Interview: Paulo Fanton’s A-13A Pilot Watch

Almost everyone loves a pilot watch. There’s a purity of function to them–clean lines, simplicity, ease of use and, let’s face it, a bit of cockpit cool, too. But very few people decide to take their love for an aviation timepiece and turn it into metal.

So when we noticed a real buzz gathering on the forums around a particular new pilot watch on the forums, we sent Mark McArthur-Christie to investigate.

Back in February 2016, Milan-based Paulo Fanton posted on a well-known forum that he planned to make a pilot watch, modeled on his favorite aircraft clock–the A-13A. Plenty of people say they’re going to do something. Fewer actually do it. But the pictures proved that Paulo was better than his words.

He posted pictures of a flieger that not only looked perfectly designed, but showed a prototype watch. It was a four-hand chronograph–hours, minutes, seconds and a minute stopwatch. Brushed case. Nylon strap. And as classically clean as you like. Forum reactions can be mixed, but the A-13A got cleared for takeoff by almost everyone who saw it.

Now, nearly a year later, we’ve caught up with the man behind the watch as it prepares to launch–Paulo Fanton, engineer, motorcyclist and pilot.

A-13A Pilot Watch-3
The A-13A Pilot Watch by Paulo Fanton.

What’s your “day job” when you’re not designing and making the Pilot?

I am an aeronautical engineer from Trentino, in the North East of Italy, and I run my own company in the oil and gas sector. We engineer and sell critical equipment to refineries and chemical plants.

When not working, I love (to death) flying a hot-blooded Marchetti SF260, building and riding motorbikes and competitive military rifle shooting. Being from the Dolomites, skiing, hiking and climbing are in my genes.

A-13A Pilot Watch-2
Naturally, Paulo Fanton has a passion for taking to the sky.

How did you get into watches?

It was long ago during university. I was then, and still am today, very intrigued by fine mechanics and watches are very much the top mechanical devices out here. At the end of the day, I can’t see much difference between a Rolls Royce Merlin and a fine movement.

What is it that you like (or love!) about them?

Aside from the technical issues that I find extremely interesting, it’s the way a watch interfaces with human biology; a watch says a lot about its owner. I think it’s the only jewelry that a man should wear.

What have you got in your own collection?

Mostly pilots, but a few divers, too. I really love Omega because they had the courage to embrace radical design and explore new ideas. I have a Moonwatch, Mark III, a vintage Seamaster 300, Flightmaster, Speedy 5100, X33 Skywalker, and an Aqua Terra Pro.

Then I have a few from IWC, which are in my opinion the Everest of industrial watches: a Mk. XV, Doppelchronograph, and an Aquatimer.

Then I have a GMT Master II, a super stylish Ventura and a wild G Shock.

A-13A Pilot Watch -Early prototype
An early prototype next to an IWC Doppelchronograph and an Omega Speedmaster.

What is it about pilot watches for you?

For me, a pilot is above all a flight instrument that is there to function for you just like any other instrument in the cockpit. It’s a very challenging environment that calls for radical solutions to address safety and ease of operation. It’s not a watch to show off to your friends while drinking a Martini downtown.

(Writer’s note: You might not show it off, but if it doesn’t get a few comments we’d be very surprised.)

We’ve seen your inspiration in the cockpit clock. What gave you the impetus to turn the idea into reality and make the A-13A Pilot?

As I said, I have the good fortune to own some of the best pilots available on the market, but none of them completely satisfied me while flying. Of course, they are superb pieces of engineering–the very best money can buy–but the way they interact with the pilot in terms of legibility wasn’t exactly all that I was looking for. I love designing and building my own stuff so why not build my “perfect” pilot?

Incidentally this watch has been designed for my personal use only and I agree that some features are quite radical, not really there to meet the taste or needs of a wide market.

Also, I didn’t set any budget. I simply selected the solutions that best fit my needs, no matter what. Again, I made it for me so I do not expect a lot of people to appreciate the design unless they come from my exact experience.

