In Focus Watches

Riley Watch Co. Jerrie Cobb Solar Is a Tribute to an Underappreciated Female Aviator

Riley Watch Co. Jerrie Cobb Solar JC01

In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. After being selected from over 400 applicants to leave the atmosphere aboard the Vostok 6 mission, she represented a milestone for women across the world. And yet, while Tereshkova actually made it into space, halfway across the world, the other side of the Iron Curtain, aviator Jerrie Cobb was doing her best to do the same at NASA.

Cobb was no stranger to the air. After her first flight at age 12 (this was in the 1950s so don’t assume it was a comfortable ride) she made a career out of flying military aircraft around the world. In 1959 she became a test pilot for Rockwell International, setting the then record for altitude at 37,010 feet during the development of the Aero Commander. Having broken speed and distance records too, she was an aviation pioneer. So, when the fantastically named Dr. William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace II was looking for women to undertake the same testing regiment as NASA’s nascent astronauts, she was the obvious choice as his first recruit.

Jerrie Cobb Mercury Capsule

Pioneering female pilot Jerrie Cobb next to a Mercury 13 capsule.

In 1960, Cobb passed the tests, proving that she could handle the necessary forces to make it out of the atmosphere. Not only that, but she recruited tens of other pilots to take the tests, which in total 13 women passed. They were dubbed the Mercury 13. Unfortunately, the project came to an abrupt halt. It was a crushing loss, and while Tereshkova’s flight proved once and for all what Cobb knew – that women were just as suited to space flight as men – it also compounded the idea that the Mercury 13 would never get there themselves.

Instead of lingering on the disappointment however, Cobb immediately took to the skies again, this time in South America, carrying medicine to the indigenous people of the Amazon. She did so in an Aero Commander 500B (fitting given her early involvement with the model line) dubbed ‘Juliet’, before upgrading a few years later to a Britten-Norman BN-2A Islander, which was perfectly suited to the muddy, rugged landscape where an airstrip was a luxury.

Jerrie Cobb

Having set the record for altitude during the development of the Aero Commander, passed NASA’s astronaut test, flown medicine to the Amazon, and fought discrimination to become an aeronautical pioneer, Jerrie Cobb (above) can now add a Riley watch created in her honour to her list of achievements.

This was flight at its most pioneering since aviation’s earliest days. Maps were never a given and journeys required meticulous planning, where one wrong move would mean being stranded alone. It’s mildly terrifying and documented in her autobiography Jerrie Cobb: Solo Pilot. It’s one hell of a ride.

So, why does Jerrie Cobb matter? Well, for one thing her legacy of promoting equality is one that even today more people should take note of. She was fighting discrimination before it was even illegal and combined with her aeronautical achievements mean she should, by rights, be a household name. She also happens to be the inspiration behind the latest collection from Riley watches.

Riley Watch Co. Jerrie Cobb Solar JC01
Riley Watch Co. Jerrie Cobb Solar JC01

Having already paid tribute to the giants of aviation that are Howard Huges and Amelia Earhart, Riley’s third member of their pioneering triumvirate is the Cobb, a handsome, cushion cased tribute to Jerrie’s groundbreaking (and leaving) career.

First off, the case. With its smooth curves and shallow angles, the 38mm stainless steel piece is both a nod to space race engineering and, perhaps more importantly, a healthy dose of 1970s-slanted charm. The Mercury 13 may have been early ‘60s, but as we’ve already gone over, Cobb was active well into the ‘70s and beyond. That’s amped up with a retro dial comprised of a semi-transparent central dial, hour ring with faceted indexes and an outer minute track.

Riley Watch Co Jerrie Cobb Solar JC01
Riley Watch Co Jerrie Cobb Solar JC01

The dial layout has been given a solid number of colour combinations, pairing different central dials with complementary hour tracks. The combinations range from a classic mix of silver and grey with gold indexes to a bright red and rusty brown number, with a blue inner bezel.

If you’re after something with that great retro flavour however, there’s also a gorgeous chocolate brown version that’s hard not to think of as sepia-toned. Paired with the cushion case, the Cobb looks much more expensive than its price tag of just £129.

Riley Watch Co. Jerrie Cobb Solar JC01

With a price like that, you might assume that there’s a quartz movement in here. The Howard Hughes used a meca-quartz, so it wouldn’t be out of character for the uber-accessible brand. But there’s that one little word on the dial: solar. That’s because the Cobb uses a quartz regulated movement powered by the sun (hence the semi-transparent central dials you may have noticed), something that the astronaut-trained pilot would likely appreciate.

At its core however, the Cobb isn’t just a handsome, affordable watch with lashings of ‘70s style. It is all those things of course, but it’s also a spotlight on a story that doesn’t get told enough. Cobb was an incredibly important figure in aviation and, while she’s not often mentioned in the same breath as Howard Hughes and Amelia Earhart, she should be.

Price and Specs:

Model: Riley Watch Co. Jerrie Cobb Solar JC01
Case: 38mm diameter x 9mm thickness, stainless steel, engraved caseback
Water resistance: 50m (5 bar)
Movement: Seiko calibre AS01 SOLAR, solar movement
Power reserve: 4 months
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Strap: Leather with quick release spring bar and quick fold clasp
Price: £129

More details at Riley Watch Co..

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