Form Follows Function – Why Paolo Fanton’s A-13A Pilot Chronograph Hasn’t Left My Wrist

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When Worn & Wound originally spoke to Paolo Fanton back in January this year, we were keen to see what his A-13A pilot watch would look like when it made it out of prototyping and into production. Well, a parcel arrived last week from Italy, so I’ve had a chance to unpack it and get my very own A-13A on my wrists for a quick look.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. It’s not been off my wrist since it arrived.

It’s always nice (if unusual) to be right. In January, Paolo commented that “. . . it’s not a watch to show off to your friends while drinking a Martini downtown.” I suggested that although you might not show it off, I was pretty sure it’d get a few comments.

The A-13A in good company.

In fact, the A-13A has got more nods than any other watch this writer owns. It simultaneously aced both the “Pip Test” and the even tougher “Business Partner Rating.” Pip is my fiancée and indulges my watch obsession although seldom notices which one I’m wearing. Without me even pointing out the A-13A, she spotted it and declared “You know, I think that’s my favorite watch of yours.” Winning a straight double, my non-watchie-but-Nomos-owning business partnerquite unpromptedasked, “What’s the new watch? I love that!” The last watch that got him that excited was an IWC MkXII.

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It’s partly down the A-13A’s design. So many micro-brand watches forget that a watch has a job to do and that form needs to follow function if you’re not just to wear a fashion statement. They get blinged up, tweaked for the sake of tweakery, or the dial typefaces get played about, often for no functional reason. As a consequence, there’s often something that just doesn’t jell.The A-13A avoids this by closely mirroring a classic aviation designthe A-13A cockpit clock.

First made in the early 1960s, the A-13A cockpit clock does double duty for pilots as time-teller and a stopwatch. The hand-winding mechanical original will run for around 8 days (the A-13A uses a 27 jewel, ETA 251.264 quartz motor) with the bottom knob powering and setting the clock and the the top button operating the chronograph.

As an aeronautical instrument, clarity is everything and Paolo has carefully avoided messing about with the original design. He’s even kept the stepped and raised outer minute track (designed to beat parallax viewing error). The dial fonts are the same. The hands are so close as to make little difference, although the second hand and chronograph hands have black painted counterweights. The chronograph minute recorder is white arrow-tipped. You won’t need to squint at an A-13A. If you’re able to see the watch, you can read the time at a glance.

The only real dial deviations from the cockpit original are the words “PILOT WATCH” picked out in black on the black dial (shades of Hotblack Desiato’s sun-diving stuntship for those of us of a certain age) and the white-lettered “A-13A” above the six and “Made in Italy” underneath it. As the domed sapphire is double coated, there’s no problem seeing the time from almost any angle.

Despite the movement allowing for it, the watch has no running seconds. Instead, the second and central minute hand record the elapsed time for the chronograph. Paolo has removed two redundant stepper motors and their gear trains. This gives a significant reduction in energy drain.

Push the top button and the chronograph second hand starts stepping along at single second intervals. As it passes 12, the minute hand snaps to the one-minute-past position, and so on it goes until it reaches 12 again with 60 minutes of chronograph time elapsed.

You can use the bottom button to turn the watch into a lap timer. Pushing it stops the chronograph hand while the watch continues counting internally. Press it again and the hands flick catch up with the elapsed time. Press it a third time and the hands sweep back to reset.

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The engraved and ridged crown screws down smoothly, snugging into the case and helps the watch promise a very useful 100-meters of water resistance. There’s a small, half-moon cutout under the crown to enable you to get your fingernail behind it to snick it to setting position once unscrewed.

The case back is brushed apart from the polished edges and engraved with the 1970 military specification number “MIL-C-6499E” and “MS33558”, the mil-spec typeface reference. You get a note of the movement (an ETA 251.264) and a serial number.