Where else do you find your inspiration?

Every time I strap myself into the SF260 I wind the 8 days movement of the A-13A clock. It’s part of the checklist. Lots of stories behind that clock in more than 60 years of operation worldwide. A perfect design that deserves to reach the pilot’s wrist.Military Specification Type A-13A Clock

What can you tell us about the technical details of the watch?

The case comes very much from the MoD WWW of the Second World War, with minor modifications to the lugs in order to make a larger watch more stable on the wrist. It’s made of AISI316L, the standard stainless steel in the oil & gas industry that I’m very familiar with.

The case has been sized to hold the largest possible dial. In fact it looks much bigger than its actual size. The dial and the hands are from the military specification MIL C 6499 and I did very little except make a few modifications to better fit the size of a wrist watch. Also numbers and text on the dial are as per the military specification MS33558 which has been the standard font on most of the on-board instruments for many years.Military Standard MS33558(ASG)

Unfortunately the limitations of the movement, due to the unbalanced ratio of the chronograph minute hand didn’t allow me to shape the hand with the iconic “arrow.” It’s a flaw that I still find very disturbing, but I can’t do anything about the laws of physics.

I’ve tested three different shapes of glass, all with double anti-glare coating. I was surprised to see how much the glass shape influences the efficiency of the coating. The best was a slightly domed glass, quite expensive since a dedicated mold was required.


What are your plans for the movement?  You’ve mentioned the ETA 251.264. That’s normally a tri-register chronograph movement, but you’re using it to feature two centrally-mounted chronograph hands (60 seconds and 60 minuntes)?

After the Lemania 5100 was phased out, I had almost no realistic mechanical alternative featuring a central minutes hand at a reasonable price. So I initially picked up the ETA 251.262, which was recently replaced by the much better 251.264. I finally settled on the 251.264. I wanted to get the thermocompensated version, but I cannot have access to it as it is limited to the companies in Swatch Group. So a regular 251.264 is installed.

You mentioned a workshop in Milan doing some movement mods. Can you say what they are?

Yes, two stepper motors and their gear trains will be removed. This results in a significant reduction in energy drain.A-13A Pilot Watch-1

Is it still going to be 42mm?  What will the other dimensions be?

Lug-to-lug is 52 mm, thickness is 13 mm. I tried to make it quite similar to a Speedmaster, which is my benchmark for chronograph pilot watches.

What strap do you plan to put on it?

The strap is made by Morellato here in Italy and it’s a Cordura/Kevlar blend with Lorica lining. It performs very well in terms of durability and moisture resistance. There are a lot of much cheaper straps, but it was my first choice.

When does it go on sale? Still end of January/early February?

I’m working on my website right now and presale should start in February.


Are you still planning on that fab spark plug style packaging?

Oh, yes. I had so much fun with that. The packaging itself is very functional and doesn’t cost that much. This is the only part of the project that I approached thinking about my potential customer since I really didn’t need a case for my personal watch.

A-13A Pilot Watch-4
The final product.

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 packaging. It was one of those “eureka” moments! I have noticed that most of the top end watches come now with exotic, huge packaging that must cost a fortune. I do not think that the buyer of my A-13A would appreciate spending their money on anything but the watch itself.

Do you have plans for more watches after the Pilot?

It’s way too early to even think about that. I first have to finance and sell the first batch of 500 units. Hey, I’m a rookie!

We did ask Paulo if he had a sample we could take a look at. His response typifies his thoroughgoing aviation engineering approach to the whole project:

“Unfortunately, prototype #1 is flying right now in South America and #2 is skydiving with young paratroopers. Apparently, quite a lot of people in the Military/Law Enforcement environment appreciate the design.”

We’re not surprised.  And we’re very much looking forward to seeing this one in the metal later in 2017. Final pricing is currently unavailable. To follow the project, click here.

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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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