Sports watches may be all the rage recently, but there is a particular tool watch style that constantly flies under the radar (no pun intended) – Fliegers
German for ‘pilot’, Flieger is a distinctive (some would argue the most iconic) type of Pilot’s watches that originated during World War 2. The British famously supplied its forces with what is now known by enthusiasts as the Dirty Dozen – the German equivalent was the Beobachtungs-Uhren.
Translating directly to ‘observation watches’, the Beobachtungs-Uhren – or B-Uhr for short – were standard issue to the Luftwaffe. They were made by only 5 manufacturers: A. Lange & Söhne, Laco, Wempe, Stowa, and IWC. With the exception of IWC (which is located in the German speaking town of Schaffhausen in Switzerland), all of the brands were German, in keeping with the nationalistic zeitgeist of the time.
And unlike its British counterparts, Fliegers were produced in two configurations – Type A and Type B. The former has a clean, eminently legible layout with only hour markings, while the latter has a more complicated design that features an outer ring displaying the minutes as well as an inner track showing the hours.
The Luftwaffe had strict requirements regarding the production of the B-Uhr, which applied to both dial configurations. Firstly, the watches had to be 55mm in diameter – massive, considering that wristwatches at the time were mostly 33-35mm wide. The large size was meant to aid legibility, allowing pilots to tell time at a glance without removing both hands from the steering wheel.
Secondly, the watch had to have an oversized, onion crown, ensuring easy winding even with gloves on. Luminescence was also essential so time could be told even during nighttime. In addition, fliegers must possess a hacking seconds hand – important for timing synchronization during missions.
Lastly, all fliegers feature a triangle at 12 o’clock. With urban legends of pilots opting to strap their fliegers to their thighs instead of their wrists, this ostensibly allows pilots to quickly determine which is the correct side up. Almost a century later, the 12 o’clock triangle has become a trademark of flieger watches.
Today, fliegers are no longer restricted to military settings, and are now seen as no-nonsense everyday watches. However, many of the abovementioned characteristics are still present – but often with the addition of more modern conveniences such as a date feature, and/or chronograph function.
A classic example of a modern flieger is the Panzera Flieger 46, which retains signature elements such as: a large case size, an oversized crown, a simple and legible dial with luminescence, a hacking seconds hand and of course, the iconic triangle at 12 o’clock.
On promotion currently for less than US$500, the Panzera Flieger 46 costs a fraction of other modern fliegers, but still delivers a full-fledged flieger experience that is true to the history and heritage of the genre. It is available in standard stainless steel, as well as a blacked out version for those seeking something a little sportier and stealthier.