The mid to high-end of fashion watches is littered with either watches made to look like much pricier brands or with pieces that are simply too plain to stand out or justify their pricing. UK-based AVI-8 Watches has managed to break this mold with a bold series of designs inspired by military aviation. In a short period of time they have managed to roll out an extensive line of original timepieces with a particular attention to detail and a definitive flight-inspired look.
I was given two pieces from them to get a feel for their Hawker Hurricane line and their Lancaster Bomber line. Convinced on the merits of those two, I have since added a piece from the Flyboy collection to my own collection.
As a sucker for canvas bands, I was immediately drawn to the Hawker Hurricane Ref. AV-4017-04. The shade of green on the band is definitively vintage military. While it is a pretty large watch at 44mm, with a substantial thickness, it wears lighter than one might expect. The dial is easy-to-read and the Arabic numerals are very well selected for the time period they are trying to represent. The outer 0-60 index ring fits in very well around the prominent numerals, and I am always a fan of a second sub-dial at 9 o’clock. The thickness of the case is used to create a very well executed sense of depth between the crystal and the dial. The lugs have a small flare that helps to distinguish an otherwise plain (but well built and finished) steel case.
It runs well on what I originally thought to be a Japanese Miyota (Citizen) Automatic movement, but a little further digging by a reader revealed that contrary to the literature claiming this to be a Japanese Automatic, it is actually a slightly cheaper Chinese automatic movement. It includes a quick-set date as well as a hack function (which almost feels obligatory on any timepiece that is aviation-related.)
There are a few very minor things I might highlight as issues. Firstly, the date display is set very low in a small porthole at 3 o’clock that can be difficult to read. For such a large-featured watch the date is a bit lost. Secondly, the hand design differs between the second hand and the hour and minute hand. The latter are sharp and angular while the second hand is more of the round style seen in Panerai sub-dial hands. Finally, while I love exhibition backs the canvas band obscures this one. This is not true with any of their other automatic models that utilize leather bands.
All in all these design issues are minor, and do very little to detract from the overall beauty and utility of this piece. It’s a comfortable wear, great style, and can be had at a reasonable price point. While their listed retail price is perhaps higher than it should be, a quick search online and you can find this watch at a price point that makes it well worth the purchase.
Retail Price: $520 (Currently available at Amazon.com for $141.75 at that discount its hard to pass up on this watch)
While many of AVI-8s collections are extensive and diverse (the Hawker Harrier line has 33 references), the Lancaster Bomber stands out as the exception. They have just done one design in five different dial/case/band variations. The Lancaster Bomber was an iconic warplane for the RAF and unquestionably the most legendary of the British fleet during WWII. It holds a similar place in aviation history as the Boeing B-17 and B-29. They were the “flying fortresses” that won the war
The presence on the wrist matches the grandeur of this aircraft. While it is smaller from lug-to-lug than the Hawker Hurricane reviewed above, it feels and wears noticeably larger. The crown proudly displays the logo and the colors of the RAF, which is a small but fantastic detail on the watch. Its hands are very much like those found on aviation instruments and setting the time feels like setting a gauge in a cockpit (in a good way.) They recapture the distinctive “bubble” underneath the cockpit with a pronounced date magnifier, and add an interesting “riveted” side to the case. All together it is a very well thought out and executed tribute to the aircraft it is based off of.
There are only two things that I found issue with on this watch. Firstly, the disproportion between the date magnifier and the date window is slightly off-putting. Secondly, such a legendary aircraft tribute should have a movement to match. Quartz seems to detract from the image of the Lancaster Bomber. Other than that it is a very nicely designed piece that is definitively not a dress watch and definitively not a casual sports watch. It is a watch that would go very well with a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
Retail Price: $320
After handling and wearing some of their watches I think AVI-8 is a brand with great promise. Their watches are unique, well conceived, and well executed. They stand out against the backdrop of the myriad of other watch companies competing in the “fashion” watch market that they do. The one thing I really wish they had was better movements. At the end of the day, the meticulous design detail that they put into their pieces is not matched by the quality of movements they utilize. Fortunately that is something one can add in due time. You can always add better movements to great designs, and with AVI-8 the combination of their design acumen with a high quality ébauche would make these truly amazing pieces. An ETA would change the class of these watches entirely. Wether or not this is a place they want to go, I am unsure, but they have an attention to detail that appears to be unmatched in the market segment they compete in, and they would be more than qualified to make the step from fashion to collectible. I for one am hoping they choose to fly into that stratosphere, and will certainly keep an eye on what they keep churning out.