Posted on June 14 2020
A Detailed Look at this Young Aviation Watch Brand
It would be easy to assume that tastes are fixed. That once I’d decided what I wanted in a watch I could focus in on specific brands and from there individual models. It’s natural that as we age we become stuck in our ways. The same clothes, the same haircut, and presumably, the same watches.
I don’t find that happening. The more I blog about watches and the more that I research, the more I broaden my tastes. It seems that there’s always one more style to explore further. Another model with just enough to warrant a second look. And in this case, an additional brand that I’d not previously considered.
A few years back, a friend showed me his Avi-8 watch and I didn’t really give it much attention. He was importing watches from abroad to sell online. He’d bought an Avi-8 watch as a sample. It was a nice enough piece, but from a new brand I’d not heard of, and at a time when I was focused on microbrands.
A few years later, and like Stuhrling, Avi-8 watches kept popping up on my radar. At the least, this deserved a little more investigation.
Who are Avi-8 Watches and where are they made? More importantly, are they any good?
They’re a new company, owned by Hong-kong based Dartmouth Brands. Affordable watches, produced in China and with the specifications that you’d expect at that price point. Their collections feature both mechanical and quartz models, all powered by Japanese movements.
On just these basics I wanted to dig a little deeper.
What is the Avi-8 Story?
The brand has tenuous links to the UK, in that a director has British citizenship and, as we’ll see, British aviation plays a large part in the companies design inspiration.
As they state “Our collection of timepieces seeks to honour both the aircraft and the untold story of the airmen who have dedicated themselves both in and out of the cockpit to bring these incredible machines to life”.
The result is a series of watches inspired by general and specific aviation themes. There’s a trend towards the classic styles, particularly in the models that I’ve chosen to highlight. There’s familiarity in the names -models dedicated to the Spitfire and the Lancaster Bomber. And there’s a brand consistency that I always find reassuring.
Despite having high-lighted Avi-8’s use of British aviation history in the brand’s design and imagery, the first watch that caught my attention was the Layfayette Chronograph. As the name suggests, there’s a French/American connection here.
This watch was named after the Layayette Escadrille - a unit of American volunteers who flew fighters for the French during WWI.
There are touches of the modern in this watch, but that is complimented with more vintage points. The 42mm case and stainless steel bracelet feel contemporary, but that is offset by the art deco numerals, onion crown and syringe-style hands.
The dial is stunning and available in four colours. Although blue is my preference, both white and Salmon work well. The dial is layered, with sunken sub-dials. The horizontal lines are inspired by the wing pattern of a Nieuport 17 - an aircraft flown by many members of the Escadrille.
And that’s what I really enjoy about this watch. There are little references to aviation history, from the model’s name to the Indian head insignia engraved on the case back.
It’s clear that a lot of thought went into the design, with an emphasis on producing a watch that takes inspiration from historical events without just being a modern reproduction. It’s a theme that seems pretty consistent throughout the Avi-8 range.
Avi-8 Flyboy AV-4076-22 Lafayette Chronograph
Another Chronograph from the Flyboy collection, and another beauty.
The vintage aesthetic is more apparent in this model, despite some of the similarities with the first watch. Again it’s reasonably large, with a 43mm case. There are that layered chronograph dial and the over-sized onion crown.
But without the bracelet and some of the other modern styling, we get a design that harks back to an earlier time while retaining the aviation theme.
Again, it’s the details that I enjoy here. The red, white and blue stitching on the strap, and the red detailing on the hands. This little colouring enhances the design without compromising the authentic military aspect.
Avi-8 Flyboy AV-4054-02
The Eagle Squadron watch - a limited edition - shares a common theme with the first watch. Like the Lafayette, the designs inspiration comes from American volunteer pilots. This time, a squadron who fought for the British Royal Air Force before the American’s were dragged into WWII.
Aside from the aviation link, there’s little else shared by the two watches. Cased in Bronze, rather than stainless steel, this model has simplified the design and functions and upgraded the specifications.
There are the basic three hands, powered by Seiko’s NH35A automatic movement, the same as that used in Northwind’s Armstrong model. The mineral crystal of the previous models is replaced by a sapphire crystal. Of course, the price does reflect this.
It’s a smaller and slimmer watch, that works due to the paired down styling. Rather than the textured and layered dial of the Lafayette, the Eagle Squadron presents a less busy face. The colouring is also stripped down and will be replaced by a patina as the watch ages.
