- Make: Debaufre
- Model: Airforce Orange, Ref. No. DW.18.07
- Movement: Unitas 6498
- Features: 6 Eater, Display Back
- Material: PVD Stainless Steel
- Crystal: Domed AR Sapphire; Mineral (display back)
- WR: 100M
- Width: 44mm
- Height: 14.5mm
- Lugs: 24mm
- Length (lug to lug): 56mm
- Weight: 110 grams (head only); 132 grams (w/ stock strap)
- Source: Debaufre
- Price: $565 (+ shipping)
The Debaufre Airforce is second entry by the company into the instrument or cockpit style of watches. That is, watches modeled after and meant to look like it could have been found on the inside of an airplane cockpit. These are usually found having a large, square shaped case with easily legible markers and hands as normally found on the interior dials and gauges (and yes, clocks). The style tends to be large and bold, and the Airforce is no exception. And, as well as having a large stature, the Airfoce contains a popular and tried-and-true movement inside. This review focuses on the Airforce Orage by Debaufre; their "other" entry into the instrument style watches is the Aircraft-8, which one can find on the Debaufre site.
Packaging and Presentation
The Airforce Orange shipped well packaged in Debaufre's standard packaging. The standard watch box (you can upgrade for an additional cost to a wood display box) is black with a red stripe, and the Debaufre coat of arms on top of the box. The box is actually contained inside a black cardboard sleeve with a rectangle cut out of the top so you can see the logo. It's 4.75" wide, 4.75" deep and 3.5" tall. Opening the box one finds the Debaufre name on the inside of the lid, and of course the watch, protected by an additional piece of foam. It's always nice when people (be they an individual seller or a company like Debaufre) take the time to make sure the watch is protected inside whichever vessel it is to be shipped in. It's not like the top of the box is not padded, but the foam just provides that little extra protection. Also inside the box is an International Guarantee card (size of a credit card) that has the details of the 2 year guarantee, signed and dated along with a strap changing tool needed for the special lugs (more on that in the case/strap sections). It's a well designed box suitable for presentation, should one desire.
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1. The box and outer sleve
2. Box showing the Debaufre coat of arms
3. Inside the box
Case, Bezel, Crown and Crystal
Let's start by looking at the case. The watch is actually one of two in the Debaufre collection with this case: the Airforce and Le Mans both share this case, the difference being the PVD for the Airforce cases and the regular unfinished stainless steel for the Le Mans. I've never handled the Le Mans, but from the photos I can see on their site, they do appear the same. It is interesting that Debaufre uses the same case for two very differently themed watches (racing and instrument), and it works in both instances (although I prefer the case for the Airforce series personally).
As stated, the Airforce case is done in a PVD finish. PVD, for those who do not know, stands for Physical Vapor Deposition. It is a process by which a material is vaporized and deposited on the base material (the stainless steel case), bonding at a molecular level with said base material (read more about PVD here
). Unlike other instrument style watches, the case is not completely square (like, for example, the Bell & Ross BR-1 or the Debaufre Aircraft-8). The Airforce case has some curvature to it on each side and the top, just a gentle curve out from the lugs and sides then back in. It gives the watch a "softer" look than those completely square and still retains its navigation/instrument quality. The four hex screws on the front of the case are not just for decoration. The case is actually in a total of three pieces: the top bezel portion, the bottom portion containing the lugs and back and lastly the screw on exhibition case back. One could actually replace the top section (or any other) if there were a need. A most interesting and not as common of a case design. The screw heads on the front of the watch match the ones at the lugs holding the strap in place for a consistent look. The screws themselves differ between the case and the strap, with the case screws being much beefier than their strap counterparts. Logical given the task that the screws have, and that screws that size wouldn't fit into the strap anyway. Debaufre ships with the watch a tool that is used to change the strap, the same tool can also be used on the screws on the front of the case as well. I do recommend that you check these regularly, loosing a spring bar is no big deal, one of these screws is (and I am speaking from experience). The overall finish of the case is clean. I could not find any defects or oddities in the case, with the exception of the screw at 4:00 which needed to simply be removed and re-threaded. The watch is very well constructed with a clean finish.
