In a year that has slowed many of us down, Farer has taken an aggressive approach to new releases to close out 2020 on a strong note. First we saw the GMT Bezel collection, and just last month we introduced you to their latest trio of Pilot watches. As we’ve come to expect from Farer, the new releases bring stories to explore and details to discover, along with a healthy measure of distinct personality. While all three of the new Pilot watches offer a different take on the genre, it is the Cayley that will be featured here. The aesthetic is unique, but the form factor is shared with the others, so take any design critique with that knowledge in mind.
Named after Sir George Cayley, the story of this watch follows the first glider to successfully carry a human. Cayley was the engineer who designed it, and in the process helped pave the way for the modern airplane to use a fixed-wing design way back in the late 18th century. We’ll find a similar level of curiosity in the watch that bears his name.
Review: Farer Pilot Cayley
Grade A SuperLumi Nova
The Farer Pilot Watch
Farer isn’t one to maintain the “rules” of the genres to which their watches may identify. Rather, their clear priority is maintaining the design principles upon which the brand has made its name, e.g. bold colors, striking typefaces, and heightened dimensional awareness. Farer watches often come together in a manner that makes them both eminently wearable and clearly identifiable, and that’s more important than holding fast to the archetypes of dive watches, world timers, and even pilot watches.
That is not to say that any practical functionality of those archetypes is thrown by the wayside. Indeed, Farer has a way of teasing the important features out and riffing on those elements to their own ends. Such is the case with their latest collection of Pilot watches, which feature the Bradfield, the Morgan, and the Cayley. Perhaps unlike other Farer watches, these Pilot watches are, at a glance, pilot watches. They each feature large dials that push right up to the case’s edge, an onion crown (of sorts), and oversized hands that (kind of) prioritize the minutes and seconds. The Morgan in particular is the most classically styled pilot watch of the bunch, with minute readings taking priority over the hour numerals in a manner similar to what you’d see from a Laco Type B.
To be clear, there are no real rules when it comes to the design of pilot watches, just tradition. The above features are what we usually associate with the genre, and Farer takes those traditional elements into their own vibe in a way we’d love to see from more brands. After all, pilot watches, along with dive, travel, et al. style watches, are only as good as they are practical to their users, and most of us aren’t in fact pilots or divers. Farer seemingly has a solid grasp of this concept and tailors their watches toward practical everyday use rather than extremes of the genres they represent. The Farer Pilot watches are 39mm in diameter, feature magnetic protection, house reasonably accurate automatic movements, and are supremely legible – and when you nail those, it’s easy to have fun with the rest.
The Cayley is the most distinct looking pilot watch of the new releases, thanks in large part to its so-called California dial configuration. This is a style that places Roman numerals within the top half of the dial, and Arabic numerals in the bottom half. We’ve seen the configuration on other watches this year, such as the Serica 4512, the Nomos Club Campus, and the Swatch X Hodinkee Sistem51 Generation 1990. These dials were known as “error-proof” during their initial production by Rolex (and later for Panerai) in the ‘30s and ‘40s, though the exact reasoning behind the configuration is speculative (see this WUS thread for more reading on the topic). The style has made its way into modern watches thanks in part to the resurgence of Panerai and their recreation of the Radiomir 3646, the PAM 00249 released in 2006. Collectors’ taste for the Rolex Bubbleback (which the dial first appeared in) may have also played a role here. Today we see the California dial across all manner of styles and genre, including the pilot watch before us.
The California dial feels at home on the Cayley, a natural choice for a pilot watch, which we often see with either Roman or Arabic numerals. There’s no clash of styles here, but the numerals are large, very large. The spacing between some of the Roman numerals nears uncomfortable territory at times, in particular with the space presented between the “XI” and the “I”, which opens a gulf of off-center negative space at 12 o’clock. This isn’t the only spacing issue found on the dial, either. Because of the oversized nature of the numerals, the branding is pushed closer to the hand post, meaning the ‘automatic’ written in the 6 o’clock position is brought up to an equal distance from the hand post on the other side. This results in a distressing amount of space between the word ‘automatic’ and the top of the 6 o’clock hour marker. You may recall a similar (but opposite) spacing issue we found on the Crooms GMT Bezel, with the date aperture nestled nearly within the “3”. This peculiarity is found only on the Cayley, with the Bradfield and Morgan presenting more palatable proportions.
