Friday, September 19, 2008

Debaufre Nav-B Review (44mm version)















Debaufre makes many fine watches as those of you who read this site already know. The one model of their's that I personally think has generated the most interest from the collector's community is their pilot's watch, the Nav-B. This piece, really more than any other I can think of, has successfully re-introduced the classic flyer's watch back to the market in an attainable way. I've been wistfully looking at one of these for some time now. After all the positive comments I've heard about the Nav-B, I had to put in my own two cents. In a nutshell, if you know the feeling you get when you handle something that is really exceptionally well done then you will recognize it in the Nav-B. It's that sensation when nothing catches your eye as being out of whack somehow. I’ve played with some pretty fancy watches as a collector. They’ve got nothing on this beauty.

A little history first. The Nav-B is loosely based on a military aviator’s watch. The original Beobachtungs-Uhrens, (manufactured by IWC, Laco, Stowa, Wempe & Lange) were made for the German air force. They were enormous watches, more like clocks really, measuring 55mm in diameter and meant to be worn on the arm outside of a flight jacket. (see-here). The Debaufre Nav-B takes this concept and brings it down to a more manageable size, in this case 44mm. (They also make a bigger version at 48mm. That’s big to be sure but its looks are really stunning.) Like the early aviator watches it is based on, the Nav-B is designed to be simple and easy to read with excellent contrast on the dial. In this respect Debaufre succeeded admirably. As an aside, if you are interested in learning a bit more about the history of military timepieces, that a look at the links provided by the Watchuseek Pilot and Military Watches Forum

On to the watch itself. The Nav-B measures 44mm in width, not including the crown (it's a hair over 49mm with it). While this is billed as a smaller version of Debaufre’s earlier Nav-B model, don’t think for a minute that smaller means small. 44mm is hardly dainty by anyone’s standard. The watch is 14mm in thickness, a bit over 52mm lug to lug and has a 22mm band lug width. The watchband, in what is becoming a Debaufre trend, is a beautiful piece of leather that features a riveted design like early military watchbands. The thick buckle merits mention too. It isn't the usual piece of sheet metal. (Incidentally, if you are looking for a really nice replacement band, Debaufre has a good selection of these watchbands on their website. The Havana Old Vintage model, in particular, catches my eye.) The Nav-B uses Superluminova lume on its hands and face. The crystal is a domed sapphire model, with what I believe is an anti reflective coating, to effectively ward off scratches and further improve visibility. Water resistance is rated at 3atm which is fine as the Nav B makes no pretense at being a diver’s watch. (Take a look at the Ocean One if you plan to get wet) Lastly, the Nav-B Unitas models feature a see-through crystal caseback to show off the movement.

Internally, the Nav-B is powered by a 17 jewel Unitas 6497 hand wound movement. Originally developed by the firm of Auguste Reymond, and now made by ETA, the Unitas is an old and well regarded movement that has proven itself to be both rugged and accurate. For a history of the Unitas, see the Unitas Reference Site. (Lately, the supply of these movements and many others from ETA, the largest of the Swiss movement suppliers, has been shrinking. ETA has announced that they want to cease supplying movements to the rest of the watch industry. Service will not be a problem going forward as the parts are widely available but new watches with these movements may become harder to find).

The Nav-B is an undeniably handsome watch. The face is simple and easy to read but still interesting to the eye. The blued hands give the Nav-B an old fashoined elegance in my opinion. The large knurled onion style crown compliments that classic look perfectly. You might be concerned that a 44mm watch could be cumbersome on the wrist. However, despite its size, the Nav-B wears very comfortably indeed.

I have always appreciated the look of the early pilot's watches. They possess a classic simplicity that reflects the job they were made for. I had also pretty much resigned myself to never being able to own a well made example of one. Like most folks, an IWC pilot watch is simply out of the question price-wise. (There are whole airplanes that cost less than the IWC . That is not an exaggeration.) That Debaufre can sell a pilot’s watch that looks and feels as good as the Nav-B for what they are charging, is remarkable.

