If you’re a regular reader of Worn&Wound, then you’re surely aware of our penchant for well-engineered tool watches. Pilot’s watches and those inspired by aviation are some of our favorite within that category, and with brands like Sinn, Damasko, and Bremont leading the pack there is certainly a lot to like. But within the world of micro-brands, these types of watches are few and far in-between, with dive watches being the ones generally getting the tool-watch treatment. The Air Controller from TWCO takes a step toward balancing the playing field.
But before we get to the watch, let’s talk a bit about the brand. TWCO, or Technical Watch Company, is a company currently based out of the Netherlands. It was originally a Spanish brand specializing in dive watches, but by 2011 it had more or less become defunct. As luck would have it, that same year enthusiast Robert Suurland discovered the dormant brand and at just 19 years old he acquired the rights to the company. Today, he is both the owner and head designer for TWCO. Under his tutelage, TWCO released its first watch in 2012, a beefy tool diver called the Sea Rescue. With the Air Controller TWCO is taking a crack at a tool pilot’s watch.
The Air Controller takes its spiritual inspiration from the A-10 Thunderbolt II, a legendary aircraft officially introduced in 1977. (It is still in use today, primarily by the United States Air Force.) Aesthetically speaking, the Air Controller pulls a number of design cues from some recognizable brands, among them Sinn and Fortis. But beyond the obvious inspirations, the Air Controller also boasts some really cool tech, most of which you just don’t see in watches coming from micro-brands. With that said, let’s take a closer look.
TWCO Air Controller Review
Case: 316L Bead Blasted Steel
Movement: Miyota 9015
Strap: H-link bracelet and aviator strap
Water Res: 200m
Dimensions: 43mm x 51mm
Lug Width: 22mm
Crown: 8.3mm x 5.5mm
Price: Approximately $750 w/o VAT
The case on the TWCO Air Controller comes in at 43mm wide with a bezel width of 44mm. The lug-to-lug height is 51mm, and the case thickness is a beefy 14mm. Despite its slightly larger dimensions, the Air Controller wears comfortably on the wrist and doesn’t feel as big as the specs might suggest. The 316L stainless steel case is superbly done, featuring an attractive bead blasted finish. In terms of its geometry, the case is rather simple with slab sides, and when viewed in profile you can see that much of the case height comes from the mid-case, while the slightly sloped bezel and case back remain relatively thin and low in profile.
The case back is simple but well executed, with a large stamped “T” at its center and 6 holes for facilitating removal and specs positioned along its perimeter. The case is rated to 200 meters water resistance, and low-pressure tested to approximately 12,000 meters. Overall, it’s a very attractive and classic looking design, but it’s not without some interesting elements.
The first of those is the signed crown, which is perhaps my favorite part of the case. In terms of engineering, it’s a screw down crown with not one, but five Viton seals. It’s probably far more than this watch needs, but it’s cool nonetheless. Aesthetically, the crown is oversized (8.3mm x 5.5mm), very industrial looking, and flanked by two rather large crown guards that only accentuate its size. The crown features two tiers of heavy ridges, which give it a look that is somewhat reminiscent of a monster truck tire. The design and size allow for a very sure and easy grip and the crown is a joy to operate.
The other is the 120-click bezel. It is DLC coated and bi-directional, with an incredibly sure ratcheting mechanism. It’s precise with absolutely no play in either direction. The bezel insert itself is actually quite interesting in that it features both a count up and a count down function. Moving clockwise across the bezel, you start at the triangle and go to 55 and 50, followed immediately not by 45, but 15 (marked in orange). The pattern repeats until you hit 30, and then again at 45. It does take some getting used to, but once you do, you’ll appreciate the clever integration of these two functions without unnecessarily cluttering the layout. Plus, the orange gives the watch face a welcome pop of color.
