One thing that virtually all luxury watchmakers have in common is that they like to claim a flawless finish. Some, of course, manage to be more flawless than others – but obvious imperfections are rarely found on timepieces carrying four-to-seven-figure price tags.
So perhaps it was an overdose of perfection caused by four days spent traipsing the halls at last year’s Baselworld showcase that caused the only obviously non-pristine piece I encountered to remain steadfastly in my memory.
Weeks later, I was still thinking about the classic Flieger by the historic German company Laco. The brand is well known for making watches for pilots and navigators during the 1940s, and examples of those large-diameter, hand-wound models have become highly sought-after by military watch collectors who appreciate the patina that speaks of being worn in combat.
Laco resumed manufacture of the exact Flieger style some years ago, making it possible to get the wartime look in a new watch – albeit one that was, of course, flawless. When I visited the stand at Baselworld, however, I discovered that Laco had decided to answer a demand for new Fliegers that look much older. As a result, it is now possible to buy examples (from £1,725) that have been artificially – and brilliantly – “aged” to make them virtually indistinguishable from the aircrew-worn originals of almost 80 years ago. I was instantly sold on the idea and, when I simply couldn’t get the watches out of my head, decided to take the plunge and order one through the UK dealer Page & Cooper.
The original-style Flieger Erbstück (heirloom) models are available in two case sizes (42mm or 45mm), with hand-wound or automatic movements, and with two types of dial – “A” (with dials marked 1-11) or “B” (with a 1-12 in the centre and the outside marked in numerals 5-55). The various combinations are identified by the names of German towns: I went for the Leipzig Erbstück (from £1,438), featuring a 42mm case with a hand-wound movement and B-dial.
Once I had decided on the specification, all that remained was to choose which of the three levels of “distressing” I wished the watch to be subjected to – and, being an all-or-nothing type of person, I naturally went for level three.
There followed a two-month wait while a single watchmaker worked his magic on the patination, which involves artfully denting, scratching and chipping the case; fading the luminous finish on the dial to a mellow, mushroom-like hue; and scraping a jagged hole in the blued-steel hour hand.
The back of the case is treated with heat and acid to effect a “scorched” appearance, and for the finishing touch the same process is applied to the strap lugs and winding crown.
For the sake of practicality, the sapphire crystal is left unscathed, but to round off the well-worn look, the watch is presented on an authentic, double-skinned, riveted and aged brown leather strap.
As watches go, it’s certainly not perfect – and that’s precisely why I love it.