12 Comments:

Blogger ANTON C said...

Great review Ed!

Thanx a lot!

10:58 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Thanks man :)

2:30 PM  
Anonymous shukri said...

I saw this pre-owned Debaufre Nav-B at a second hand shop. Check-out ebay but none was being auctioned.
Check out google and found this great review by Mr Ed.

I will be the latest owner of Nav-B when the shop opened tomorrow morning. For US$450, I think it is a steal.

Cheers
Shukri
from Malaysia

9:06 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Good to hear. Glad you liked the review

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just stumbled upon this blog. Very nice. Great pics, and even better reviews. I'm looking for an inexpensive, but quality watch that is somewhat unique (but minimal not flashy). I like some of the Marathon offerings at countycomm, but they get pricey. Do you have any recommendations for a man's watch with a military bent to it that could be worn to work? I work in a business dress environment if it makes a difference (in-house counsel).

Thanks!

-Joe

8:53 PM  
Blogger Joe Monkeyweb said...

Another question:

Do you have any recommendations for a reputable place that purchases vintage watches in Manhattan? I have a Hamilton in great condition from the 1940s that I would like to sell or trade.

Thanks!

9:22 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

For a nice military watch that is more affordable than a Marathon SAR, how about a British mil watch. Do a google for Cabot Watch Company. I think they are sold through Silvermans and are also found on ebay. Their chronographs are up there price wise but they have some more affordable models. For really affordable military, go for a Vostok Amphibia. They are crude in some respects but very tough.

As for a buyer of a vintage Hamilton, Central Watch Band Stand in Grand Central Station sells many fine vintage pieces. They may buy them too. Can't hurt to shoot them an email. Google their name for their site. Good luck with it.

12:16 AM  
Blogger WholeForce said...

Great review. It got me looking at the Debaufre site. And, I discovered the Airforce Orange... Have you seen that model and do you have any opinions or thoughts about it. I am going back and forth between that the the Nav-B. Thanks.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

That's a cool watch. Conceptually similar to the Nav-B but with a different case. It's a big watch and the orange lume looks terrific in my opinion.

10:06 PM  
Blogger WholeForce said...

Well, I ordered the Airforce Orange. I emailed Jon at Debaufre who told me he had one S&D model (sales and development?) for 35% off! That made it much easier to pull the trigger. I should have it in 3-4 days. Thanks for clueing me into the company. Their support has so far been great.

3:49 PM  
Blogger WholeForce said...

I liked the Airforce Orange so much I also order the Nav-B. I received delivery of the 44mm Nav-B Unitas hand wound watch 8 days ago. It has been on my wrist almost every waking hour since then. The watch is absolutely beautiful; in a non-flashy non-blingy way. The case is meticulously machined. The face is a picture of classic lines, legibility, simplicity and elegance. At the same time the Nav-B is masculine in appearance with a healthy dose of pilot watch military style. The back is equally visually impressive while the hands, crown and strap round out the robust but extremely refined package. The rounded sapphire crystal is a perfect compliment to this watch offering beauty, durability and relatively low light reflection. Finally, the Unitas movement is a joy to wind. This version of the Nav-B is also extremely accurate. I don’t believe it has lost or gained a minute in the past eight days. The size and heft of the crown add to the tactile pleasure. Less tangibly but equally important is the fantastic service I’ve received from the Debaufre team. Elsa and Jon have been extremely and unusually attentive, responsive and accommodating. All in all, I am extremely and unusually pleased with my Debaufre Nav-B purchase. (I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a Debaufre chronograph down the road…..).

5:12 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

I agree completely. Between the quality and the overall service that you get from Debaufre, at times it feels like these pieces should cost significantly more than they do. Enjoy the Nav-B.

Ed

5:26 PM  

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