By putting out exceptional timepieces and providing some of the best customer service in the business, Stowa, under the helm of Jörg Schauer, has built up an unshakeable reputation within the WIS community. Schauer, who acquired the struggling company from the founding Storz family in 1996, recognized the inherent beauty of the brand’s heritage. As such, he envisioned Stowa’s current lineup by looking to the past, bringing back into production modern versions of Stowa’s historical timepieces. Among the replica watches to return was the Flieger series.In 1939, Stowa launched production of their flieger (pilot) replica watches for the German Luftwaffe (air force). They were one of five companies to do so, the other four being IWC, Wempe, Laco, and Lange & Söhne. Despite its connection to one of history’s darkest periods, the flieger remains an important marker in horology, and the design has endured countless iterations to become one of the most recognizable and homaged styles of all time. A quick Google search of “pilot replica watch” will return countless hits, ranging from low quality Chinese “knock-offs” to some of the most exquisitely engineered timepieces in existence.
So, with so many companies producing their own version of the pilot replica watch, how does the Stowa Flieger hold up? With a price tag of approximately $880 for the basic model, is the Stowa worth the money, or are you better off finding a more wallet-friendly alternative? Let’s take a look.
Case and Crystal
Coming in at 40mm wide, 10.2mm thick, with a lug-to-lug height of 48.6mm, the modern Flieger is obviously much smaller than its historical counterparts, which were basically wrist clocks at 55mm. The subdued sizing, however, is a perfect complement to the aesthetics of the case, which suggest a much more polished design than what the original fliegers were known for. The case sports a finely brushed 3-piece design made up of the bezel, the mid case, and the case back. The bezel has a small notch at the 6 o’clock position, included to facilitate the removal of the bezel if need be. The lugs curve down gently from the mid case and hang slightly past the case back. This ensures a comfortable fit, especially for those of us with smaller or flatter wrists.
One of my favorite design elements on the case is the moderately sized onion crown. Traditionally, pilot replica watches were outfitted with either an exaggerated onion or diamond crown so that pilots could easily wind or adjust their replica watches while wearing gloves. In keeping with that tradition, many pilot replica watches today feature similarly styled crowns. Diamond crowns, however, have a tendency to dig into the wrist, especially when paired with larger replica watches. The onion crown, with its less aggressive geometry, is an ideal paring. While it may not have the visual impact of a larger diamond crown, it remains aesthetically true to some of the historical models and it is far more stylistically interesting than any standard crown.
The unsigned crown on the Stowa is finely machined and features an even bead-blasted finish (you won’t notice the difference between the case finish and the crown finish). If you opt for the manual model, it will be a joy to operate. The case is also slightly recessed to accommodate the crown, and as such there is a tiny gap between the crown and the case. This is nothing to worry about, and Jörg Schauer has repeatedly assured it is intentional and meant to be a nod to the traditional design.
The Flieger features a domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on the underside. The dome, though slight, adds an attractive finishing touch to the overall feel of the replica watch. Having said that, if I were forced to find one fault, it would have to be the anti-reflective coating. I might just be spoiled by the likes of Sinn and Damasko, but the crystal on the Flieger is definitely a bit of a reflection magnet. Though the weak anti-reflective coating is by no means a deal breaker, I do hope that one day Stowa can work on this to achieve what other brands have in this regard.
It should be noted that the case back showcased here is not standard. The Flieger I purchased was a one-off by Stowa as the standard ETA 2824 models normally come with a sapphire case back. It is, however, still possible to order a solid case back if that’s your preference, though you will have to email Stowa to make the request. The case back, regardless of the type, is secured via 6 small screws, and the sapphire version, unlike the solid case back in the photos, features the brand and model specifications arranged around its perimeter.