As with any limited edition, you’ll probably need to make your mind up fairly quickly on this one. Each of the 300 pieces is individually numbered.
Avi-8 Flyboy AV-4071-01 Eagle Squadron Bronze Automatic
I’m tempted to suggest that everything that I’ve grown to like about this brand comes together in the Hurricane Chronograph. It could have quite easily been on my list of favourite vintage-inspired chronographs.
There’s a real vintage charm that doesn’t hint at the modern Japanese quartz movement held within. Again, it feels authentic, with the name taken from the iconic WWII fighter that actually caused more losses to the Luftwaffe than the Spitfire.
More than the history and the quality of the watch, it’s the symmetry of the dial that captures my attention. The numbers places at 12, 4 and 8 allow the two sub-dials to sit horizontally in the centre of the dial. Placing the date neatly in at 6 o’clock keeps things symmetrical and uncluttered.
The large pumpkin crown is a distinctive feature that enhances the overall design.
Avi-8 Hawker Hurricane AV-4015-03 Hurricane Chronograph
The Hurricane is well known, but the Lancaster Bomber is an RAF legend, having been the primary bomber used in WWII. It seems appropriate that a watch built in tribute to the heavy bomber should be a chunky 44mm piece, the largest watch featured here.
Again, the appeal is in the simplicity. It’s an unashamedly vintage design with the pumpkin crown and slim lugs. Even the strap is straightforward, without the colourful stitching of the Flyboy Chronograph.
Ideally, I would have preferred if this was a mechanical model, but the quartz movement wouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
Avi-8 Lancaster Bomber AV-4067-02
By now there should be a familiarity with Avi-8’s output. This model is a variation on that theme. A slightly more expensive automatic from the Hurricane collection.
It has design features in common with previous models and also unique details. In common with the others, it has tried and tested vintage styling. This is blended with some interesting details, my favourite of which is the rotor customised into the profile of the Hawker aircraft. This is visible through the exhibition case back.
Turning the watch around, the dial is reasonably complex. There’s the textured finish and the slightly confusing mixture of hour and minute numerals. What this does, and it’s not immediately apparent, is create a subtle propeller layout on the dial. It’s an interesting element and something that adds to the watches overall appeal.
Avi-8 Hawker Hurricane Automatic AV-4046-01
Stylistically the Battle of Britain watch is similar to the model above. Yet, in many ways, it’s much more. It’s a little ironic as it is currently the cheaper of the two watches.
Let’s forget about the automatic movement and upgrade to a sapphire crystal for the time being. This watch, like most of the ones that excite me, is all about the story. It’s the small details and the story that will determine if this is the watch for you.
1963 aircraft were involved in the Battle of Britain. This watch was produced in a limited run of 1963 watches, each hand-engraved with its unique number. On the side of the case are the letters RF D, a tribute to the Polish pilots of 303 Squadron who fought in the battle.
Like the previous watch, the hands are modelled on the Hurricane’s propellers and the Japanese Miyota 8215 movement also has the same customised rotor. The watch is then presented in a large, military-inspired case.
Avi-8 Hawker Hurricane AV-4046-04 Battle of Britain Automatic Ltd Ed
The final high-lighted watch is a reasonably standard and very affordable piece. It’s the cheapest on the list.
Although it’s available in white and cream dial options, I prefer the black dial that creates a contrast with the white hands. That contrast recreates the instrument panel of a cockpit. It’s an aviation-style used by Bell & Ross and others.
It works well. You can’t mistake this watch as anything other than an aviation piece. It’s an appropriate place to end our look at this brand.
Avi-8 Hawker Hurricane AV-4053-0G Altimeter
There’s a couple of ways to view the Avi-8 brand. If I was going to be critical I’d question their real links to Britain and focus on the fact that the watches are produced in China.
I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.
I’ve noted previously, as much as I love a brands story and history, I also like to judge a brand on the watches that they produce. Avi-8 have forced the brand story, by taking aviation history as a concept weaving their own tale around it.
For the most part, it works. The watches feel authentic. Like there has been a genuine attempt to let history inform the design. The Battle of Britain watch is a great example of this.
As for Chinese production?
Most of my favourite watches are made there, it’s part and parcel of smaller brands producing affordable watches. Like their competitors, Avi-8 equip their watches with Japanese movements to ensure a high level of quality.
Have your own thoughts about Avi-8 watches? Comment below.