Independent watch company Butler looks to an analog past and a digital future

Small watch companies are nimble. They can try lots of things including creating limited-edition pieces dedicated to archaic VOR skylanes and apps dedicated to making a pilot’s life a little easier. Take Butler, for example. The company has just released the J80, a quartz chronograph with just enough Speedmaster styling to be cool and enough uniqueness to be worth a second look.

The Butler J80 is named after Jet Route 80, a flight path that spans from California to Maine. This globe-girdling skylane helped pilots fly without instruments back when that was a thing. Now pilot’s watches are used more for timing the brisket smoker than landing at LAX but a weekend warrior can dream.

Butler has also released the free Butler Time Flies app, a world clock similar to the classic Swiss Army travel clocks of yore. The app lets you set different time zones and a premium upgrade lets you mimic the J80 on your phone, complete with chronograph.

Why would you want to do this? And why is Butler going all-in when it comes to apps? Because, slowly but surely, the impetus to wear a watch is coming back to the tech set. The Apple Watch has primed the pump, so to speak, and companies like Butler – run by former pilot Corey Butler – are poised to take advantage of this move. The folksy tale of Jet Route 80 and the stark looks of the watch and app add a frisson of utility to a timepiece that is at once well-built and affordable.

The watch runs a Ronda 5021.D Analog Chronograph movement and has a date window at six o’clock. The pushers are a little stumpy for my taste but they are evocative of some early Seiko chronos, so I’ll allow it. The face is really nice and, though liberally applied, the pips around the inner ring don’t make things too busy or unreadable. For $459 on a leather strap you’re getting a unique, usable chronograph from a small American manufacturer – one of my favorite kinds of deals.

Would I like this chronograph to be mechanical? Would I like a GMT hand on here? Definitely. But for what it is – a clever homage to a wonderful time in American aviation and a handsome watch – I’m sold. Plus it comes with an app!

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