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.