The Laco Kempten Erbstück: The closest thing to a time machine on the wrist...
We often talk about mechanical watches having a connection to something greater than the physical function it offers. Sometimes it's a connection to a moment in time, or to someone that is no longer here. Nowadays though it seems more often than not brands are pulling on the heartstrings of collectors with new pieces that look to replicate the magic of departed eras.
Personally, I thought I'd pretty much seen the full extent of what is possible with this whole phase and trend in watch collecting. That was until Baselworld 2018 and more recently last week when I met the Laco Kempten Erbstuck. There is nothing quite like this watch, and I want to talk about it.
The Laco Kempten Erbstuck - What it does
It was Baselworld 2018 when I first came across this impressive level of 'fauxtina' from Laco. Back then this newer 39mm wide model hadn't been released so Ben and I were handling 40mm+ models. Although hugely impressed with what the brand had achieved, it was hard to imagine many people strapping the watch to the wrist at the time. However, 2019 brought a new reduced size, one that was much more aligned to the industry at the time.
Some of you might be sitting there thinking 'what am I actually looking at here?' so I'll explain.
For all intents and purposes, this is a brand spanking new watch from Laco. Everything from the case, hands, dial, lume, movement and watch strap are all brand new. However, its appearance may not say the same. In fact, it doesn't even look like a neo-vintage watch we've come to expect. For every single Erbstuck ordered, Laco visually ages every single component of the watch that is visual to the wearer (don't worry, the movement sits behind a closed case back ticking away perfectly).
Oh, and this incredible work is done all by a metals expert by hand. As they're aged by hand, each watch that is produced is completely unique. When you consider these watches are not limited edition and won't require a remortgage on the house to afford, that is seriously impressive.
Let's take a moment to fully appreciate the visual work Laco has done here in the form of a series of images. Make sure you pay attention to the sporadic darkening of the case, deep scratches and dents around the bezel, the sides of case and lugs, as well as the caseback where they have made it look like someone has been taking the back of the watch repeatedly.
Oh, and we can't not show you the dial as well. Those instantly recognisable heat blued sword hands with not just faux lume present but also faux dirt marks/ageing of the minute and hour printing.
Crazy right? The appeal with the Erbstuck range is that it allows you to experience and enjoy what wearing a watch from the 40s would be like today, without any of the durability worries.
The Erbstuck range is available with both automatic and manual wind movements. There is a case to be made that the convenience and 'set it and forget it' mindset that comes with having an automatic movement powering your watch is appealing, however in my mind there is only one movement choice to go for here. Everything about this watch is focused around connections both to the watch and to a time period reserved in history. That is why we have the manual wind movement watch, the Laco 01 movement (based on the ETA 2801.2 Elabore to you and me).
This movement is thinner than the automatic equivalent of the movement hence why it makes an understandable appearance here. With 46 hours of power reserve and a strong winding action through the onion crown, it is really quite hard to not be transported straight into a dogfight over France when strapping this to the wrist.
What is the Laco Erbstuck like on the wrist?
There is no other way to summerise how this watch feels on the wrist than talking about how it is the closest thing to a wearable time machine. Everyone knows by now that vintage has and is having a moment for a number of years now. Watch companies with genuine history (and ones without) have been looking backwards to create new models from all corners of the industry. From microbrands to Zenith and Tudor, it is the thing to do right now. But most of these companies do one of two things.
They either create models that are exactly the same as they were back in the day, like they had just left the factory doors (think Zenith A384 Revival) or they re-release watches with subtle, conscious design choices like yellowed lume to replicate what genuine vintage pieces look like nowadays (the Black Bay 58 would be one of these).
Not many brands offer a watch that has been designed to look as if it was actually born way back when, has lived a fascinating life and is now available showing all of the age it would have picked up on over the years. But Laco has.
This model is actually just 39mm wide, with a lug to lug of 46mm and a thickness of 12mm. But if you don't find those dimensions as spot on as I do, Laco offers Erbstuck models in a more historically accurate size of 55mm as well as 45mm and 42mm. Essentially, if you like the look of this watch Laco will more than likely have your preferred case size available.
