There are some horological icons whose entire appeal, or a majority of it at least, is derived from their historical significance, rather than their merits as timepieces. Take the Paul Newman Daytona, for example – here we have a watch that, on its own, is not particularly remarkable, but given the cache of its story, now trades in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Omega Speedmaster Professional likely wouldn’t have nearly the obsessive following it does today if not for its title as first watch worn on the moon. And then we have pilot watches (specifically the B-Uhren type watches worn by German pilots), a category defined by the stark, purely functional look that they’ve maintained consistently since their introduction in World War II.
A. Lange & Sohne Type-B Dial B-Uhren Pilot Watch
At 55mm in diameter, the original pieces worn in the war were behemoths, even by contemporary standards. The purposeful design allows pilots to see the time quickly, reducing chance for misinterpretation. Because of the watch’s size, it is important to secure them strongly to the wrist.
Watch straps, especially within the enthusiast community, tend to be treated as an accessory, and to some extent that’s true now, but during the war, the strap on a B-Uhr needed to be able to keep the bulbous mass of timepiece atop the wrist of pilots, and this meant designing a strap that was robust, substantial, and durable. And thus, the aviator strap was born.
Stowa Type-A Dial B-Uhr
Pilots wore B-Uhr watches over flight jackets, which meant that, in addition to needing to being robust and durable, the strap also had to be exceptionally long. Another defining characteristic were metal rivets, two on each side of the strap where it meets the lugs, and occasionally a single rivet at the bottom of the strap.
Laco WWII Style Pilot Strap w/ Bomber Jacket Extension
Source: Long Island Watch
The rivets have become synonymous with the traditional pilot watch strap, but what exactly is their function? Well, on modern examples…not a whole lot. In modern pilot straps, the rivets are strictly for show, a way of paying homage and respect to the straps of old. During the war, though, they served a very specific function.
The rivets at the lugs were placed there to ensure that the watch didn’t slide or fly off the wrist. The metal rivets were not traditionally covered or finished on the backside of the straps, which left them rough, almost sharp to the touch, and were thus capable of grabbing onto the leather of the flight jacket, keeping it firmly in place. If a rivet was present at the tail end of the strap, it was placed in order to ensure the non-fixed keepers remained in place, thus keeping the tail of the strap neatly tucked away in one solid loop around the wrist. Or the ankle, as is occasionally reported.
Alright, geeks, hopefully that provides a straightforward explanation of the purpose of these fascinating strap additions. Let us know your thoughts and, as always, keep it classy, watchfam.
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