TimeCaptain wears a U-Boat?
Well, people. This is the BIG one…pun intended! Before you start on me, let me mention that a few of my friends already ridiculed me for even LOOKING at a U-Boat. So let me tell you all about it and explain why TimeCaptain went for a 50mm U-Boat.
Let me set the stage. For the past couple of years, I have been craving an oversized pilot piece with the classic and legendary ETA 6497 Unitas manually wound movement. The Archimede XL Pilot was my favorite. I just love the classic aviation design and, more importantly, I love the concept of these pieces. They take a giant pocket watch movement (the ETA 6497 or something similar) and stick it inside a huge case with a simple, bold, legible dial. This is an absolutely genuine homage to the pilot watches of WWII. It’s the same concept. But these pieces are not easy to find in Montreal. You would need to import one.
Last week, I was scanning the ads on Canada’s top watch forum, Canadian Watch Collector, and I saw this U-Boat Flightdeck 50mm 5324… with an ETA 6497 movement. I didn’t even know that U-Boat ever made a manually wound piece! Let’s take a time out here and comment a bit on U-Boat.
I can hear you all now. I can. I’ve heard it before. “U-Boat is a tacky fashion brand. It’s awful. It’s for 17-year-old’s who just graduated from high school. It’s for muscle heads who wear skin-tight t-shirts and grease their hair before going to the club.” Yeah, yeah. I actually don’t deny most of this. Sure, it’s a fashion brand. But I like their designs. I first noticed U-Boat about 5 years ago when I started collecting seriously. From the beginning, I liked their look and their oversized nature. I have very thick wrists at nearly 7 1/2″ so I can pull off 45mm+ watches. A 44mm Luminor does not even look big on me. The SMALL U-Boats are 45mm so the sizes are interesting for me. Current U-Boat watches are using ETA movements. How does that differ from Bell & Ross or Longines? U-Boat does not have the heritage, but you have to love their direction- they went from quartz to Japanese Miyota and then to Swiss ETA. If you like the style of a U-Boat and it uses the same movement as Bell & Ross or something, then surely it is a proper timepiece?
Actually, I already have some more high end pieces, such as a Rolex and a Panerai. I didn’t need another expensive piece and I really didn’t have the budget for another top piece. For me, the U-Boat was just a fun toy- something not-too-serious- to strap on once in a while for kicks. And that movement…
OK so let’s get back to the ad on Canadian Watch Collector (CWC). So here is this U-Boat… a brand I had always considered as an outside candidate for my watch box. Being pre-owned, the price was very very acceptable. As I looked it over, the U-Boat ticked all of the boxes. Oversized? Try 50mm!!! It had my target ETA 6497 movement. And style? You can see for yourself. For sure, there is a lot of Panerai influence and the style will not suit everyone. And people will say the U-Boat is a cheap immitation of Panerai (even with its name hinting at WWII). But I really like the more “classic” style of certain U-Boat models. And this one was all black and stealth — something that has been missing from my collection. The whole backwards left-handed setup is neat — crown on the left, small seconds at 3 o’clock instead of 9 o’clock. As I studied the ad, I saw a great opportunity. The U-Boat was being offered at a bargain price. It offered a very different style and color scheme to my collection. It was powered by the very movement I desired. And it had a beautiful box set. When you’re hunting for real bargains, you have to have an open mind and be willing to compromise a bit. The U-Boat ticked all the right boxes for me and the only question mark was the brand image and the edgy style. When I thought about it, the U-Boat expressed everything I was searching for in a bargain watch. It was a real salute to those vintage military aviation pieces, albeit in a slick, modern format.
So let’s talk about that style. I have always wanted a huge watch for my thick wrists. But let me tell you- 50mm is bordering on comical and maybe even clownish. But I mean that in a good way. This is first watch I have ever worn that is really TOO big. I wore it yesterday with a dress shirt and suit. The case fits under the cuffs, but it is so wide that it constantly catches on those cuffs and I have to keep pulling up my shirt to see the time. If your wrist is under 7 inches, just forget this watch. It’s really extreme and somewhat ridiculous. Worn with a t-shirt, it comes into its zone. It is not a classic or elegant piece — it is just fun. The black stealth look is very nice with black or grey clothes and it is just different. Many of you will hate it, but I think it is a really fun look for very casual occasions.
Occasions? Think — occasional. I wanted an “occasional” piece and this is where ETA 6497 becomes important. This movement has no date and is quick and easy to wind and set. So you can grab it from your watch box for the occasional trip to the stores or golf tournament, crank it up, set the time, and enjoy for a day or two. The large Panerai-ish minute markers on the U-Boat dial make it very easy to synchronize the seconds and minutes, although there is no hacking mechanism. So if I was looking for an oversized wind-up piece for the odd casual day, I certainly found it in the U-Boat.
The quality and finishing of the U-Boat Flightdeck are remarkable. I can understand people who ridicule the size and style of U-Boat’s because they are quite extreme. But the build quality and the leather strap are absolutely top class — at least as good as Bell & Ross and better than many other mass luxury brands. The black case is gorgeous. The only part of the watch that feels less than high end the dial — it is certainly not as good as a Panerai Luminor. But the rest is beautiful and even the movement is beautifully decorated. The movement, visible through the case back, is a highlight for me. It is not on the same level as, say, my old PAM00210. But it is fantastic.
You cannot take yourself too seriously while wearing a 50mm U-Boat Flightdeck. Nevertheless, it provides the exact timepiece experience I was looking for. If you’re really conscious about image, just forget it. I won’t wear it to big meetings in executive boardrooms, but I don’t care. I have a Rolex for those days. I will wear my monstrous U-Boat to BBQ’s, golf tournaments or trips to the hardware store. And I will get a real kick out of it. If you want a large watch of 45mm or more and you want a nice quality without being conservative, check out U-Boat’s lineup. They have some chronos and many automatic models. Check them out! As always, the fun is in the search.