There is lume present in this watch, but don't expect the green glow to be keeping you up at night as it is very subtle and will fade quickly. Normally this sort of comment would be reserved for the 'things we would change' section of the review, but actually I see this as another extra step Laco took to give the Kempten Erbstuck that added touch of accuracy to original models.
In my eyes the B type flieger dial is the epitome of the pilots watch. From the emphasis on minute counters on the dial rather than hours. The huge commanding minute hand offset by the reduced hour hand that sits in the sectioned dial and the large gliding seconds hand. Everything about a B type dial (and this watch in particular) is all about ensuring the history and stories from the 1940s are never forgotten. It is this level of connection and emotion that jumps out when wearing the Laco Kempten Erbstuck.
Watch Straps for Laco Watches
Just when you might start to think Laco would cut corners on the watch by fitting it to a less than impressive strap (so many brands do unfortunately) they yet again have hit a home run with the watch strap. This soft calf leather two piece strap equally echoes the 1940s as much as the watch does. A traditional buckle design, plenty of rivets and a mechanical feel to the adjustment is the name of the game here. It's a strap I struggled with to start with, but I did come to appreciate how it wears. It's a fantastic choice for the Laco, and an exceptionally well made one at that.
Dedworth Distresso Cowhide Strap in Distressed Brown
The Dedworth has rightfully been getting a lot of love since it hit the website this year, and it is pretty easy to see why. With a solid construction neat stitching lovely profile and soft but weathered looking surface it is easy to see why. If you were sitting there thinking the Laco couldn't look anymore authentic, stick it on a Dedworth in Distressed Brown and you'll see the watch level up once more.
ZULUDIVER Croyde 2 Piece Canvas in Army Green
This next strap is another newer offering and is a fantastic option for those out there who struggle with a traditional nylon NATO. The Croyde Canvas is a two piece strap that uses a tough, durable material and a darker green stitch to frame the strap. The holes also have added stitching around them added durability and strength to give this military watch a cracking look.
Lanciano Premium Vegan Eco-Leather in Brown
And finally, for a touch of elegance and class, we have the Lanciano. This strap opts for simplicity with a lovely grained leather, matching stitching, a subtle 2mm taper down the buckle and a final shine finish to an overall clean look. As the name suggests, this strap is actually using Vegan Eco-Leather which may lead you to believe the strap lacks quality, but this strap proves otherwise. It still offers the same quality and style you've come to expect from WatchGecko.
Things we would change
As always with all watches we take a look at, we like to go over and mention if anything jumps out at us as something we would change on the watch if we could.
Straight lugs - Now hear us out on this one. The lugs on the Kempten Erbstuck are extremely flat and straight, protruding from the case at both the top and bottom of the watch. Although I'm sure this design is inline with original watches from the 40s, these straight lugs don't help the watch sit in and around the wrist. The watch is very much on top of the wrist. For many this won't be an issue, Laco have preserved the original with this watch - why should they change the lugs?
Versatility - The Kempten Erbstuck isn't the most versatile of watches available. There will be occasions where wearing a watch that looks this genuinely old might look a little out of place, but much like the Sinn U50 we looked at recently the watch doesn't need to be versatile. I loved the U50 because it aligned perfectly to the brief and nailed its execution. The Kempten Erbstuck from Laco is exactly the same. Just don't be thinking this can be your new 'do everything' watch.
Final thoughts on the Laco Kempten Erbstuck
Laco has gone above and beyond with this watch to honour the past, making a truly brilliant watch in the meantime. Sure there will be a lot of people who may find wearing a brand new watch that looks this genuinely old a little counterintuitive, but the Erbstuck range from Laco is special. When it comes to re-issues or re-imaginations of historical watches there are not many pieces that can hold a flame to the incredible work Laco has done here.
Simply put, the Erbstuck range is in a league of its own. If you can, get hands-on with one and experience the craftsmanship for yourself.
The Laco Kempten Erbstuck is now available via Laco's website for 1,890 euro. We'd like to take this moment to thank Laco for sending this watch in on loan for this review. To find out more be sure to head over to the Laco website.