‘Your watch has arrived. At least I think that’s what it is, the package is the size of a small suitcase.’
A Listener Review from Julian Madeley (Instagram @julianmadeley)
So I was informed by my Dad that my new Stowa Flieger Sport had safely made its way from Pforzheim, Germany at the northern gateway of The Black Forest to Sutton Coldfield, England. My first expensive watch purchase, costing about 1,300 euros. I was on a holiday in Yorkshire with my wife at the time, so I had to wait a few more days to open it. I could manage that though – living in Thailand I had been waiting six months to pull the trigger on this purchase and pick it up back in the UK. Stowa told me that they could deliver around the world, but Thai VAT regulations are something of a minefield and I have heard stories of new watches being confiscated by customs officers at the airport.
I was a little surprised by the expansive packaging once I got home. I thought Stowa might be a little more understated. However, once the outer cardboard presentation shell was opened, the familiar metal box presented itself. The watch was on my wrist a moment later, and stayed there for most of the rest of the holiday. Two months later it is still my default daily watch, although the rest of my collection is back in rotation. It’s a superb watch, a perfect everyday mechanical watch for an active person with a larger wrist.
The Stowa Flieger is the flagship model for the brand for obvious reasons. One of only five brands to make pilot watches for the German Luftwaffe in World War 2, they have a genuine historical lineage to the original 55mm watches strapped over the cuffs of pilots. I don’t know how their sales break down, but I would imagine they are comfortably the bestsellers in their range. That’s not to say there is not genuine historical provenance to their other watches, including the lovely petite Partitio, the Bauhaus design Antea and the pristine white dial Marine.
This Sport version is the largest available at 43mm. The size was the one thing I prevaricated over; should I opt for the classic 40mm or the 41mm subseconds dial version, with that lovely Unitas 6498 display caseback? I opted for the Sport version for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I have fairly large wrists that can take a larger watch, and I have a couple of bigger ones in my collection, including a Seiko SUN045P diver that clocks in at 47mm. Secondly, the improved specifications of the Sport version, including 200 metres of water resistance, anti-magnetic resistance and a thick domed anti-reflective sapphire crystal which gives the dial a little more depth. Thirdly, I didn’t want to lose that elongated, lumed central second hand that sweeps majestically around the dial. Finally, these watches are meant to be worn big, so the larger version is spiritually closer to the originals.
The other minor concern was over the lug width of 24mm, which seemed a little excessive on a 43mm watch. This wider lug width is created by the elegant, fang-shaped lugs that taper down and away from the case, but I thought a 24mm leather strap could unbalance the proportions of the watch on the wrist. Stowa are a highly accommodating company, however, and their customer service is second to none. They agreed to custom make a 24mm black leather strap with white stitching that tapered down to 20mm at the buckle. This strap is a vast improvement on the standard tan leather flieger strap that comes with the watch, which at 24mm with no taper is far too bulky and lacking in quality. I found that wearing the watch slightly further up my wrist than normal, just above the outer bump, makes for a really comfy, secure feel. I was also unsure how the strap would fare back in a tropical climate, but it has held up really well to some hot and sweaty days and is starting to develop a slightly faded patina in the sun. It was well worth the extra 60 euros.
This is a daily watch for me, so I opted for the date version. This is perfectly executed at the six position, white on black, and has lovely symmetry with the classic pilot watch triangle at twelve. I also decided to have the Stowa logo, which is a subtle, understated grey and fits in unobtrusively. There is nothing extraneous on this dial, no unnecessary text, no distractions to the primary function of telling the time, which is kind of handy on a watch.
In person, the dial is more refined than comes across in pictures. The Superluminova on the numerals, five minute markers and hands is a milky off white in daylight (no faux patina here), and at night, or even an unlit room in the daytime, the lume shines a predictably bright, milky green. The blued steel hands gleam more noticeably than I thought they would, contrasting subtly with the matt black dial. The contours of the hour and minute hands are beautifully thin, the minute hand protruding all the way to the very end of the minute markers. The second hand has a simple blued steel counter balance and a wonderfully long, straight lumed hand that is probably my favourite single element of this watch. It is a clear example of the simplicity of great design, form and function coming together to make a coherent whole. I love it.
Turning the watch over, you get the ETA 2824-2 top version automatic movement, suitably dressed to impress with perlage and blued screws. It’s not an A. Lange and Sonne, but it is definitely worthy of a display caseback, and excellent value in this price range. I’m not the kind of person who worries too much about accuracy, and I have not measured this watch’s timekeeping formally, but I wore this consistently over the first month without the 42 hour power reserve ever running down, and I never needed to adjust the time (apart from adding seven hours when I returned to Thailand.) Living here, servicing more elaborate in house movements is going to be a problem, which is why I gravitate towards the universal ETA and Sellita movements. There are watch shops and repair centres in Bangkok that can reliably service watches like this for a reasonable price, although you have the more expensive option of returning the watch to Stowa if required.
So are there any negatives about this watch? Well, I love the look of the onion crown, but it is not screw down, which I assumed it would be with 200 metres water resistance. That is an impressive statistic with a push in crown, and I’m never going swimming with a leather strap on anyway. However, if the security of a screw down crown is important for you, I believe another, more modern looking screw down crown is still available on the Sport model if requested. The only other negative comment I can make is a slightly grainy feel to the hand winding mechanism. There’s nothing wrong with it, it feels sturdy and has got a little smoother with use, but it is quite a long way from the buttery feel of a Rolex crown.
Overall, however, this is a superb watch. It has genuine history, a tale to tell as a real German watch brand since 1927. It stays true to the core design aesthetic while updating all the specifications to the maximum available in this price range. The dial is superbly executed, the case elegantly crafted in brushed stainless steel and the movement reliable and stylishly finished. It is a classic tool watch that will only improve with age, so why would I ever part with it?
Check out more information about the Stowa Flieger Classic Sport on their website by following the link here.Follow Us: