The Beobachtungs-Uhren (B-Uhren), or "Flieger" watch (“pilot” auf Deutsch), made for the German Luftwaffe, were intended only as flight tools. The paramount focus of the Flieger was legibility; robustness and accuracy were factors as well, but if the navigator or pilot couldn’t quickly tell the time, the watch was of no use.
The Flieger was primarily made for the navigator (the “Beobachter”), and was not actually issued to keep, but as flight equipment with the expectation that the watch would be returned post-mission. It was made in two types, A and B, which had similar aesthetics: a 55-millimeter case diameter, a matte black dial with luminous markers and hands, a pocket watch movement, the trademark triangle 12:00 marker, and a long leather strap with enough material to be worn around the outside of pilot’s jacket. The difference between the two was the dial layout: the Type A being very simple, with more of a traditional clock layout, and the Type B being more technical.
The Type B displays the standard minute track, but instead of an hour indicator for every 5 minutes, there’s a numeric minute indicator that lines up perfectly with the length of the minute hand. On the inner part of the dial, an additional ring lines up with the hour hand and displays markers for each of the 12 hours. At a glance, it’s an incredibly easy dial to read.
The original Flieger manufacturers — IWC, A. Lange und Söhne, Stowa, Laco, and Wempe — remain household names. But luckily for watch nerds, a fat wallet or a giant’s wrist isn’t necessary to get the look and feel of a Flieger. With the exception of Lange, each brand still produces varying degrees of Fliegers, from traditional to modern, high-end to affordable. Other great brands also make Flieger-inspired timepieces today, some faithful reproductions and some that take creative license. Here are a few of our favorites from both the classic Deutsche set and some newer brands.
For the Traditionalist: It’s hard to say what Stowa’s most popular model is, but their Flieger is easily in the running. The brand has a strong connection to the original B-Uhren navigator watches and a history of outstanding quality to back it up.
The worst part about Stowa’s Flieger is actually deciding which one you want. Right now, they have 14 versions of what they call the "Flieger Classic, including Type A and Type B Fliegers, sterile dials, a bronze-cased version, a chronograph, and more. We say go with the Type B 40mm (~$1,089), as it’s arguably the nicest modern interpretation when considering fit and finish versus cost.
Archimede Pilot 39 Bronze Automatic
For the Traditionalist, with a Twist: Having only been around since 2003, Archimede may seem like a young watchmaker. However, with the support of 90-year-old company, Ickler, they’ve got some serious German horological cred behind them.
Like Stowa, Archimede has a handful of watch families, both modern and traditional, of which the Flieger is one of the most successful. Despite Archimede’s excellent standard Type A and Type B Fliegers, the bronze-cased Type A (~$1,010) is hard to pass up. Bronze may not be a traditional watchmaking material, but it’s hardly outlandish and looks just about perfect when used well. At 39 millimeters wide, and 9.9 millimeters thick, this ETA 2824-powered Flieger is an unbelievable value at just about a grand.
For the Anti-Traditionalist On a Budget: In Japan, if Seiko is considered Coca-Cola, Orient would surely be Pepsi. Except, in this example, Coke would own Pepsi. But Orient isn’t just one of Seiko’s many subsidiaries: they’re one of the world’s largest mechanical watch producers.
Among their wide range of watches, the Orient RA-AC0H03B10A (previously known more elegantly as the Flight, $265) stands out as a solid homage to the Type B Flieger. It’s available in several color variants, including black, and the blue version is even available on a bracelet for just $15 more. Good luck finding a lower priced well-made Flieger with an in-house movement.
For the Engineer: Damasko might just be the epitome of German engineering in the watchmaking industry — their pursuit to provide top-to-bottom over-engineered watches is unmatched. In just a quarter-century, they’ve grown in-house capabilities to include everything from ice-hardened steel cases to several manufacture movements and even silicon hairsprings. And they do this all while keeping prices very reasonable.
While not a pure duplicate of a Type A Flieger, the DA46 ($1,478) doesn’t hide its inspiration. It has the standard Flieger matte black dial, a triangle at the 12:00 position and the other hours laid out in clear, bold font. Then there’s the laundry list of unique technology: a crystal gasket resistant to UV radiation, a bi-directional bezel with exact ceramic ball ratchet elements, and shockproofing and anti-magnetism that pass standards required by the German Institute for Standardization (DIN). At just under $1,500, the DA46 doesn't house an in-house movement (it uses a modified ETA 2836-2), but the price is so compelling that you're bound not to care.
IWC Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar Top Gun
For the Pilot Who Flies His Own Gulfstream: If there’s one thing IWC consistently does right, it’s pilot’s watches. (No surprise there either, since they were one of the original Flieger producers.) A quick browse of IWC’s pilot series reveals a silly amount of variations. They’ve got chronographs, world timers, slow-beat hand-winders, ceramic cases, gold cases — you get the point. But there’s one that really sticks out, and it’s an exercise in ridiculousness in the most awesome way.
The Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire ($28,200), aside from being classified as a pilot’s watch, is a near opposite of the original Flieger in terms of functionality. Where the Flieger prided itself on basic timekeeping abilities, the Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar packs one of the most horologically complicated movements into its 46.2mm ceramic case. We don’t recommend letting the seven-day power reserve run down, because setting this bad boy basically requires a WOSTEP certification.