This Kickstarter project features pilot’s watches and provides yet another indication of the vast interest in this pattern of timepieces.
Stan Betesh began his work in the watch trade by selling straps with the company Panatime, then diving watches with Deep Blue watches; his latest venture is pilot’s watches with the brand name Air Blue, based on classic designs.
The three-hander watches have Seiko NH35A mechanical automatic movements running at 3 Hertz, 21,600 vph, 41 hours power reserve, with the Air Blue logo on the oscillating weight. These movements are made in Japan and Malaysia, and they have the stop-second function. Mechanical quality is as good as any other entry-level automatic watch movement (the retail price of the movement itself is about $85), but the finish is at a very basic level, as can be seen from the photo provided on the Kickstarter website. (The chronographs have quartz movements).
All the watches in the Air Blue collection have 316L stainless steel cases with steel or black PVD finish, sapphire watchglasses, screw-down crowns and casebacks, and leather straps. Hands and dial markings are treated with SuperLuminova (as in the photo at right). The automatic watches have sapphire casebacks to reveal the movement. Cases are all 13 mm thick, with the classic pilot’s watches available in 41, 44 and 47 mm diameter versions. The Bell & Ross and IWC-inspired automatics are all 44 mm in diameter. Water resistance is 100 metres.
The six designs are based closely either on the classic pilot’s watches or on modern interpretations by other brands, principally Bell & Ross and IWC. They are currently available on Kickstarter at $190 each, about half the final retail price, which will be $399 per watch. On Kickstarter you pay in advance before a given deadline (3 September 2015), and then the company, with the finance that it has received, starts making the products. Delivery is estimated at 15 October 2015.
You could say that the risk inherent in any business project is transferred from the company to the customer. I am personally a little perplexed about this approach, particularly as the company has been running for ten years, but presumably it is a way of keeping costs down to a minimum.
As you can see, the collection becomes a sort of catalogue of pilot’s watch designs. The Air Blue Alpha collection (below) comprises the two B-Uhr patterns, and the early pilot’s watch type with Art Deco numerals. These are available in the three sizes 41, 44 and 47 mm:
The Charlie collection is an IWC-type modified pilot’s with date window, 44 mm diameter:
The Delta collection comprises two IWC-type designs with vertical date window showing three numerals, 44 mm diameter.
In conclusion, the Air Blue collection offers minimum-price access to the world of automatic pilot’s watches, with designs whose authenticity is based on the fact that they are close copies of traditional patterns, or watches by other brands. The final retail price of $399 seems a little high to me, considering the level of movement and strap finish. By way of comparison, an Invicta Pro Diver using the same Seiko NH35A movement retails at $315.
To find out more, visit the Air Blue page on Kickstarter:
Below, the IWC-inspired chronograph watches with quartz movements: