A Brief Introduction to Flieger Watches
When it comes to military watches, provenance can take a bit of a tricky turn rather quickly. From WWI trench watches that might have been used to time horrific mustard gas attacks to the Vostok Amphibia that helped Soviet submariners keep the iron curtain shut for decades, wristwatches have long been used as crucial tools in the waging of war. Dive watches, field watches, and of course the pilot’s watch were all borne from times of military necessity and are among the most popular types of watches used today. The watch I’m reviewing today, the Laco Aachen Blaue Stunde 42, is based on a B-Uhr or Flieger watch that would have been used by the German Luftwaffe in WWII.
The modern Flieger watch type is based on the Beobachtungsuhr (observation watch), or B-Uhr, from the Second World War. During the war, only five manufacturers were granted a license to provide these timepieces to the Luftwaffe: Lange & Sohne, Stowa, Wempe, IWC (interestingly also a manufacturer of “dirty dozen” watches for the Allies, in a horological example of Swiss neutrality), and of course, Laco. These watches were designed for maximum legibility to read while wearing goggles up in the ear and ease of use to allow the watches to be set to coordinate attacks whilst wearing gloves mid-flight, with a huge, high contrast dial and large onion-shaped crown.
The modern iterations of these Flieger watches, including the Aachen, continue to riff off this original design with very little variation. All five brands continue to make watches today, and with the exception of Lange, continue to make pilot’s watches. Of all the references from these original makers, the Laco Aachen is the most affordable, with an MSRP of $410 in the United States.
Case and Strap
In fact, in a world where many brands are taking vintage models and scaling them up (for instance, the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical takes an old 34mm field reference and ups it to 38mm and the Certina DS PH200M scales a 40mm diver reference from 1967 up to a bit beyond 42mm), the Laco Aachen 42, as is the case with most pilot’s watches, actually scales down from the 50-55mm case widths of original WWII-era pilot watches to a much more manageable 42mm. This is still quite large for some, but the short, curved lugs keep the lug-to-lug distance at a fairly reasonable 50mm and the overall case shape hugs the wrist quite nicely.
The case height is just under 12mm, which is quite reasonable and proportional given the diameter. The whole Laco Aachen case is bead blasted, and the oversized push-down onion crown makes setting and winding the watch very easy. There is a display caseback that shows the Laco 21 movement (basically a Miyota 821A with a skeletonized rotor) which is a welcomed touch. The watch is water resistant up to 5ATM, or 50 metres, which is good enough for everyday wear but probably not for swimming or any sort of immersion.
The watch is fairly light for its size, coming in under 90 grams on the included NATO strap. The Laco Aachen 42 Blaue Stunde was very comfortable on my 7.5” wrist. Lug width is 20mm, and there’s enough room between the case and the spring bars to accommodate most strap thicknesses. The included grey NATO strap even features a nicely signed buckle, which is another lovely little touch from Laco.
The Miyota Cal. 821A is a basic automatic, hand-winding movement that beats at 21600 bph. It sports a 42-hour power reserve and is “accurate” within -20 to +40 seconds per day, which is a pretty wide range. The movement also has a quickset date function which is unused in this model, creating a “ghost” second crown position. It also doesn’t offer hacking (the ability to stop the seconds hand when the crown is pulled all the way out for setting).
Hacking was considered quite a critical function for pilot watches as it allowed pilots to synchronize their watches to coordinate attacks; clearly, then, this particular pilot watch is meant more for everyday convenience with the automatic movement than for coordinating bombing runs, which is fair enough given its likely use. For historical functionality it would have been nice to see a hand-wound, hacking movement used here instead, but the automatic movement probably lends itself to broader appeal.
Dial and Hands
My particular model is the Aachen Blau, with a lovely sunburst blue Type B dial. The Type B dial sports large minute markers and smaller hour markers on a separate inner track. The stubby sword-shaped hours hand is just long enough to reach the inner track, whereas the much longer minutes sword hand reaches out to the minute indices along the diameter of the dial.
The hands and markers are all coated with white C3 Superluminova; particularly notable is the baton seconds hand which is painted with Superluminova from the centre all the way down its length. The counterweight on the seconds hand and the edges of the other hands are painted in a matte black. The dial is large, bright, and extremely legible in all lighting conditions with the high contrast between the blue dial and white markers and the fairly generous application of lume throughout.
Conclusion: Great Value
It seems important to me to remember that the progenitors of this watch were put to horrific use in the Second World War, and in a way the far more casual application of this piece is a bit unnerving given the history. But overall, I do like the Aachen Blaue Stunde 42. It looks and feels great on the wrist, has a good feature set for affordable everyday wear, and doesn’t take itself as seriously as one might assume one would get from the term Beobachtungsuhr.
The Aachen Blaue Stunde also comes in a 39mm variant, and Laco produces dozens of what they call “basic” pilot watches in a wide variety of configurations and colourways all in the $400-$700 price range. Laco also offers more authentic Flieger watches that start around $1000 and go all the way up past the $4000 mark for those looking for a more genuine B-Uhr experience.
• 20mm Lug Width
• Laco Caliber 21 (Miyota 821A w/ Skeletonized Rotor
• Type B Flieger Dial in Blue Sunburst
• CS Superluminova
• Sapphire Crystal
• Exhibition caseback (w/ Sapphire Crystal)
• MSRP: Approx. $410 USD
Ever since his first watch, a talking Dick Tracy thing won in a local chicken impersonation contest at age five, Aggressive Timing Habits has been fascinated by all watches from Amphibias to Zeniths and the people who create and collect them. His contributions to TBWS represent a new outlet to discuss the miracle of drilled lugs and debate the virtues of balance bridges vs balance cocks, much to the relief of friends and loved ones.