There are pilot's watches, and then there are pilot's watches. The first type is a watch that is styled after something that a pilot would have worn back when a legible and accurate watch was a critical tool to safely take an airplane to its destination. The second type is a watch influenced by aviation styling elements, that is intended to evoke the emotion of being inside or around really cool or significant airplanes.
British watch brand AVI-8 offers both types. If you are a watch collector who is also an aviation nut, their catalog offers everything from the Flyboy Engineer Automatic with more traditional pilot's watch style, to the wild skeletonized Matador Chronograph which is completely modern and unique from anything a WW2 pilot would have worn.
Blending the two worlds is their new P-51 Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph. The Blakeslee pairs some traditional pilot's watch styling elements (such as large sword hands and numerals) with features that are intended to pay tribute to the P-51 Mustang airplane. The full name of the watch comes from "American fighter ace and commander, Colonel Don Blakeslee, who is regarded as one of the greatest heroes of the Allied forces during WW2."
AVI-8 was gracious enough to send me the "AV-4077-11 Legion," which is one of five variations of the Blakeslee Chronograph.
It is the most traditional of the options, with a black dial, white markers, and a stainless steel bracelet. That being said, this watch does NOT look traditional. It is packed with aviation styling elements, many of which you might not notice at first glance. I was worried that it might be a bit flashy for my taste, but I decided to give it a try. I've never had my hands on an AVI-8 watch, and I was very interested to see what they have to offer.
You might expect that the busy Blakeslee would be difficult to read, but the broad, white hands and hour markers of the Legion jump off the dial. All variants should have excellent legibility, other than possibly the all-black Brevet version (as would be the case for any blacked-out watch).
That being said, there are a lot of details to unpack, so let's get started!
The 43mm case of the P-51 has a traditional shape, with lugs that taper as well as slope down to hug the wrist. The sides of the case are polished, and convex in shape. There is no hard edge between the polished sides and brushed top surfaces of the lugs, giving the case a softer, more contoured appearance. Thickness is 13mm, and lug width is 22mm.
The watch features a sloped bezel with a brushed black finish. It features a tachymeter scale with red text, and white numerals reading up to 400mph. If you own a P-51 airplane, you could actually use this watch to track your speed across a measured mile since, according to wikipedia, the max speed of the P-51 was around 400mph depending on the specification.
Because the lug to lug distance is 51mm, and the bezel is fairly thin, the P-51 has a presence larger than 43mm on the wrist. It looks like it is all dial as pilot's watches tend to do (but we'll get to that later).
Where the case includes some aviation elements is in the Crown guard. It features six circles machined into the brushed surface which are meant to emulate the six exhaust pipes emerging from either side of the P-51 Mustang's engine cover (allowing the shortest path to allow exhaust gas to escape its V12 engine). The crown guard appears to be attached to the case with four exposed screws.
The solid case-back features an etched graphic of the Mustang in flight, as well as the AVI-8 logo, reference number, movement info and water resistance specification (50m).
Despite the big look, 43mm watches are completely wearable for me. The wrist-hugging P-51 is quite comfortable.
The aforementioned crown guard makes the crown slightly difficult to operate, especially since the bezel partially overlaps it from the top side. Luckily the crown does not screw down, and has a ridged edge. Once you learn the trick to popping it out and turning it from the bottom side, it is not too difficult to operate. It is a quartz watch, so you don't have to worry about winding it, and should not have to set the time frequently.
The chronograph pushers are "custom built and shaped within the line of the wings and fuselage." Because they are cut into the sides of the crown guard, they also require a specific orientation of your finger to operate. The longer wing shape helps with this versus the typical round pushers though.
As I mentioned, the P-51 is all dial...and what a dial it is! This is where AVI-8 chose to include the majority of the P-51 details.
The dial is multi layered like the instrument display of the P-51 and features vertical brushing across the main surface, with horizontal brushing across the raised upper right quarter of the dial. The brushed surface really plays with light, and looks very cool in certain ambient conditions. Depending on the angle at which the light hits the dial, it can look one quarter black and three quarters metallic gray, or vice versa.
Moving from the outside in, a thin chapter ring holds protruding luminous hour markers. In between are smaller white painted sticks for minutes, and hash marks at 1/5 second increments corresponding to the measurement capability of the chronograph (this fact is also displayed with a red bar between one and two o'clock meant to depict the P-51's artificial horizon gauge).
Twelve (marked with a zero), three, six and nine feature huge luminous numbers in a font reminiscent of numbers painted on an airplane fuselage using a stencil. Red text describes the meca quartz movement at six...
..and the AVI-8 logo resides at (you guessed it), eight o-clock on the dial.
Ghost black, two-digit minute markers are present at the minutes where space allows on the dial. A white framed date lives at the typical 4:30 spot that you often see on three-register chronographs. I would have loved to see it rotated horizontally, and use a custom color like the P-51 Bottisham Automatic watches, but the current implementation matches well with the other dial elements.
The chronograph 60 minutes, and running seconds sub-dials are designed to look like mini airplane gauges, with square surrounds, and what appear to be tiny screws at each corner. The first fifteen minutes/seconds are framed in red. The minutes counter lives at 9:30, and the running seconds is seen at the bottom of the dial at six. These sub-dials feature a mix of red and white text and markers.