The case dimensions spell out Big with that capitol B. It comes in at 44mm across without the crown, but the extra large crown gives it some additional width (49.8mm worth). The watch is proportionally tall at 14.5mm with a lug to lug distance of a hefty 56mm. As I have said in other reviews, this is what can really kill a watch for small wristed people. With my wrist at 6.5" the watch fully covers the top of my wrist, but thankfully does not appear to hang over one side or the other. So it does look big, yes, but not massive or ridiculous in my eyes. Those with wrists 7 inches or greater will pull this watch off with ease. The lugs are at 24mm so one can take advantage of all the hundreds of Panerai strap options.
The crown is a beefy one: 8.8mm in diameter and a whopping 5.8mm tall. It is capped with the star from the Debaufre crest and knurled for even easier grabbing (it's size makes it easy enough on its own). The crown does not screw down, a fact that will please many a hand wind enthusiast. The case back is simple to summarize: it is a display back with a mineral crystal showing the Unitas 6498 movement. Around the perimeter is inscribed the pertinent information: SWISS MADE; STAINLESS STEEL; SAPPHIRE; 330FT/100M; 17 JEWELS UNITAS 6498. The watch has two crystals, front and back. The front of the watch has a slightly domed anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal, to ensure the large surface is safe from scratches. The back of the watch, as mentioned above, is covered by a mineral crystal showing the movement through the back. The choice here to go with mineral seems to make sense given the mineral crystal will only see the back of your wrist.
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4. Side by side with the Seiko Black Monster
5. Side view of the case and crown
6. Another view of the crown and star
7. The knurled edges on the crown
8. Body screw next to a strap screw
Dial, Hands & Lume
Black and orange can sum up this section nicely, as those are the only colors present. The dial is a glossy black while all the rest of the markers are in orange (there is also a white model as well, however it is sold out at the time of this review). The dial is big on it's own at 37mm in diameter and with the large numbers and markers very easy to read. The fat hands, again reminiscent of those found in aircraft cockpits, are also in orange; no missing these things. The time is easy as pie to read. The dial is kept simple to keep the legibility factor high: numbers at 3, 9 & 12; hash-marks at each minute with fatter and longer ones on the fives; the running seconds are at 6; and the only text is "Debaufre" under the 12 and "Swiss Made" at the bottom. Very simple, very legible.
The lume of the watch matches the color of the indices. It does glow rather easily, just a little direct sunlight and it is visible. The lume, however, does not last as long as some others. In my first overnight test I powered up the luminescence with an LED flashlight and placed the watch in an isolated, dark space, along with my control watch, the Seiko Black Monster. After a full night's rest (8 hours) the Monster was still visible in the pitch dark, but the Airforce could not be read. My second test for half the time produced the same results. I continued to test, reducing the length of time with each successive test. My results found that the watch remained readable in complete darkness for about an hour; beyond that the time is not legible. If you wear your watch throughout the night and use it to ready the time (rather than an alarm clock, for example) you'll want to use another piece.
9. The dial and hands
10. The Airforce Orange luminenence
The watch comes on an all black leather strap: black leather with black stitching and black PVD Debaufre buckle. It's a rally style strap with the three holes on either end of the lugs in decreasing size. The strap was a little stiff at first, but after a few wears it's broken in nicely. As I often encounter with my small wrist the stock strap barely fits: I can wear it on the last hole and the watch fits, although it is still a little loose. The strap is 24mm and tapers to 22mm at the Panerai-style buckle. The holes are punched round but the strap tang is flat, so I needed to do some work to get it in, but it did fit. Since the strap was too long I opted to change it to something that fit a bit more snugly on my small wrist. I was going to take the PVD buckle with me to the other strap, however it would not unscrew from the stock strap; the screw moved, but would not un-thread. Don't know if I have a fluke or if this is done on purpose.
