For those of us who are fans of historic wristwatches, and particularly World War Two era military time pieces, it is not so uncommon a pastime to spend long hours clicking our way through eBay, drooling over the originals that we cannot afford and seeking the perfect homage or replica to wear out. There are a number of historic brands that accommodate the budget market, including Laco in Pforzheim, Germany, though sleeker lines and more comfortable curves have replaced the funky angles and rigid body so coveted by enthusiasts of the originals, in order to appeal to the modern consumer. One-to-one replicas, then, have become a special commodity, and soar into the luxury price range.
It would seem that those of us shopping within the <$400 range for something of quality are left out in the cold to admire from afar. Parnis and other Chinese manufacturers have been producing replicas to suit this market for some time, not to mention a huge array of converted pocket watches modified with paper dials and crudely soldered lugs, which can be ordered direct from somewhere in the Ukraine. While many of these eccentric choices may serve as an unique conversation piece, many lack the spirit of more faithful replicas. Thankfully, every once in a while, a small-scale manufacturer shines through with an offering that aligns with the design points peculiar to the originals, has an attitude of homage that feels somewhat more personal and compliments the shallow wallets of those of us who aren’t ready to splurge for a $5,000 antique.
Enter, Athaya Vintage, a small but dedicated upstart manufacturer based of all places in Indonesia. According to their website, Athaya is a truly boutique effort. This one man shop, managed by a gentleman known to me even in our correspondence simply as Adrian, is driven by a life-long love for sturdy wristwatches, reborn in more recent years by the proprietor’s personal discovery of the wider world of vintage collectibles and watch forums dedicated to the hobby.
The mission statement on Athaya Vintage’s splash page seems to have been fed through an online translator and the most prominent image, curiously, is that of an empty, stainless steel Rolex case, and not their own product. That said, do not be deterred by these home-made idiosyncrasies. In their first offering to the world, Athaya Vintage has produced a truly excellent watch. Unlike many of the larger competitors mentioned above, who are broadening their reach by creating updated “throw-backs” to the originals with sleeker lines and smaller cases, Athaya has stuck with many of the funky design elements that make the real thing so unique, and has done so with a commendable attention to detail. What I find most appealing about Adrian and Athaya Vintage, however, is the small-scale and unpretentious attitude clearly communicated by his humble website and limited-run product. Athaya Vintage makes no false claims, and build’s its brand simply upon the proprietor’s wish to pay homage to the historical timepieces he loves.
The “Athaya Vintage Type B Pilot Watch” is a faithful replica of the classic German-style flieger produced by pioneering manufacturers like Laco and Stowa. The case is a coarsely finished matte grey, measuring 47mm in diameter, which is perhaps the only deviation from the common design of the originals, which measured over 50mm. Aesthetically speaking, the design elements in play here, including the large, onion shaped crown, detailed product information and serial number engraved into the case back and circumference, and the straight, welded lugs are all spot-on. The engraving is all clean and precise, including Athaya Vintage’s logo, which is obviously inspired by the escape wheel of the movement.
The dial is a very crisp black with white, luminous arabic numerals indicating the seconds on the outer edge of the dial and the hours circumscribing the center axis, as is the typical “B-Uhr” style. The hands are a great contrast adding a striking, blue, gunmetal patina in the classic sword shape, with an extra-long second hand, all enclosed by a well fitted, domed sapphire crystal.
The movement is a Japanese Miyota Automatic 8215, and while Laco has also used Miyota movements in its own re-issued fliegers of this variety, this movement does seem to be the source of perhaps the only bump in the road for this very nice watch. While Athaya Vintage’s Type B does keep excellent time, the watch I received to test-drive has a very distracting stutter in the sweep of the second hand. Finding that the watch was keeping excellent time, my initial conclusion was that perhaps the mismatch of scale in the case and components as compared to the stock movement (typically found in much smaller watches from 38mm – 42mm) was causing undue labor on the second hand, making it jerk and stutter and in some instances appear to pause altogether.
After a little more research, I found that this issue is, in fact, widely known to occur in both the originals and some replicas, including Laco’s own limited edition re-issue of their classic A-Type flieger, complete with an original Durowe movement (though to a much lesser degree). Digging deeper, I uncovered an interesting article in which a curious pair of investigators opened up an Invicta brand diver utilizing the same Miyota 8215 and discovered a mild variance between the pinion connected to the second hand and the wheel in the movement that drives it, causing the second hand to “pause” without affecting the time-keeping accuracy of the watch. The article goes on to debunk the snobbery that would otherwise dismiss this as poor watchmaking, by showing the identical design flaw in an analogous, high-end watch movement made by Omega.
Produced in a limited edition of 100, Athaya Vintage’s debut is a very promising start for this small-scale shop, and weighing in at a mere $350, well worth the buy. This watch is comfortable, striking and truly well made. It comes in a beautiful, leather zip case, emblazoned with the manufacturer’s logo. Looking to the future, Athaya seems to be rounding the bases, moving forward from the B Type flieger and onto a very slick looking diver, reminiscent of the classic Zodiac divers of the 1960s and 70s. According to their website, these will go into production in early 2015.