Review: Debaufre Aircraft-8

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What you do know will hurt you. As a long-time lover of larger than life watches, I was pleased when Steinhart nee Debaufre released a line of watches to rival Bell & Ross’ attempts at recreating old-timey airplane dial. As I’ve mentioned many times before, Bell & Ross watches are obscenely huge and obscenely expensive so to find a watch that mimics – but does not totally copy – the B&R style for not much money excited that bargain-hunting watch-lover in me.

Sadly, however, I think this taste of paradise will make the average watch-lover desire a B&R even more, a sad state of affairs for someone who is trying to avoid spending $5 grand or more on a stinking watch.
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First, a pet peeve. Debaufre has a huge section of Rolex Submariner knock-offs that I don’t condone. The Submariner is such a boring style and so commonplace that knocking them off is akin to counterfeiting baby formula – it won’t end well for anyone. There are plenty of diving watches out there that are plenty water resistant and even have GMT hands that don’t have to look like something that would grace the wrist of an overly tanned, gut sprung sailboat captain just coming in to dock at Catalina Island. If your watch collecting bug is calling for a Rolex, buy a Rolex. You’re not fooling anyone.

That said, I’m just to the side of calling Debaufre out on their Aircraft series but this thing is sufficiently different to warrant a fair look. The watch itself has a 44m steel case and an ETA 2824-2 case – two things that make this stand out from the average Chinese-made lump. It is 3ATM water resistant – there is no screw down crown and the band is leather, so don’t test that rating – and it has a sweet seconds hand and date.

I bought the black faced model at $535 and am please by the readability and uniqueness. Unlike other big watches, the face font is quite readable and he hands are big and bold. Unfortunately, however, only the hands are luminous, leaving the pips and numbers dark at night. This is a huge no-no – I want to read a watch accurately in the dark or else I’d avoid the lume entirely. Giving me half a lume sandwich is almost as bad as giving me no lume at all.

The watch comes in a leather presentation box and includes a leather band with signed buckle. The back has a childish helicopter etched into stainless steel. The crown is nice and big and offers a choice of hand and automatic winding.

This is actually can make a fun woman’s watch, as well. My wife wore it all weekend and reported that it fit better than anything else I’ve given her. Like guy’s dress shirt or a ratty old concert tee, big watches look great on women.

Another peeve: the front of the watch has four weird little divots that are supposed to look like bolts. This is an obvious reference to the B&R screws that hold the watch together. I think both these divots and the B&R screws are too busy and should be done away with.

Would I recommend this over a real Instrument Series piece? Watches like these are the gateway to more expensive models, a stepping stone, if you will, to bigger expenditures. B&R do good work with movements and cases and even though this is running an ETA I’d be worried if something went wrong with the watch down the line. Buying one of these, selling it, and buying up. This is the recession special and the first in a long line of fine watches for many collectors but be warned – watch acquisition is a slippery slope.