A 24 hour sub-dial which is linked to the main hour hand also exists at 2:30, acting as an AM/PM indicator. Normally I'd prefer a chronograph hour counter, but in this case since it is always pointing in different directions, it helps with the cockpit dial look.
On more traditional watches, I normally prefer when chronograph sub-dials line up with three, six and nine in the traditional compax layout. Seiko does make meca quartz movements like this, but I think using offset dials on the Blakeslee was the better call by AVI-8. Moving them upwards allows more space for the gauge styling elements. This helps fill the dial, looking more like a cockpit.
The P-51 uses Swiss Lume that appears bright white in the day, and bright green at night. The brightness and unique style should appease any lume junkie. The fact that AVI-8 made the numerals luminous tells me that their designers are true watch lovers.
The main hands on the P-51 feature a brushed silver outline with white lume at the cores. the centers and counter-balances are painted matte black.
These sword-shaped hands are inspired by those on the P-51's altimeter gauge, but they also look similar to what you would see on a traditional pilot's watch. Either way, they offer great legibility, and the same great lume as the dial.
The chronograph seconds hand is mostly a bright red stick, but also has a matte black center and counter-balance.
All three sub-dials feature stick hands that are white and matte black. They are not lumed, but are easy to read in most lighting.
A minor complaint about the main hands is that the large counter-balance on the minute hand can partially block the hour hand or sub-dials at certain times of the day. It does not happen often, but since it normally blends into to the black dial, I think that AVI-8 could have reduced the size of it without giving up much in the style department.
The P-51 uses a hardened mineral crystal that is domed and features a blue tinted anti-reflective coating.
The crystal has a minor magnification effect, which makes the dial pop more. It shows some distortion when viewed at acute angles.
The Legion variant of the Blakeslee comes on a stainless steel H-link bracelet. The links are double articulating, and the bracelet tapers from 22mm at the lugs to 18mm at the clasp. All of this makes the bracelet very flexible and comfortable.
The links are brushed on the top surfaces, and polished on the sides. They have split pins for resizing.
The clasp is a fairly standard stamped unit with three micro-adjust positions, a flip lock and two push buttons. It has an engraved AVI-8 logo, and features a machined inner hinge.
Other variants of the Blakeslee ship with stitched leather straps intended to look like the seats of a P-51. The straps look really nice in photos, but I think the bracelet works well on this black version.
The Blakeslee uses the Seiko VK-68 "Meca Quartz" chronograph movement. This is my first Meca Quartz watch (unless my previous Seiko 9T82 counts), so I did some reading up on how this type of movement works.
Your typical quartz chronograph uses individual stepper motors to power each of the hands. The result is a soft feeling when using the pushers, and a wait to watch the hands slowly rotate around the dial when the chronograph is reset to zero.
A Meca Quartz movement is still quartz-regulated, and powered by a battery, but a mechanical chronograph mechanism is used to measure elapsed time. This means that the stop, start and reset mechanisms have the crisp clicks, and snap back to zero of a traditional mechanical chronograph.
Unlike mechanical chronographs, however, you can press the reset button and set the chronograph back to zero without stopping it first. This is different from a flyback, as it does not continue running after the restart. Also, the chronograph minutes counter moves along slowly rather than jumping at the change of the minute, and when the timer reaches 60 minutes, the chronograph stops.
The VK-68 is only 5.1mm thick, has a three year battery life, and 20 second per month accuracy. The sub-seconds hand still ticks away at one second intervals, but the chronograph hand can measure 1/5 seconds.
So you won't have a true mechanical chronograph, but you're getting a lot of the experience in a thinner package that is easier to keep running and maintain (and much less expensive to purchase).
So who should buy the AVI-8 P-51 Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph? As I mentioned, the brand's whole collection is for people who love the aviation connection. The Blakeslee is fun because from a distance it appears to be a similar to a traditional pilot's watch. Only upon closer inspection do you see that it is filled with unique details.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm typically more of a traditional watch buyer, and was originally more drawn to some of the other models in their collection. If you read my recent review of the Seiko Safari though, you'll know that I've adopted a philosophy of having more fun with my watches. I'm looking to have fun experiences, and not take the hobby too seriously. After having the Blakeslee on my wrist for some time now, I find myself pretending that I'm looking at an airplane cockpit. It's one of those watches where you look at your wrist to check the time, and have to look a second time because you got distracted admiring the dial.
The Blakeslee starts at $285 for versions on a strap, and increases to $315, for versions like this Legion on a stainless steel bracelet. Yes, there are watches available with a Meca Quartz chronographs for lower prices. What those watches don't offer though, is the intricate detail of the dial on the Blakeslee. Add to that great lume, AR coating, and the unique case details, and you have a watch that offers a unique experience at a very reasonable price.
So if you're an aviation lover looking to strap some fun on your wrist at a modest price, this might be the watch for you!
What do you think of the AVI-8 P-51 Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph? Do you love pilot's watches, and/or watches with aviation style? Let us know on the forum!