As one might expect from a pilot’s watch, the dial of the Air Controller is incredibly legible, despite the fact that there is actually a lot going on with the face of the watch. The base of the design is a sort of typical flieger layout with the classic triangle at 12 and Arabic numerals moving along the dial. At “3” and “9,” the numbers are enlarged a bit, and the “6” is replaced with a well-integrated date window, which has white text on a black base. The hands on the Air Controller are bold pilot’s hands and are quite similar to what one might find from Sinn. The face of the watch extends out quite a bit as a result of the sloped chapter ring, which has hour markers from 13 to 24. The whole thing is topped off with a flat AR-coated sapphire crystal.
The most polarizing aspect of the design is without a doubt the image of the A-10 on the lower half the dial. It takes up quite a bit of real estate on the dial, even eating away at the “4” and “8” o’clock markers. I happen to like it as a novelty of sorts, but I think I would prefer the image gone just for a more classic approach. The Air Controller has enough going for it visually that the A-10 just comes across as a bit extraneous.
The one place where the dial doesn’t hit all the marks is the lume. First, it should be noted that application is actually quite interesting. The lume is formed and blocky, not simply applied, so there is an attractive 3-D quality to the way the whole thing comes together. However, the strength of the lume, which the brand designates as Super-LumiNova and appears to be BGW9, is a bit lackluster and doesn’t last for very long. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it is a bit disappointing when one considers the attention given to the rest of the watch.
The Air Controller is powered by the Miyota Cal. 9015, which is regarded as well known workhorse within the industry now that ETA movements are hard to come by. The 9015 has in the past couple of years become the standard for micro brands, and for good reason. Intended to compete with the venerable ETA 2892, the 9015 hacks and beats at 28,800bph. The movement here has been incredibly reliable, within a couple seconds a day, which in my experience is less exception and more the rule.
Straps and Wearability
Despite taking after a tool-watch aesthetic, the Air Controller is surprisingly versatile. It wears smaller than its given dimensions, tempered heavily by the contrasting black bezel. The watch feels perfectly balanced on my 6.75″ wrist. I wouldn’t wear it with a suit, but would happily use the Air Controller as my day-to-day beater.
The Air Controller is available with two strap options, one being a stainless steel H-link bracelet, and the other a closed-loop leather aviator strap. The build and feel of the H-link bracelet is impeccable, and it’s actually quite elegant due to the fact that it tapers toward the clasp. Sizing the bracelet is a bit of an undertaking in that it features screws and pins on both sides, which means that you need two screwdrivers to remove the pins, which are supplied in the packaging.
The aviator strap is black leather with contrasting orange stitch and bead-blasted hardware. This style of strap is usually paired with classic fliegers, like the sort you find from Stowa and Laco, but the combination looks quite nice here. It’s a beefy strap, so it balances out the head well both visually and in terms of weight. I am a bit ambivalent about the orange stitching, which is intended to match the orange on the bezel, but there are plenty of aftermarket options from Di-Modell and Fluco if you don’t like the color but the overall style appeals to you.
It should be noted that the Air Controller comes with two sets of lug holes, with one set intended specifically for the bracelet. This is a little detail that I really appreciate, and one that I wish more brands would consider. It allows for numerous aftermarket strap options and makes playing with thicker straps much easier.
At 818.18 EUR, which is approximately $750 when you deduct the VAT, the Air Controller presents an intriguing value. Though it is true that some micros operate in a lower price range, even those that share the same movement, the Air Controller is packed with some excellent engineering that certainly sets the watch apart and elevates it a notch above most micro-brand watches. In some ways, I view the Air Controller and by extension, TWCO, as exemplary of the next generation of micro watches and brands.
We seem to be moving past the stage of stock cases and parts, and toward watches that are more interesting, unique, and simply put, more professional. Having left Basel this year feeling rather unimpressed with a huge part of what was presented, it’s interesting to look at a brand like TWCO doing things the Swiss often don’t bother doing at the same price point, despite having all the resources in the world available to them. If this is the beginning of a trend, the micro brand world is one to watch.
To purchase, head over to the brand’s E-store.