If your next watch is destined to be a classic Laco Flieger - pause a moment, read about the new Stuttgart and Karlsruhe PRO series, then decide.
The Flieger family from Laco is based on watches they made for German flight crews in the 1940s. During this era, navigation was primarily a map and mechanical instrument skill. As a result the German Air Force created a requirement for observation watches (Beobachtungsuhr) under military specification reference FL 23883. These wrist watches were destined not for pilots, but for navigators on larger aircrafts. To determine their exact position, the on-board navigator would use his large 55mm Laco wristwatch and the aircraft’s octant (like a sextant) to determine an exact position.
Given the basic flying conditions in 1940s military aircraft, instant legibility and precision were paramount. To guarantee this, Laco created both a Model A and Model B dial. Model A was a simple design with numbered hours, 1 to 11 with the 12 replaced by a triangle and two dots ensuring high visibility, accurate zeroing, and easy watch orientation.
The Model B dials displayed oversized minute numbers in increments of 5, in an outer track where you would traditionally expect to see the 1-12 markers. This unusual design was judged to be more relevant for navigation, so the hour track was relegated to a smaller inner sub-dial. Navigational orientation was achieved by using a bold arrow at the 12 mark.
21st Century Laco and configuring the Flieger PRO series
Today Laco is synonymous with re-issuing and enhancing these 1940s designs into modern contemporary watches. These all bear all the hallmarks of their illustrious predecessors. There are so many options in the Flieger portfolio, that the choice can be a little overwhelming. You can have several case sizes from 39mm, 42mm right up to 45mm. You can even get a 55mm exact replica of the original watch. Models are either hand wound or automatic, have different case options and are available with replica A and B dials, or C dial chronographs. If you want your Flieger to look like a 1940s relic you can even have an Erbstück (Heirloom) model which has been hand distressed by experts to look vintage. We reviewed one of these striking watches here.
Laco’s latest offering in the Flieger range takes the collection and radically changes the way you buy one. Understanding that it's not always possible to choose your prefect Flieger, Laco have introduced their first online configurator for the PRO series only. After you select which of the PRO watches you want, Stuttgart or Karlsruhe (based on A or B dials), you can progress through drop down stages selecting your case size, finish, strap, crown orientation, movement, date or no date and whether you want the Laco logo. You can even dictate any personal engraving you want on the case back or automatic rotor. At the end of the process, you are given an image of the watch configuration and a price. It is a simple and clear system and should prove to be a real asset to those of us who would otherwise struggle to select from the vast Flieger catalogue. Hence, according to Laco, PRO stands for “professional, progress, product configurator”.
Our sample PRO, which was kindly provided by Laco, was deliberately selected for this review as it can be considered a wholly original addition to the range.
The PRO in detail
The Stuttgart PRO 37mm Flieger represents everything new in this updated series. It stays true to the classic design but introduces a new 200m water resistant case with more accentuated curved lugs and a smaller diameter.
First impressions are not of a small watch, quite the opposite. This is a very well-proportioned model that will lend itself to any occasion. The reduced size brushed steel case adds lustre. The revised lug shape seemingly adds mass to the smaller case. It's aesthetically much more pleasing to look at than some of the older traditional models. Despite the changes the WW2 FL23883 code is reassuringly still embossed in the non-crown side.
As expected, the dial is a model of clarity, even in a substantially reduced package. We tested a Model A dial which manages to bridge the delicate gap between outstanding legibility and sophistication. It's not an easy balance as one can easily nullify the other. Even in low light the dial delivers with every element - from the thermal blued steel hands, indices, minute track and the second hand treated with SuperLuminova C3. Anti-reflective sapphire crystal further aids clarity. The overall impression is of understated luxury.
A personal perspective
I have to come clean; I have always struggled with some of the larger Flieger watches. I absolutely admire Laco as a brand and am in fascinated by their history, but when a watch starts to get significantly above 40mm I am just not sure who it is aimed at. Last year I reviewed their special Edition 95 and wrote a glowing review. The watch was beautiful.
I really did not think Laco could improve on the Edition 95, but they have with the Stuttgart PRO. I would even go as far as to suggest that it could be one of their best watches to date. The configurator is a great tool for tailor making your watch and luckily had I gone through the entire process I would actually have ended up with the very watch I was testing. With its reduced dial size I would also argue that this particular model fits nicely into the Field Watch market, and it would make a great choice if you were prepared to think out of the box a little and look beyond the usual suspects. It is also worth noting that the 37mm PRO is the first Laco which is truly aimed at all demographics of buyers. It is not always technically easy to achieve this and rather than be a mash of ideas, or even worse a compromise, it has been crafted as an impressive, cohesive, tool which would be a pleasure to own. Expect to pay from £720 for the PRO series depending on configuration.
The Laco range of watches has always been impressive and when you look beyond the Flieger designs, they are actually very diverse. There are naval heritage models like the Bremerhaven, dedicated dive watches such as the Seven Seas and even sports chronographs like the Hockenhiem. However, it is undoubtably the Flieger watches which make up the backbone of the portfolio and most buyers first option when heading for the brand. Any why not? There are a few clones on the market, but Lacos are the original, with heritage and provenance, and that counts for a lot if you are seeking the ultimate historical pilot watch. Fortunately, WatchGecko has an extensive range of Laco watches available in all dial sizes and designs so why not check out the collection here and secure a piece of history.
Many thanks to Sarah Ruhmann at Laco for her technical advice and the loan of the 37mm PRO.