Posted on April 26 2023
I've repeatedly explained how the brand makes aviation watches, often inspired by Britain's Royal Air Force. That was the case with the Royal British Legion Limited Edition, the Clowes Automatic and the Atlas Dual Time Chronograph.
And they're all large watches that have a distinctive aviation aesthetic, either using a traditional pilot's watch look (Clowes) or mimicking an aircraft control panel (Dual Time).
Then the Flyboy Tuskegee Airmen lands on my desk.
It's a modestly sized piece that looks more like a diver's watch than a pilot's watch and references a specific era of American military history. As you can imagine, I was keen to learn more.
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Avi-8 Flyboy Tuskegee Airmen Limited Edition Watch Review
Before we get into the watch it's worth noting the inspiration behind its creation. If you're familiar with Avi-8 then you'll know that its branding is based around aviation, with a particular emphasis on the British RAF. It's a niche that has gained the brand a loyal following and gives AVI-8 watches a particular look.
That look tends towards large, often complex watches, that either reference iconic pilot designs or take influence from aircraft cockpits in much the same way Bell & Ross does for the luxury market.
Avi-8 has collections built around classic aircraft like the Hawker Harrier, the P-51 Mustang and the Spitfire. But there are a few watches that also expand on this concept, the Royal British Legion Limited Edition being a great example - it was dedicated to all three branches of the British military.
So it wasn't a total surprise to see something a bit different from AVI-8, but there was a lack of familiarity with the back story. Spitfires? Yep, I'd heard of them. Tuskegee? Not so much.
And that brings us to the backstory of the Tuskegee Airmen model.
AVI-8 has teamed up with Tuskegee Airmen Inc to create another limited edition piece, this time to celebrate the experience of the Tuskegee Airman, and importantly, to raise funds for its youth programs.
Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?
In short, the Tuskegee Airmen were the pioneering African-Americans who worked as aircrew, ground crew and operations support in the Army Air Corps during WWII. Tuskegee Airmen Inc. has operated since 1975 to celebrate their contribution to the war effort and to help youth from disadvantaged backgrounds pursue flight training and other higher educational goals.
This release raises funds for their mission with 10% of net sales going to the non-profit organisation.
The watch therefore has a slightly different character to the previous AVI-8 models I've had and that begins with the packaging. Featuring art by Derrick Whitfield, himself ex-Navy, the packaging sets the tone. Whitfield's distinctive artwork is geometrical and makes it clear that this watch is a tribute to a very specific experience. It's decorated with his colourful and angular drawings of black pilots.
There are four variations of the AVI-8 Flyboy Tuskegee Airmen watch, each limited to 310 or fewer pieces. That's 1195 watches in total. Each variation is dedicated to one of the four all-black squadrons that made up the 332nd Fighter Group, with each colourway representing a squadron base. I have the Torretto.
What's my first impression of the Tuskegee Airmen Torretto?
It's a mid-sized dive-style watch that is powered by a meca-quartz movement. It's very wearable, colourful and is certainly well-made. I was pleasantly surprised at the modest sizing and found it comfortable to wear.
Let's take a look at the details.
The Avi-8 Flyboy Tuskegee Airmen Meca-Quartz Limited Edition Watch in Detail
I'm not one for getting excited about watch packaging. I know it adds to the overall experience and it makes sense that luxury goods should be presented as such. But still, it's just a box.
The Tuskegee Airmen is a little different. It's built around a cause, and that cause is about outward appearance. So it makes sense that the packaging should be eye-catching and should make clear the inspiration behind this collection.
It does that. In bucket loads.
As the earlier picture shows, the packaging features bold art by Whitfield, with plenty of colour and portraits that emphasise the collaboration with Tuskegee Airmen Inc. It gives the impression that this isn't a piece of military kit built to fly under the radar - instead the watch sits in bright yellow foam screaming for attention.
I like that. If you have a story to tell and a cause to raise money for, then why not shout it out?
But that's just the packaging. The watch itself is actually smaller and more toned-down than other AVI-8 watches. Certainly, it's the most understated one I've had my hands on and the best fit for my slim wrists.
The case comes in at 40mm wide and is forged from stainless steel. It's relatively straightforward and has a strong dive-watch vibe. It doesn't have crown guards but does have the uni-directional bezel that you'd expect of a dive watch. The bezel is such a dark blue that under most lighting conditions it looks black.
The bezel has a knurled finish that is flush with the case sides which, along with the absence of crown guards, reinforces the modest sizing. There's no overhang. At a little over 12mm thick, the watch also has a sleek profile - again, meaning it wears well.
There are four colourways, black, blue, red and the silver one I have.
Against the deep blue steel bezel, the silver dial really pops and the textured surface is attractive when caught in the right light. There are applied markers - equipped with Newlite lume - and the markers at 12, 3, 6 and 9 are accented with red borders. The chapter ring has an extra touch of colour for the first 15min section and there's the Tuskegee Airmen Inc logo at the foot of the dial. It's not a busy dial and there's no date window to spoil the symmetry.
I've described this watch as a dive-style model but the hands would work equally as well on an aviation model. That blending of styles is important and preserves AVI-8's aviation connection which is at the heart of the brand. The Japanese meca-quartz movement ensures that the unusual second hand has a pleasing sweep.
The dial is protected by a domed mineral crystal with an AR coating.
You know I've just mentioned that this is a dive-style watch?
That's because it doesn't have the necessary specs of a full diver (but there is 50M of water resistance). So, as expected, the crown doesn't screw down. However, it is signed. Not with AVI-8's logo, but with the Tuskegee Airmen Inc logo again. That continuity between the dial and crown works for me and puts the non-profit at the centre of the branding.
The 20mm lugs house a vintage-style real leather strap, blue on this model. Turn it over though and it's a vibrant red. In a nice touch, one half of the strap is embossed with AVI-8's moniker and the other with Tuskegee Airmen wording.
Finally, the case back features a light-hearted piece of art, details of the specs and the watch's unique limited edition numbering.
It's a handsome watch that directly raises money to fund pilot training, but softens the aviation aesthetic usually seen on AVI-8 watches. With slim wrists and a handful of pilot's watches, I can appreciate the subtle stylistic changes. The smaller case also adds versatility to the watch that suits my personal tastes.
AVI-8 makes aviation watches. It's in the name. And the Tuskegee Airmen model is inspired by pilots. It's in the name.
But this isn't a typical aviation watch and that works to its benefit, particularly as last year's Tuskegee Airmen collaboration was a true pilot's watch. For me, the dive-style aesthetic - with subtle nods to aviation - is a good move. The watch is very wearable, and versatile and will most likely be worn by buyers who don't scuba dive anyway.
It's another successful watch that comes in enough colourways to keep most people happy and which raises money for a worthy cause. It also acts as a reminder of the history of WWII and the part that different communities played in the Allies' victory.