Paolo says the brushed 316L stainless steel case is based on the MoD military spec WWW design from World War II. It’s a 42mm case, but wears smallerprobably down to the slim bezel. At 13mm thick, it’s a chunky enough case that you won’t forget you’re wearing your A-13A. The down-swept lugs make the watch a little more comfortable to wear, though. And the watch has proper heft to itit feels like a solid, cut-from-billet piece of engineering. No need to baby it.

The 20mm strap is specifically for the watch, with the inner Lorica facing featuring the A-13A “wing profile” logo and “The A-13A Pilot Watch” stamped on it. The outer face is cordura/kevlar (although the tang holes are rubber-reinforced) and softens up nicely the more you wear it. The brushed satin steel buckle is thoughtfully stamped “A-13A” too.Paolo is an engineer as well as a pilot, and it shows in the period-style packaging the A-13A arrives in. You could probably toe-punt it several meters with little effect on the watch inside, so this is a proper form-follows-function box. But Paolo explains the thinking:

“The idea came from an old friend, an A&P mechanic, who showed me these gorgeous vintage aircraft spark plugs still in their art deco package. It was one of those ‘eureka’ moments! I figured that when you buy a watch, you want a watch and don’t really need extravagant, bulky double boxes that add little to its value. But that doesn’t mean we won’t deliver your timepiece in a cool package; in keeping with the aeronautical theme, we have created a container that resembles the tubes in which military-spec spark plugs were supplied.”

It works a treat.

Priced at €650 (about $770), it’s up against pilot-style offerings from Tissot, Glycine, Alpina and Junkersfine watches all. You could strap any of them to your wrist and smile. But none has the same level of thought, design and focused aviation functionality of the A-13A. It’s a special watchand not least because there are just 500 of themall designed and made by someone with Avgas in his veins. A-13A

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Mark developed a passion for watches at a young age. At 9, he was gifted an Omega Time Computer manual from a local watch maker and he finagled Rolex brochures from a local dealer. Today, residing in the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, Mark brings his technical expertise and robust watch knowledge to worn&wound.

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  • Duke Togo

    Nice but gonna hold out for a 40/50 version without Pilot Watch on the dial.
    (and maybe something instead of those big balls on the hands)
    Hint hint…

  • Richard Baptist

    Totally agree! I’m wearing mine as I type this and I’m totally in love with the watch. It’s become my favorite watch. I love central seconds chronographs so this was a no brainer for me. I would urge anyone thinking about it to jump in, this is a great watch. I actually love not having the second hand it’s just so much cleaner and because its quartz, it’s always on, I just grab the watch and go. Looking forward to timing laps at the F1 race later this month. I love, love this watch. Thanks again Paolo and thanks Mark for the great write up!

  • Christopher C Peabody

    Great write-up!

    It’s nice to see someone appreciate the no compromise of this watch in it’s effort to represent the A-13A.

    Mine should be here this week and I can’t wait!

  • slicksd

    Nice writeup and all, but this is an extremely subjective “love it or hate it” looking piece to me. I’m a complete romantic about aviation too, but this piece really doesn’t bring that much to the already saturated pilot watch table, especially given that it’s quartz driven, for almost $800. That’s a hard pass on this one from me.

    • Drazen B

      My thoughts exactly.

    • I get what you’re saying, but aren’t all watches in way or another subjective “love it or hate it” pieces. -Ilya

      • slicksd

        No, and I would also really hope that a member of the W&W writing staff would know better than to use such a black and white platitude in such a diverse market. There are dozens of watches that I’m sure all of us have come across that left us feeling “unimpressed” or “meh”, if you will, but absolutely didn’t “hate” it. There is a very definite gray area to be had among time pieces, and the A-13A firmly fits in there.

