Hands-On With the CWC RN Fleet Air Arm Pilot’s Chronograph

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Cabot Watch Company (CWC) have been supplying watches to the British Armed Forces for over 40 years. Today, we’re looking at a pilot’s chronograph watch that was worn by Royal Navy pilots in the 1980s and ’90s. The watch featured here is New Old Stock (NOS), and these NOS examples are still available, albeit in limited numbers, for purchase.

The Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm operates naval aircrafts from their fleet of ships and this particular watch was built to requirements prescribed in DEF STAN 66-4 (Part 2) (you can read more about British Military Standards of the 1970s here). Today, the CWC RN Fleet Air Arm Pilot’s Chronograph serves as both a collector’s item and an all-round daily wearer. As chronographs go, it’s probably not the most beautiful in the traditional sense of the word, but it does have great character in its irregularity. Let’s get right to it. 

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$2008

Hands-On With the CWC RN Fleet Air Arm Pilot’s Chronograph

Case
Stainless steel (blasted)
Movement
Valjoux 7765
Dial
Matte black
Lume
Tritium
Lens
Domed acrylic
Strap
Nylon mil-strap
Water Resistance
100 feet
Dimensions
40mm x 46mm
Thickness
13mm
Lug Width
19mm
Crown
Push/pull; bronze
Warranty
3 years
Price
$2008

The most noticeable feature of the case is that it is asymmetrical like many British military watches from this period. It’s slightly wider on the righthand side where you’ll find the chronograph pushers and crown. This lack of symmetry can take some getting used to, and in many cases it’s not something I tend to like. In this instance, however, any notion that symmetry should form a large part of the overall aesthetic is further thwarted by the dial layout, so I find myself much more at ease with it here.The case is 40 millimeters at its widest and measures just over 46 millimeters from the top lug to the bottom one. It isn’t large by today’s standards, but it certainly wouldn’t have been classed as small when first issued in the late 1970s. The height from the solid case back (etched with military markings) to the top of the acrylic crystal is 13 millimeters. The fixed bars mean that a strip of fabric or leather will likely be present between your wrist and the case back, which, in turn, increases how high the watch will sit on the wrist.

The case, case back, pushers, and crown are all given a bead-blasted finish, which results in soft, dull-gray color that gives the whole thing a very discreet look. The crown is thin and large; it sits within the case but it’s also very easy to grip and wind.

The dial is simple, yet striking. This is largely due to the white markings against the matte black dial, and the sub-dial register layout dictated by the Valjoux 7765 caliber within. Running seconds are shown on the register at nine o’clock with the chronograph minutes shown at 12 o’clock. The absence of any other information or markings, such as an hour totalizer or even a date window, creates an imbalance in the dial, which I find quite appealing. Especially when that imbalance is, as I wrote above, coupled with the asymmetrical case shape and the slightly oversized numerals at three and six.

The only additional information shown on the dial is the CWC logo printed by the three o’clock numeral and ‘T’ in the lower half of the dial indicating the use of tritium-based luminous paint. Being that this watch is NOS and therefore potentially close to 30+ years old, the glow from the tritium paint on the dial and hands is less than spectacular, but adequate enough.

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The highly domed acrylic crystal adds a nice warmth to the watch. Scratches are an inevitability, but if they get to be too much the crystal is easy to restore with some elbow grease and a few minutes of Polywatch.

Powering the watch is the Valjoux 7765. This is close relative of the cam-driven Valjoux 7750 chronograph, which is the most ubiquitous chronograph movement on the market. With the 7765, the auto-winding mechanism is detached, effectively converting the caliber into a hand-cranker, and the chronograph hour counter, which would normally be seen at the six o’clock position, is also removed. The date register at three o’clock is still present in the Valjoux 7765, but it;s covered up in this particular watch.The Valjoux 7750 and its derivatives are well-known and have been used in many chronographs for decades. The choice of movement family for the RN Fleet Air Arm Pilot’s Chronograph is therefore not a surprise, and servicing and parts availability shouldn’t be too much of a concern. If the watch was designed as a two-register chronograph predominantly with aesthetics in mind, then the choice of movement and dial layout here would seem strange, but the resulting look, which is undoubtedly born of function, makes the watch all the more appealing in my book.

Although the watch comes fitted with a 20-millimeter mil-strap in Air Force Blue, the lugs are actually 19 millimeters wide. That one-millimeter difference isn’t all too noticeable once the strap wears in and the material has a little “give.” Mil-style straps are going to work best with both the lugs and the history of this watch, and the muted blue is also a nice pairing with the black dial and muted gray case.As I wrote above when discussing the case dimensions, this style of strap does lead to a little added height on a watch that wasn’t overly slim to begin with. The height is the only attribute that makes it wear large though. The watch is fairly light and doesn’t take up too much visual real estate. It’s going to be hard to dress this one up, but if you don’t need to wear suits regularly or just fancy a weekend wearer, it’s going to make a great casual watch.

There are positives and negatives to NOS watches such as this. On the one hand, you are purchasing a tool, and one with history. It’s an object designed and crafted purely to meet its intended function. On the other hand, there are quirks that come with that, such as the diminished tritium paint and the fixed bars that limit the sorts of straps you can use (though I bet few would argue against some creamy tritium patina). Whereas many other watches from this period housing the Valjoux 7765 sought to create a greater sense of balance by more prominent framing of the date display at three o’clock, the CWC RN Fleet Air Arm Pilot’s Chronograph remains unapologetic in its design. All in all, the quirky styling is derived directly from its intended usage and chosen movement, and that makes for an interesting, useful, and comfortable watch that will fly under the radar. CWC

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Brad stumbled into the watch world in 2011 and has been falling down the rabbit hole ever since. Based in London, Brad's interests lie in anything that ticks, sweeps or hums and is slightly off the beaten track.
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