I’d been anticipating the package from Detroit for a couple of months. Watch company? Detroit? At this point, you might think you know what watch company I’m going to write about. But really, this is about the other one. The Detroit Watch Company, who like their juggernaut of a neighbor, assembles in Detroit.
I’d studied the Detroit Watch Co. website and seen a few photos of the Aviator, and I was eager to get my hands on the piece in the metal.
When it arrived, the Aviator didn’t disappoint. It’s a bold watch at 44mm, but it’s not so big that it’s unwieldy or uncomfortable. And it certainly looks the part of a pilot watch.
From the Aviator’s sales webpage, here’s why.
“Detroit native and oil millionaire, Edward F. Schlee had a thirst for flying. In 1927, Schlee purchased a Stinson-Detroiter monoplane and named it, “The Pride of Detroit”.
“Two months after Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Schlee and pilot Billy Brock embarked upon an ambitious trip to travel the globe in 15 days.
“The Pride of Detroit Aviator timepiece symbolizes an adventurous spirit and the strength of our own convictions as demonstrated by Schlee and Brock.”
The ethos of this watch is pure and simple: the adventure of flying.
Movement: Miyota 821A
Water Res.: 5ATM
Dimensions: 44 x 52mm
Lug Width: 22
Crown: 7.5 x 4.5 mm
The 44 x 52 x 12mm case almost looks to be cast rather than machined. It may simply be over-polished. It doesn’t matter from a functionality standpoint, but it does mean the details aren’t quite as crisp as they could be. And this case does have some nice details. The lugs are nicely formed, slightly on the angular side, nicely proportioned and with a step detail that gives them a faint art deco look.
The bezel has a similar step encircling the flat sapphire crystal- another nice finishing detail. When the watch arrived, the bezel was loose. At first it gave the illusion of a rotating bezel, not uncommon on a pilot’s watch. However, there are no markings or knurling present, so its purpose in rotating was a mystery. Turns out it’s a screw-down bezel, part of the mechanical design of the case assembly. Ultimately, this was simply a minor quality control issue.
The crown, signed with a fleur-de-lis and boldly knurled (more of that bold theme), is a reverse conical shape. It’s reminiscent of IWC crowns, and provides an excellent grip when winding or setting the watch.
I like the fact that the case back is solid and held in place with five screws (another nod to IWC?). It gives the watch a certain no-nonsense appeal, and further distinguishes it from a dive watch (divers seem to be the province of a lot of start-up watch companies these days). Even with a screw-fastened back, the Aviator claims 5ATM of water resistance. In case you need to ditch at sea.
Overall, the case back design shows the watch means business and can’t be bothered with showing off what’s simply a solid, workhorse movement. Nothin’ to see here folks. Move along.
Except that there is something to see. The folks at Detroit Watch have seen fit to etch the full metal back with an image of Schlee’s and Brock’s “Pride of Detroit,” an old single-engine tail-dragger, surrounded by stylized streamlines.
Dial and Hands
The black dial is simple, classic for a pilot watch. A railroad minute track runs around the edge. Hour points are marked with raised paintedArabic numerals from 1 to 12.
The dial is relatively free of printing. Below the 12 is Detroit’s stylized logo – a D with three-lined “wings” – along with “Pride of Detroit.” Two more lines of text above the 6 complete the clean look.
Pride of Detroit is no joke. You’ll find the company name and manufacturing (assembly) location in small print discreetly tucked along the outer edges as well.
The modified sword shaped hour and minute hands are oversized to match the dial diameter. Luminescence on the outer half of each ensures the ability to read in the dark light of a cockpit.
The tail of the red tipped second hand features the company’s stylized D – a nice touch. I’m not so sure about the red tip. It’s a bit of a challenge to find it in low light conditions, and the hand is not marked with luminous material.
The engine that drives the Aviator is the non-hacking automatic three hand plus date Miyota 821A. I was a bit surprised that Detroit Watch decided to use a non-hacking movement in a pilot’s watch. The ability to stop the second hand is a classically useful feature in aviation (flight crews would synchronize their watches for precise time measurement during a mission). And it’s certainly available in other similar movements from Miyota, for instance, the 9015, albeit at a probably higher cost.
I also noticed some jerkiness or flutter with the sweep seconds hand over ten or fifteen seconds of its revolution. Typically, the Miyotas are solid movements, so I figured the issue may have been specific to the test watch.
With a little research, I was able to determine that the “problem” may be due to the indirect drive second hand of the 821A, vs. a direct drive. This means the seconds hand is driven off the third wheel and geared up to one rev per minute, rather than directly tied to the fourth wheel (which already revolves once a minute). Manufacturing tolerances in the wheels and pinions cause the flutter. The gearing up amplifies it.
Admittedly, this is a technical explanation to an aesthetic issue. I say aesthetic because such a set-up does not affect the movement’s accuracy.
Strap and Clasp
The 22mm calf strap tapers to 19mm at the clasp, a feature which adds significant refinement over what a straight strap would offer. It’s well-proportioned to the watch case, both in width and uniform 4mm thickness. Being non-padded and a uniform thickness for the entire length, it quickly conformed to my wrist.
Dyed in a sort of British Tan with contrasting white stitching, it nicely carried its part of the pilot watch look.
The signed butterfly clasp is where I ran into trouble. It’s beautiful, but I’ve never been able to operate butterfly clasps as smoothly or quickly as deployants. I’ll let you in on a little secret (no jokes please). I dress in the dark because the sun comes up late where I live. Unfortunately, with the Aviator, I spent a lot of time each morning, fumbling with the clasp.
However, once snapped in place on my wrist, the clasp disappeared. The issue is really the effort it takes to buckle the watch to your person when you’re in a hurry.
Overall, the Aviator is a joy to wear. It looks great, the strap is comfortable and, with large silver finished hands against a black dial, the watch’s readability is excellent.
And the Aviator is going to look good coupled with a sport shirt, a T-shirt and leather jacket, or a sweatshirt on a Saturday afternoon.
At its size, it doesn’t fit well under the cuff of a tailored dress shirt. But I don’t think that’s the point of this watch. The Aviator is not a dress watch, so don’t count this as a mark against it.
The more I wear the Aviator, the more I like it. At $795, the price is on the high side for 821A powered automatic, though the original design and US assembly speak to the cost. It wears well, and looks good on my larger-than-average wrist.
The watch is not going to fit under a snug dress shirt cuff, but this is a watch for the guy who’s dressing to go places – literally. Not for the guy dressing for success.
You can check out and order the Aviator and its stable mates here: detroitwatchco.com