Early Cold War-era military pilots’ chronographs are having something of a renaissance. From last year’s reissued Zenith Heritage Cronometro Tipo CP-2 to the increasing prices of vintage Heuer 1550 SG Bundeswehrs, it is clear that this school of watch is very much en vogue for today’s collector.
Founded in 1955, Germany’s modern armed forces (collectively known as the Bundeswehr) were created by NATO-allied West Germany to help defend against the threat posed by East Germany and the Warsaw Pact. In 1958, Junghans replaced Hanhart as the Bundeswehr’s contracted air force watch supplier, producing the J88 Bundeswehr Chronograph for the Luftwaffe until 1967. One of the J88’s defining features was its unusually shaped bezel. Scaled to 60 minutes, the bezel is twelve-sided for an easier, more ergonomic grip. Junghans reissued the J88 – albeit slightly tweaked – to great acclaim at Baselworld last year in the form of the Meister Pilot. And the brand has now added an updated black DLC-coated version of the Meister Pilot to its catalogue.
As with the 2016 reissue, the new Meister Pilot has a 43.3mm stainless-steel case, an automatic calibre based on the ETA 2824 with Dubois Depraz 2030 chronograph module, water-resistance of 100m, domed sapphire crystal, sword-shaped hour and minute hands, the J88’s dual sub-dial layout, and, of course, the characteristic dodecahedral bezel. The differences lie with the DLC-coating and “tropical” brown or blue dial (its predecessor had a simple black face). The leather strap, in either distressed brown or blue, has also been updated.
The DLC-coating builds on the Meister Pilot’s genuine tool-watch heritage, giving the vintage-styled watch a modern twist with the professional connotations that attract many buyers to issued/tool watches in the first place. On a more functional level, the coating also provides protection against light dings and abrasion. While some may prefer the raw steel of the original, variety is indeed the spice of life, and the demand for PVD’d versions of classics was enough to make Bamford Watch Department an unabashed success and prompt Jean-Claude Biver to knock on its door, LVMH-contract in hand.
Due in no small part to its relative obscurity and efficacious bezel design, the Meister Pilot is a great choice among today’s vintage-inspired air force watches. And it’s priced below £2,500, so you can’t really go wrong.