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Junghans Meister Pilot Brings a Less is More Approach to Aviation Watches

Junghans Bundeswehr J88

Outside of the upper echelons of Glashutte-based watchmaking, German watchmaking is synonymous with Bauhaus and that very specific flavour of ‘form follows function’. It’s something the country has been doing since the movement took off in the early 20th century, a movement defined by its minimal simplicity.

It’s why we have, in German watchmaking, so many streamlined, white dialled watches with cool typography and the occasional geometric shape. But while the signature aesthetics of Bauhaus are instantly-recognisable – especially in a watchmaker like Junghans – the sentiment, that need for clarity and clarity of purpose, is equally defined in another German horological archetype: the Flieger.

Zeppelin LZ 55

Zeppelin LZ 55 over Schramberg

Pilots’ watches have a lot in common with other aesthetically minimal timepieces, for good reason. They need to be clean, clear and able to be read at a glance. They’re strictly functional timepieces rather than anything meant to look good, but that in itself has led to a handsome, utilitarian archetype that, while designed with an ethos parallel to Bauhaus, looks completely different. Just take Junghans’ pilots’ watches as an example.

Junghans’ heritage in the air is less pervasive than some, but still a historically integral part of the brand. As early as 1917, their cockpit timekeeper was aboard the Zeppelin LZ 55, a WWI airship that reached an altitude of 7,600m. Junghans continued providing airship clocks well into the 1930s, even introducing an early system of electronic synchronisation, where adjusting the main pilots’ clock would do the same to every other clock on board. It’s the closest anyone got to a smart Zeppelin.

Junghans Airship Clocks

Junghans airship clock from the cockpit of the Zeppelin L55

Ill-fated airships aside, Junghans also made a name for themselves equipping the legendary Messerschmidt Me 110 with its cockpit clocks in the 1930s and, a couple of decades later, introduced 24-hour onboard clocks in an industry first. So far so static, but when the Bundeswehr, Germany’s modern armed forces needed pilots’ watches just after its 1955 establishment, they turned to Junghans.

The result was a phenomenal pilots’ chronograph, one equipped with the J88 intermediate wheel chronograph. Alongside its solid chronograph and looks defined by its multi-faceted, uber-practical bezel, it was tested to within an inch of its life in every centrifugal force in Junghan’s home of Schramberg and to this day is a seriously collectible mil-spec timepiece. Indeed, the Bundeswehr watch has had a lasting impact on Junghans’ modern pilots’ offerings across their range, most obviously in the new Meister Pilot models.

Junghans Meister Pilot Automatic Navy Blue

Junghans Meister Pilot Automatic Navy Blue, €1,990

The three new models are gorgeous, in a vintage military kind of way. The most authentic to the original watch are the two Meister Pilot Chronoscope pieces, which share a lot in common with what was on the wrists of the Bundeswehr. That means the same faceted bezel designed to be operable with flight gloves; the same bi-compax layout, and the same crisp numerals for readability at a glance and in all light conditions.

Junghans Meister Pilot Chronoscope Navy Blue
Junghans Meister Pilot Chronoscope Desert

Junghans Meister Pilot Chronoscope, €2,590

Where they differ however is in finishing. Both pieces have a brown-black DLC coating, not quite as harsh as the spec ops themes of all black, but still a stealthier look to the usually plain steel watch. It gives it a sort of rugged, gunmetal vibe like aged steel. Similar are the dials, available in blue or sand, which offer the kind of fume gradient synonymous with vintage-styled modern watches, the latter being a particular looker. Paired with contrasting subdials in their usual three and nine positions, there’s a lot more going on aesthetically here than the stripped back look of the original pilots’ watches, but it’s all good.

Junghans Meister Pilot Automatic Navy Blue

The final of the three is a greater departure. It shares a lot of its looks with the navy Meister Pilot Chronoscope, but ditches the chronograph in favour of a small seconds subdial and oversized date window. You could argue that it’s a bit too big a departure from the source material, but it definitely has its place.

Either way it’s clear that Junghans understand how less can be more. Whether it’s their Bauhaus-inspired Max Bill collaborations or the Bundeswehr watch that still has a formative impact on their pilots’ pieces, form follows function – and thankfully that form’s turned out very handsome indeed.

More details at Junghans.

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About the author

Sam Kessler

Legend has it that Sam’s first word was ‘escapement’ and, while he might have started that legend himself, he’s been in the watch world long enough that it makes little difference. As the editor of Oracle Time, he’s our leading man for all things horological – even if he does love yellow dials to a worrying degree. Owns a Pogue; doesn’t own an Oyster Perpetual. Yet.

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