The strap is held in place by a set of screws and a tube. Each of the screws tightens into each end of the tube, which is inserted through the strap opening. A special tool, shipped with the watch, is used to loosen each of the screws to allow them to be removed. One then pushes out the tube to free the strap. Important to note with this attachment is you'll have to be sure the tube fits into any strap you want to consider for the watch as it is considerably thicker than your traditional spring bar. I found that getting the screws out was easy, but it took a little work to push out the tube. Once out it was a snap to change the strap over to something that fit a little better. Although, my first try did not pan out as the tubes would not fit into the strap. This shouldn't be a problem for any Panerai-style strap (as IIRC they work with tubes as it is) or a custom job either.
As mentioned above, check your screws. If they are not tight, they will work themselves loose and you will loose them. And yes, I am speaking from experience.
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11. Stock Strap
12. Back of strap
13. Signed buckle
14. Strap tool
15. Strap tool again
16. Screws and tube
Movement & Performance
The movement housed inside this PVD case is the well known (and well loved) Unitas (ETA) 6498, with the running seconds on a subidal at 6 o'clock. The movement is well known to watch enthusiasts as a 17 jewel pocket watch movement that has become very popular in standard men's wristwatches in the past years. I don't have anything to say that hasn't already been said, if you're interested in more info check out the info here
. Debaufre lists the movement as having "Special 'Cote de Geneve' engraving" which is visible through the display back.
With the first Airforce I received the movement had a bit of a performance issue. It wound and set properly however I found that it was running very, very fast: 20 seconds fast a minute. I was quite surprised by this and thought at first I had set the watch wrong. I reset the watch and checked it and found that it was in fact speeding along at a crazy clip. Debaufre indicated that all their watches are checked for accuracy before they leave the store, so given this speculation is the watch may have been magnetized somewhere along it's trip. I've been told that this has happened to others in the past and that the Unitas movements are susceptible to magnetization. Other thoughts were that there was hair or lint in the mainspring. In either case, Debaufre took the first watch back and sent a replacement.
The replacement is performing much better and is sitting at right about +10-12 seconds a day. So after a couple of days of running it does need a minor time correction. Although it does run fast it does so within a tolerable level.
17. Case back and movement
This is not an area that I have covered in previous reviews, but feel that it is a topic worth discussion in a watch review as the seller can make a watch purchase a pleasure or a pain.
In this case I dealt directly with Debaufre from their website and via email. The site is easy to navigate and purchasing is a snap as well. In this case, given the movement issue I had to contact them to discuss this problem. I had an email address on file (from a comment as a result of my review of the Triton) and sent off an email to Jon (who turns out is the CEO). Jon promptly apologized for the issue and offered to take the watch back so they could fix the issue. This from the CEO; he did not pass me off to someone else but responded to the issue personally. I had a replacement watch in just over a week (given time for me to ship it back, be received and a new one sent out).
Additionally, when I reported that after having the watch for three days I had lost a screw, Debaufre placed a replacement in the mail for me right away. Not just one of the screws, but the whole set: two screws and the tube.
For this watch I have to give them an "A" in terms of the service I received. Aside from their watches, another good reason to deal with Debaufre.
In the world of aircraft instrument watches choices are somewhat limited, especially if you're a WIS on a bit of a budget. On the upper end you do have the Bell & Ross, which kicked off the trend, and the lower end you have a variety of quartz watches or those with Miyota movements. In the middle, with the Airforce, you have a swiss made watch with a popular and well known movement. The watch is well constructed and looks stunning on the wrist. As stated, the Unitas movement, with the running seconds on the 6 o'clock subidal, is a perfect compliment to the instrument look. The crown is large and easy to use when winding or setting the time; no whimpy crown here. The stock strap compliments the watch well, although smaller wristed folk be on the look for a replacement. The one weak area I can identify is the lume, which is unfortunate, but not enough to stop me from owning one, not at all.
If you want a striking, well constructed instrument style watch, the Debaufre Airforce should be at the very top of your list.