You could charitably call the spacing issues part of the Farer charm, and just a part of the quirky personality of the watch. Thankfully there are plenty of other fun details to find as well, such as the minute hashes being rendered in light blue on the bottom half of the dial, and in yellow on the top half, a detail I’ll admit I didn’t catch until photographing the dial with a macro lens. More noticeably, you’ll find the seconds hand taking the shape of an arrow, with the Farer “A” prominently placed at the hand’s tip. Another subtle detail is the crosshairs cutting the dial into quadrants, something that can be seen in just the right light. All of this takes place on a glossy blue dial that doesn’t give away its true color with ease. What looks simply dark blue at a glance shines with brilliance at just the right angle.
A pair of bright yellow-orange hands bring a huge amount of contrast to the dial and make telling the time a breeze at a glance. They also hold an enormous amount of orange Super-LumiNova Grade A that are remarkably legible in low light. Likewise, the hour markers and numerals are solid cast Grade A Super-LumiNova in off-white. This execution provides an astonishing level of legibility in all lighting conditions. Other small details fall by the wayside compared to the core components, for better or worse.
On The Wrist
We’ve established that the Cayley is easy to read and that comes through on the wrist, but wearing this watch presents another interesting quality that highlights the relationship between the case and the dial. On paper, the Farer Pilot watches present as well sized and proportioned for the wrist, and at 39mm in diameter, 12mm in thickness, and 45mm from lug to lug, it certainly is. What those numbers don’t convey is the large viewing area of the dial. The dial measures ~36mm in diameter. To put that into perspective, the dial of the Seiko SNJ029 (the Safarnie) measures ~31.5mm in diameter, and its case measures over 47mm. Granted, that’s a dive watch, but it puts the ratio of the case to dial of the Farer into perspective. This is a dial that looks like it belongs on a 50mm watch, and it feels that way when looking at it on your wrist. Of course, it doesn’t feel that way, and as a result your brain (my brain, at least) has to recalibrate to reconcile the difference between what you see and what you feel.
The case itself is split into two sections, creating a completely vertical case wall with little in the way of tapering to the caseback. As a result, it sits flat on the wrist, and the top section, which is brushed, feels like a lid top that’s been screwed on to the bottom polished section of the case. This means it feels a bit taller than the 12mm reading would suggest, but it presents little issue in practice on the wrist. The lugs are short and squat, with brushed surfaces and a polished chamfer. They feel tacked on to the otherwise circular petri dish of a case, with a hard line at their meeting point.
A leather strap provides adequate comfort after a bit of breaking in, but it provides springbar tabs for easy changes as desired. The lug span is 20mm and this is a watch that should take to all manner of strap material and color with ease.
Within the Farer Pilot watches you’ll find the familiar Sellita SW200 ticking away providing 38 hours of reserve. Thanks to its being placed with a soft iron cage inner Faraday cage it is also protected against magnetic fields up to 500 Gauss (ISO 764 certification). Anti-magnetism is a trend we’ve seen a lot lately as brands look to react to our natural surroundings of gizmos and gadgets, all of which could present issues for the long term health of a mechanical movement. We see the use of non-ferrous materials within the movement itself as well as the old school Faraday cage solution as deployed in this case. Regardless of its effectiveness, it does result in a stylish caseback design on the Farer, with a lightning bolt intersecting quadrants of a circular design labeled “antimagnetic” at its center.
The Pilot Cayley represents a welcome application of Farer style within the pilot watch genre. The result is wholly unique, and unmistakably Farer. The inventive use of lume paired with the bold California dial is balanced with fun yet subtle details that can’t help but bring a smile to the wearer’s face. The quirks we’ve come to expect from Farer are present and accounted for, and while not deal-breakers they are things you should be aware of before buying. If you prefer the safer route, I’d recommend taking a look at the Bradfield and Morgan options. Whatever your choice, the Farer Pilot is priced at $895 and is available to purchase directly from Farer.
Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent his professional life covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seiko to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.