Dial and Hands
You’re given a lot of options when it comes to the dial. There is the Flieger no logo, Flieger with logo, Flieger Baumuster B, Flieger date without logo, and Flieger logo without date. The decision obviously comes down to personal preference. Trying to keep the face of the replica watch as close to the historical models as possible, I opted for the sterile “Flieger no logo.” While there isn’t much to say about the dial design (it’s a relatively straight forward layout), there is plenty to say about its quality. Stowa outsources their Flieger dials to SCHÄTZLE, one of the premier German dial makers whose portfolio includes a number of higher-end clients. The printing is precisely done against a beautiful matte black base, and the lume is meticulously and generously applied (the C3 Superluminova means your Flieger can double for a night light). For a replica watch as simple as this, the devil is in the details.
The hands, made by the revered Swiss company UNIVERSO, are temperature-blued steel. The method to achieve such hands is precise and arduous, and due to the costs associated with such a process, most affordable brands opt for painted or chemically blued hands. As such, thermally treated hands are normally reserved for luxury brands and are seen as an artisanal touch. Visually, temperature-blued hands are far more exciting, and generally look black until they catch the light and glow blue. By contrast, painted and chemically treated hands have a perpetual artificial blue shimmer, the former of which are sometimes diminished by a sloppy or uneven application of paint.
The pilot hands are also sharp and exact, with deliberate lengths that add immensely to the legibility of the piece. The minute hand, for example, reaches the indices, nearly hitting the outer rim. Similarly, the long second hand runs directly along the outer rim and results in a mesmerizing sweep.
The base movement for the traditional 3-handed Flieger offered by Stowa is the ETA 2824 (Stowa also offers several Unitas-based hand wind models and a beautiful chronograph). If you prefer to have a hand wind model and the Unitas model is not to your liking, you can opt to have the 2824 replaced with its manual cousin, the ETA 2801. The 2824 comes in three versions, the BASIC (which seems to be a standard 2824 with an Incabloc shock system), the TOP version, and the TOP version with blued screws. Each upgrade to the movement comes with a surcharge, so that is certainly something to consider when purchasing. My replica watch is equipped with the BASIC ETA 2824, and it has been operating spectacularly (approximately three seconds fast a day).
I’ve already mentioned the many different dial and movement options you have when buying a pilot replica watch from Stowa. Since your replica watches are basically made-to-order, Stowa offers several other possible ways to modify your timepiece. For the case, you can choose to have the logo or the original ordinance number (FL. 23883) engraved on the side. You can also opt for a custom silver rotor, which can be engraved with the Stowa brand, the replica watch specs, or–and this really speaks to the level of care and attention provided by Stowa–a completely personalized message if you’re looking to mark a special occasion with your purchase.
Despite its dimensions, the Flieger wears like a 42mm replica watch due to its thin bezel and spacious black dial. The curvature of the lugs, coupled with the flat case back, ensures that the Stowa Flieger wears low on the wrist. At 70 grams, it’s also a relatively lightweight replica watch, and one of the lightest in my collection. It’s an easy piece to dress up, and a fun one to dress down. I’ve worn it with everything from a suit to a pair of shorts in the summer (with a water resistance of only 5atm, however, I would not pair the Flieger with a pair swim trunks). It looks good on everything from a NATO strap to a riveted pilot strap. Speaking of pilot straps, the old style strap from STOWA is fantastic. At approximately $20 each, I’d recommend you stock up on both the light brown and the black versions. They’re comfortable, well-made, and they fit the aesthetic of the replica watch perfectly.
The Stowa Flieger is a clear win, and in my opinion, worth every penny (otherwise, I wouldn’t own one). It’s a fantastic piece that stays true to the spirit of the original design, with just enough refinement to give you that bang for your buck. True, there are other options out there, especially ones that are more affordable. But if you’re looking for a 40mm pilot replica watch that replicates the historical design and is made from quality components, Stowa simply can’t be beat.
Similar Laco and Steinhart models, for example, are 42mm and 44mm, respectively, and IWC and Glashütte Original are in a completely different pricing bracket. Another brand, Archimede, is often touted as an affordable alternative, but the squared-off hands diminish the sharp design the flieger is known for, and the finish on the case is not nearly as intricate as it is on the Stowa. So if you’re looking to round out your collection with a serious and well-made pilot replica watch, look no further than Stowa. You won’t be disappointed (well, except for possibly the dreaded lead times).