        • Maybe I misunderstood the point you’re trying to make or maybe I didn’t properly position mine. There are, of course, objectively bad watches out there (I’d like to think we don’t give those the time of day), but by no reasonable standard can the A-13A be considered a “bad watch.” Of the watches we do cover, I don’t think you’ll ever find uniform praise or disdain. It’s all highly subjective, as you yourself said in opening sentence, and as can be seen by the writer’s response to his watch and Richard’s below. -Ilya

        • DGS70

          OK, first you said it was an “extremely subjective love it or hate it looking piece”, now you’re saying it’s in a grey area. Which is it? OK, so you don’t like it, and you don’t like that it was reviewed here. So what? Move on.

        • RKP

          If you love it you’ll spend the money on it ( or at least try if you can afford it) everything else is in a “hate it” category haha… grey areas are for people who can’t make up their minds, for people who need some soul searching perhaps.
          I’m being partially sarcastic.

  • error406

    I don’t see it, I genuinely don’t. But then again, I rarely feel anything for pilot watches with the notable exception of Sinn.

  • 200 Fathoms

    OK, but…a more dispassionate review might be in order. I’m not sure about reviewers reviewing their own watches on major sites, let alone one week into the honeymoon phase with which we’re all familiar…

    • I’d argue otherwise. Mark purchased a piece because he really liked it, and he wrote about why he liked it and what his ownership experience has been like. That’s certainly of value to readers who might be considering making a similar plunge. -Ilya

      • 200 Fathoms

        My point is…he wrote about what his ownership experience has been like—after one week! Of course it hasn’t been off his wrist…that happens to every one of us the moment we get a new watch. We’re in love with it, we’re excited, this one is THE keeper, we want everyone to know, our fiancée and friends love it too.

        If you guys are OK with letting your reviewers write about their own watches, fine. But I think it’s a good idea to, as I said, let the honeymoon phase pass by before writing about it.

    • Mark McArthur-Christie

      Hi 200 Fathoms and slicksd – and thanks for the comments. I absolutely get your point; it’s a pretty glowing review and usually I’m quite a bit ‘straighter’ about my subjects. It’s been nearly 4 weeks since getting my A-13 now. So we’re out of the honeymoon, we’ve had our first row and the A-13 has started hogging the quilt and snoring. But I’m still wearing it. Must be love. Mind you, I was looking at my SRPB09 again this morning…

      • 200 Fathoms

        laugh

  • Kristian Dawson

    Does the second hand hit all the markers on the dial? I don’t mind the quartz movement per se but I feel like in a watch like this it would bug me if the second hand was off even by a little bit

    • Richard Baptist

      The second hand hits all the markers on the dot as does the minute hand. It is a very exact chronograph.

  • Ian

    I wish that the differentiation between the movement of the original cockpit clock and this watch was made more clear, and that there was more justification for the quartz movement in this review. Let’s have a discussion on whether or not the ETA quartz movement is a good call, or a good value for the end consumer, and it ought to be highlighted more than in one parenthetical. It took me multiple readings and looking at the watch to realize that it wasn’t a handwind because of how that was presented.

    It is a beautiful watch though, and likely high on my list of favorite pilot “type-A” dials (understanding it isn’t actually a type-A and is something different but has some design/legibility connections)

    • Mark McArthur-Christie

      That’s a really good call, Ian. My mistake – although I’m a HUGE quartz fan, I didn’t think to write up much more about the movement. FWIW, even given my love for the robustness, grab-and-go and accuracy of quartz, I’d love to see Paolo make this as a handwinder. The challenge would be finding a movement that was affordable with a centre minutes and seconds.

  • egznyc

    Venezuela is probably just as perplexed. 😉

  • Andrew Hughes

    I for one am glad to see another alternative to the Lemania 5100… even a quartz one. Victorinox made several center register chronos using a similar ETA 251.262, and they are some of my favorites from the brand (Airboss Mach 3, Alpnhach Quartz Chrono, Ground Force Chrono). Based on the center chrono function alone, I think this is worth looking into. Maybe some of the features could be tweaked a smidge in the future (those big counterweights), but congrats on taking your dream and turning it into metal.

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