I realize that I probably have the lowest post count (credibility) for someone doing a watch review on here. I'm just passionate about my recent purchase and wanted to both commemorate my purchase and provide another data point to those looking for a similar pilot style watch. I tried to remain somewhat unbiased while keeping it interesting and informative. It's been 8 days since taking delivery of this watch, so I think I've had sufficient time to enjoy and allow my thoughts to marinate before writing this.
I recently decided it was time to temporarily retire my daily wear ORIS TT1 and replace it with something completely different. It was about time for a full inside/out service on the watch but I also wanted to make a change. It was the pilot style that caught my eye the most. I did a lot of research and initially gravitated toward the Lum-Tec Combat series watches. Problem was that the model I really liked (Combat B2H) was discontinued long ago and was only produced in a limited batch of 50. Even in fair shape used, I found it to be just above my max price range. I was just about to fold and pull the trigger on a demo model Combat B17 when I discovered the world of boutique watch makers and W3 created some of the pilot watch styles I was after, and quicly decided on a Wilson Watch Works (W3) custom flieger. What I found really nice was how you could spec a watch to your desires for a reasonable price. The starting price for the pilot style is $395 and just goes up from there depending on what finishes or upgrades you're interested in. Working with Chris Pappas of W3 via email and phone was a joy. He didn't try to really sell me anything, but he listened and provided me the information I needed to help me ultimately make my decision. It helped that I had done a lot of research by this point, so when it came time to spec my watch to order, it was a fairly simple conversation - style, case, bezel, crown, hands, crystal, movement, and any special finishes, etc. Chris got to work immediately and had my watch built and the movement tested and tuned in a matter of days. The watch arrived via mail about a week later.
Here's the main details on the watch:
Brand / Model: W3 Pilot / Observer
Case / Bezel: 316L stainless; 42mm x 10.9mm case and coin edge bezel; 22mm lug width; bead blasted finish; double anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal front and back exhibition crystal
Crown: Bead blasted, flat, low profile
Dial: Observer style, lum in C3 superluminova
Hand Set: Gloss black framed; hour/minute hand lum in C3 superluminova; red second hand at 9-position
Movement: Swiss UNITAS 6497-1 soigne
Strap: Black/gray striped NATO Zulu
Price (as shown): $660
As expected with a one-off watch from a small watch maker, the watch doesn't come with a fancy-nancy box or anything. It arrived enclosed in a standard shipping box and securely wrapped in bubble wrap along with an envelope containing the basic watch info, serial number, and warranty information. Vise an instruction manual, all you need to know is either on the website or an email or phone call away with Chris.
The upgraded 6497-1 soigne movement with blue anodized screws, Geneva striping, polished edges, etc is absolutely beautiful and fits right at home behind the large exhibition case-back. Unfortunately the NATO strap design hides the movement from view unless you take the time to pull the strap away from the back side to view it. Keeps it somewhat of a mystery, which is kind of nice. Chris actually tunes the movement before installing in your watch so that it leaves his shop very accurate. I haven't had a chance to administer my own test, but it appears to be well within +- 5 sec/day. The movement reportedly has a 43 hour power reserve. Below are are probably too many photos of my watch being put together, lubricated, and tested/tuned.
The bead blasted case, bezel, crown, and matching NATO strap hardware gives off an interesting satin silver appearance. It is perfect with no apparent blemishes. The case is a fairly low profile for what I'm used to and it feels very light. Therefore it wears much smaller than it's 42mm diameter suggests. The double anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal allows for a clear unobstructed view of the dial and movement. It doesn't appear tinted as some appear to be. The crown is effortless to operate and feels very stable when pulling out / pushing in.
With the observer style black dial with C3 superluminova and no other writing, it's all business. It's actually a look that took getting used to because I'm so used to seeing a brand name and other commercial script and icons which make typical watches recognizable. The lum isn't the brightest I've ever seen, but I don't think it needs to be either. It's bright and crisp enough to read at night. At the time of this review, I haven't had a chance to run a test to see how long the lum glows after being removed from a light source.
Chris has a good selection of straps available in leather or nylon. Keep in mind that as with any other component on this watch, you have the freedom to go whatever direction you want with the strap, whether you want to keep things simple and use one of his, or source your favorite one from somewhere else. I just kept it simple and went with one of his NATO Zulu straps, since I really hadn't researched nor cared for a particular style NATO strap. It's a thin yet comfortable nylon, monochrome black and gray striped strap with matching bead blasted hardware. It really just completes the watch with a consistent monochrome theme overall.
At 42mm, this is a fairly large watch (depending on what you're used to), but it wears fairly small due to the fact that it is very lightweight. I'm coming from a heavy Oris TT1 diver, so that could be skewing my perspective. Similarly, the 10.9mm case height feels fairly minimal.
Bottom line, this is a very minimalistic handsome watch built as requested to include a very fine Swiss movement. It's a nice time piece for someone who knows what they want in a watch and don't care about having a brand name. Overall quality seems very high, value is high, design is well, it's a retro designed piece so it's not meant to have any ground-breaking design elements. Here's another way to describe how I feel about this watch from an automotive perspective. I'm a car guy, mostly into classic European cars with clean, conservative, all business lines. Porsche and BMW are my favorite, though they are two makes that couldn't be more different. Anyway, take the Porsche 904 as an example. One of the most beautiful cars ever made, in my opinion. It's one of my top 3 grail cars. As much as I love this car, I would actually take a beautiful 904 replica in GTS trim any day of the year. At a fraction of the price, with improvements in both body and mechanical components, hot-rodded out to my heart's content....I could really enjoy that car. I will probably have one some day. That's why this watch originally spoke to me. Great value, built to your personal taste; not fun like a car, but a tiny cosmos of mechanical perfection, which is how we like our watches. :o)