10 of the best flieger watchesFergus Nash
The flieger style of pilot’s watches has its roots in World War II, however, they’ve since outgrown their origins and taken on a life of their own. Where they were once made to fulfil a simple purpose, now you can even get ones with perpetual calendars and tourbillons. They’re not made to fit over flight jackets anymore either, meaning that you can find them in sizes to suit any wrist. From most affordable to most luxurious, here are some of the best current flieger watches.
Seiko SNK809 – A$189
It might be cheating to start this list with a discontinued watch, but there was a time when the Seiko SNK809 was one of the best value watches you could buy. Although availability is up and down causing the price to fluctuate, you can generally find one from an authorised dealer for a pretty modest price, being A$189 at the time of writing. The 7s26 mechanical movement is a little outdated with its lack of hacking seconds and manual winding, however the 37mm case makes the SNK809 a super-wearable and convenient Type B flieger package. If hacking seconds is a requirement for you, the modern equivalent that’s still in production is the Seiko 5 SRPH23.
Laco Genf.2 / Zürich 40 – US$320
It’s impossible to overlook Laco when browsing for affordable fliegers, as they’re one of the original brands who manufactured them during the Second World War. The details are all designed to evoke vintage accuracy down to the off-white printing, with the exception of the white logo. This is their most affordable watch in a 40mm case and a Swiss quartz movement, perfect for those who want the flieger style and quartz convenience. The Genf.2 is their Type A dial and the Zürich.2 is their Type B, and you can choose them with or without a date display.
Laco Augsburg / Aachen – US$410
Laco’s variety does help them dominate in this space, and moving up into mechanical movements brings on the Augsburg and Aachen watches which offer the Type A or Type B flieger dials. The movement is based on the Miyota 82S0, keeping the costs down while remaining reliable. They’re available in 39mm or 42mm case sizes to cater to all wrists. Other dial options include sunburst blue, slate grey, and a black-coated case for twists on the classic.
Dekla Pilot Watch 40 – €630
If you’re after a sterile dial on your flieger and perhaps want some customisation options, then Dekla is definitely the choice for you. This little-known German brand offer a heap of variety in either Type A or B dial types, with options for dial details, case finishing, engraving, and more. Each watch is then assembled to order with your choice of ETA or Sellita hand-wound or automatic movements. The case has been subtly redesigned for comfort in all of the diameters, but the 40mm is most likely the popular choice with a 47.1mm lug-to-lug length.
Stowa Flieger Bronze Vintage 40 – €1,450
Another original manufacturer of the B-Uhr flieger watches is Stowa, though their price range usually sits above Laco’s collections. This particular watch features heat-blued hands, a sterile dial, a choice of Sellita automatic or hand-wound movements, and most significantly a CuSn8 bronze case. The popularity of bronze cases on vintage style watches is an interesting anachronism as they’re a relatively new concept, however the patina they acquire does evoke a sense of age and possibly even a brass case with its chrome plating worn off.
Laco Dortmund Erbstük – US$2,500
Well, it didn’t take long to return to Laco, but we can’t ignore the Dortmund from their Erbstük series. This watch looks like it was rescued from the cockpit of a WWII crash site, and each one is hand-finished to a unique state of destruction. Some may ask why you would want to buy a watch which comes pre-aged like ripped jeans, but there’s an artistry to the aged lume, faded dial and crusty case that tells its own story. This 45mm version of the Type B dial is my particular favourite, getting about as large as possible before you should start wearing it over a leather jacket.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire – US$4,900
Despite being dedicated to Britain’s most-loved fighter plane, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire is indeed still mostly a German flieger at heart. IWC also manufactured fliegers during WWII, and they form the basis of their entire Pilot’s Watch range today. This just happens to be one of their most beautiful and affordable watches in the range, keeping things simple with a softly diffused fumé dial, white and cream indices, and a date display at 3 o’clock. The 39mm case size and fabric strap keep it humble, but the 32111 movement boasts a 120-hour power reserve with a smooth 4Hz beat rate.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 – US$8,500
Stepping into the realm of flieger chronographs, IWC pretty much claim the title. The classic layout and simple appeal is punctuated by the running seconds subdial’s red hand and the day-date display. The bracelet makes it versatile for casual and more formal events, and the calibre 69385 is a column-wheel chronograph with 46 hours of power reserve and a 4Hz beat rate. These movements were introduced in 2016, and pay tribute to the functionality of the Valjoux 7750 series while representing a sharp jump in quality and craftsmanship. The blue dial is a nice contemporary twist on the flieger stereotype too.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage – US$13,200
For many people, seeing images of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch is their introduction to the world of fliegers. The 46.2mm case makes no apologies for its overbearing size, and this lightly aged dial version is completed by a 7-day power reserve indicator at 3 o’clock. The screw-down conical crown is an iconic feature, with satisfying grip and operation of the calibre 52010 in-house movement.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Lake Tahoe – US$40,900
It should really come as no surprise that IWC occupy the top 4 spots on this list, as there really aren’t many companies developing flieger styles to such a luxury extent. This IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Lake Tahoe as seen on the wrist of Lewis Hamilton is pretty much as extravagant as a flieger can get, crammed with complication in a 46.5mm white ceramic case that screams modernity. The calibre 52615 is a marvel to view through the large sapphire caseback, using the mechanism devised by Kurt Klaus which allows perpetual calendar adjustment without any ugly hidden pushers.