Posted on July 28 2022
It might seem like an odd question, but it was my first thought when I got my hands on Avi-8's bold new special edition.
It does something that I've not seen before in a pilot or military watch. It references both sides of a conflict and there has never been a conflict bigger than World War 2.
The Clowes Automatic is built in tribute to a British pilot - a hero of the Battle of Britain - but begins with a watch design first created for the Luftwaffe.
It's an intriguing concept and one that grabbed my attention from the outset. Let's take a closer look.
Avi-8 Hawker Hurricane Clowes Northolt AV-4097-04
Avi-8 Clowes Automatic Watch Review
Before we get into the specifics of the Clowes automatic I'd like to clarify the inspiration behind this distinctive watch. For many fans, this is the primary appeal of Avi-8 as a brand. Their watches - each collection and every model - pay homage to aviation history. Specifically British military aviation.
That's a unique selling point in itself.
The Hawker Hurricane collection is named after the fighter aircraft that gave the Luftwaffe even more losses than the better-known Spitfire.
Bear with me here, there's a lot to take in.
This new special edition release, the Clowes, is inspired by Pilot Officer A V “Taffy” Clowes of the Royal Air Force's No. 1 Squadron. The No. 1 Squadron was one of the RAF's most successful units and excelled during the Battle of Britain. Clowes was one of the Squadron's more colourful characters. He brought down at least twelve Luftwaffe aircraft - each kill noted on the wasp painting on his plane's nose.
Finally, this bronze variation adds the Northolt moniker - a reference to the airfield used during the defence of London throughout the war.
I'm sure you'll agree, this watch is very specific and enthusiastic about its British inspiration. So why the German Flieger aesthetic?
Presumably, because it's such a successful and iconic aviator design. Flieger watches by the likes of IWC, A. Lange & Söhne, Stowa and Laco were created at the same time as Clowes was piloting his Hawker Hurricane. It's a convenient way to recreate the styling of the era. I'd also like to think that the fusion of German and British influences is a not-so-subtle acknowledgement that the two nations have peacefully collaborated for seventy years.
So what is my first impression of the Hawker Hurricane Clowes Automatic?
It's a well-designed modern take on the established Flieger design. It adds colour - an earthy mix of bronze, green and brown - and offers the build quality and specs that I'd expect at this price point.
It's large, colourful, bold and very distinctive, while also retaining the core elements that make the Flieger a continuously popular design.
Let's dig into the details because that is where this watch is a winner.
The Avi-8 Hawker Hurricane Clowes Watch in Detail
The brand describes the Clowes as "a stunning re-invention of the classic automatic pilot watch", and that is a pretty good summary. There's no mistaking this watch for anything other than a vintage-influenced pilot's watch.
The oversized case is the most obvious feature and will probably be the deciding factor for potential buyers. At 46mm this is no shrinking violet. It's a watch that makes a statement and on your wrist will have a constant presence.
Why so big?
Large cases were a trademark of the original 1940s aviation watches, with a common case diameter of 55mm. Against those monsters, the Clowes looks almost dainty. But this watch style is big for a reason - they're designed to be worn by pilots in combat. It's crucial that they're large and legible.
If you like Flieger watches then you already like your watches to be substantial.
So having sung the praises of these larger pieces, I was actually pleasantly surprised that the Avi-8 wore quite small. The bronze case, with its clean lines and rich colouring, has curved lugs that hug your wrist. It's a definite positive on a watch with a wide diameter.
The large onion crown - designed to be turned by a gloved hand - doesn't intrude as much as you may have thought. Again, it was surprisingly comfortable.
While the case design harks back to the innovation of the Luftwaffe, the stainless steel case back is all about the RAF. The engraving is a welcome break from the ubiquitous exhibition back and features the badge of Clowe's No. 1 Squadron. It screws down to ensure that the watch has 50M of water resistance.
Above I suggested that this watch wins due to the details, By that, I specifically meant the details of the dial. It really is stunning.
If you're familiar with World War 2 era pilots' watches then you'll no doubt recognise the layout of the dial. It's a classic, tried and tested, Flieger Type B dial layout - minutes around the outer dial with the smaller hours noted on an inner ring.
What makes this watch stand out is the excellent use of layers, colours and textures. Let me explain.
The moulded deep green dial features a camouflage pattern drawn directly from Arthur Clowes Hurricane. How's that for authenticity?
The large minute indexes are raised and custom-made from Swiss lume and as expected, the marker at twelve uses the recognisable Flieger triangle with two dots. But what I really like are the subtle departures from the standard Flieger DNA. At the dials southern pole, for example, there's a discreet date window, and above it, the code of Clowe's aircraft.
In a nice touch, his squadron's motto - in omnibus princeps (first in all things), is at the foot of the dial. The well-lumed hands follow the German Flieger template while the counter-weight on the second hand is modelled on a British Hurricane plane. Again, a nice blend of the two nations.
Taken all together, this busy dial works, particularly the green, red and bronze colour palette. It retains enough of the historical design to be recognisable as a German aviation model while updating the style and colouring to offer something new and unique.
Inside the Avi-8 Clowes is a reliable Japanese automatic movement, a Seiko NH calibre that is popular with brands at this price point.
Rounding out the watch is a 22mm brown leather strap that tapers to 18mm at the bronze signed buckle. Again, it's authentic to the period and adds to the comfort. At 46mm wide and over 13mm thick, it makes sense to reduce the heft of the watch by ditching a metal bracelet.
Like most bold and colourful watches, the Avi-8 Clowes special edition won't be for everyone. It's too distinctive and too focused. It really is a watch that has picked a niche and then concentrated 100% on that market.
But if you're a fan of aviation watches or you want a watch influenced by British history?
Then this model from Avi-8 could well be the watch for you.
It has a fascinating back story and a delightful dial. This bronze-cased variant is even more intriguing - it adds a militaristic colour palette to the standard German design. So you get the reliable and robust pilot's watch, but also an eye-catching design that sets this model apart from the plain black and white models.
It's an exciting new release from Avi-8 and it does answer the question about when a Flieger watch isn't a German Flieger watch.