Stowa Flieger Review

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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 watches to return was the Flieger series.STOWA_FLIEGER_FEATURE2In 1939, Stowa launched production of their flieger (pilot) 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 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 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.

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$880

Stowa Flieger Review

Case
Brushed stainless steel
Movement
ETA 2824/2801
Dial
Matte black
Lume
C3 Superluminova
Lens
Domed sapphire
Strap
Leather pilot strap
Water Resistance
5atm
Dimensions
40 x 48.6mm
Thickness
10.2mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Push/pull onion crown
Warranty
yes
Price
$880

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.

STOWA_FLIEGER_CASE2One of my favorite design elements on the case is the moderately sized onion crown. Traditionally, pilot watches were outfitted with either an exaggerated onion or diamond crown so that pilots could easily wind or adjust their watches while wearing gloves. In keeping with that tradition, many pilot watches today feature similarly styled crowns. Diamond crowns, however, have a tendency to dig into the wrist, especially when paired with larger 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 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.

STOWA_FLIEGER_CASEBACK1

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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 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 watch as simple as this, the devil is in the details.

STOWA_FLIEGER_DIAL4

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.

STOWA_FLIEGER_LUME1

Movement

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 watch is equipped with the BASIC ETA 2824, and it has been operating spectacularly (approximately three seconds fast a day).

Customizability

I’ve already mentioned the many different dial and movement options you have when buying a pilot watch from Stowa. Since your 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 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.

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Wearability

STOWA_FLIEGER_WRIST1

Despite its dimensions, the Flieger wears like a 42mm 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 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 watch perfectly.

Conclusion

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 watch that replicates the historical design and is made from quality components, Stowa simply can’t be beat.

STOWA_FLIEGER_DIAL3

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 watch, look no further than Stowa. You won’t be disappointed (well, except for possibly the dreaded lead times).

Images from this post:
Ilya is worn&wound's Managing Editor and Video Producer. He believes that when it comes to watches, quality, simplicity and functionality are king. This may very well explain his love for German and military-inspired watches. In addition to watches, Ilya brings an encyclopedic knowledge of leather, denim and all things related to menswear.
ryvini
  • Just a Perfect Pilot Watch: strong history + exceptional quality + superb service.
    Stowa became #1 in pilot watches.

  • Such a gorgeous watch and this convinces me even more to get it!

  • I forgot to ask, do you mind letting us know how much it cost (including customs)? Thanks!

    • To be honest, I don’t remember how much I paid for it and I can’t find my original invoice. Mine was also priced differently because it was a one-off by Stowa. I think the FedEx customs charges were something like $20 to New York.

  • Very nice! I’ve been attracted to pilot watches lately. Do you think this watch could be used as a dress watch with the right strap? Or is it too casual?

    • Due to the styling and the black face, I would say this was too casual to be a dress watch. Stowa also make a Bauhaus inspired watch range – The Antea, any of these watches from this range with a black croc strap would be a nice dress watch.

  • Stowa is great, and I love the look of the flieger design. But a large part of me just can’t get over the fact that these were originally designed for Luftwaffe pilots. I would never be comfortable wearing one while knowing that.

    • Hope you don’t own anything Volkswagen or any of their companies either than… 🙂

  • I’ve always thought it ridiculous the proliferation of watch brands that will stamp the word “pilot” on a watch as a cheap marketing gimmick, the majority of which have no affiliation whatsoever with aviation or even resemble the style. (All hat no cattle kind of thing). Personally, makes me appreciate brands like Stowa that not only make a beautiful product but additionally have a bit of genuine historical significance behind the design.

  • Once of the best reviews I have read. Thank you. I really like Stowa watches. I choice would also be no date no logo model, preferably with manual wind.

  • thanks for the excellent review.
    would you mind me asking which strap is on the first photo? Is it the “black calf leather strap without rivets”?

    thanks again.

    • Hey. It’s a brown Horween shell cordovan strap from Nomos.

  • Hi! I’m strongly thinking about buying timefactors speedbird III, but this one is an alternative. What do you guys think? The only thing with this watch that annoys me is the blue index..

    thanks

  • Roy

    Thanks for the review. My favourite strap for this watch is the Fluco black Horween shell cordovan strap.

  • As always, great pictures.
    This piece looks even better in person.

  • Fantastic review on a great watch. I’ve had one for a few years now and it runs strong, looks good and looks even better on different straps.

  • Great review. STOWA is an interesting brand and operation. I like the fact that you deal direct with the factory and custom order your watch the way you want it. Bespoke watchmaking and I don’t know anyone else who does it. Mine is an Observers watch Uhr B, which had an index for minutes around the outside of the dial and separate hour index inside the dial with a short hour hand. Go for the old style leather band – I have never known such comfort! I also got the silver rotor engraved with my name and a superbly made stainless steel deployant clasp on the band. The quality is amazing.

    Anyone worried about Luftwaffe associations should also refrain from Mercedes, BMW, VW vehicles, Leica cameras and, oh yes, electronic fuel injection. Better steer clear of jet aircraft as well. Also anything by Hugo Boss. And Porsche. Not to mention Becker/Harmon Karman products any anything by those nasty folk at Bosch. Yes, avoid them all but you will miss the quality!

    • It’s not about the manufacturer, it’s about the Reichsluftfahrtministerium origin of the design.

      Odd that it’s so popular, since there were so many great pilot watches from Smiths, Longines, Eterna, Lemania, Zenith and others.

  • Richard Meller Gibbs

    I think this is a beautiful watch and I’m currently saving up to buy one. I’d love to know where I can get a leather strap like the one seen in the photo of the conclusion section to this article. It has a rich dark brown color. Does anyone know?

    • Fan

      Laco has replacement band for their fliegers, the color might not be as dark, but definitely darker than Stowa. They are riveted though. I wish Stowa make the old style strap in that color.