rather than just jewelry. His writing style is inspired by certain “British automotive journalists” and his own experiences growing up and living in a blue-collar society.