In the early days of aviation, the military aviator’s watch was an instrument of performance and precision. The US military had strict requirements for their Type A watches, and in 1934, specified an aircraft navigational chronograph from which derives the conjunction avigation: aviation and navigation.
First issued between the World Wars, the US Army Air Corps Avigation Type A-7 Hack Watch was a pocket watch chronograph adapted for a wristwatch, making it a large accoutrement – perfect for navigation. Think of it as an American equivalent to the German B-Uhr Fliegers – only with a chronograph – or the French Type 20 (see our article about Type 20 watches here).
The American Type A-7 were supplied by Gallet (white dial), Meylon and Longines. Vintage A-7s are rare, however Longines has made it easy to own one by reissuing this heritage piece. The modern Avigation Type A-7 closely resembles its predecessor (see photos below). Typical for a military watch, the dial is black and the numerals are white, aiding visibility. There is a small seconds dial with date aperture and a 30 minute chronograph counter sub dial.
The 49mm case recalls the days when these watches were worn over a leather flight jacket, and the 50 degree angled dial, much like a driver’s watch, allows the pilot to wear the watch on the inside of the wrist. Worn in this way, the pilot easily viewed the watch without removing his hands from the controls and added an extra dial to the foreground of his instrument panel. The modern watch includes a date function and tachymeter, but otherwise remains true to form even with the numeral font.
Here are two old examples – vintage Longines A-7 is missing the crown (source: Military Watch Resource) and engraved case back of another vintage Longines A-7.
The chronograph complication made the A-7 an invaluable navigational aid, and the new one gets a significant upgrade while retaining its mono-pusher identity. The fluted crown operates the chronograph functions of start, stop and reset. Unlike later chronograph models with two buttons, the A-7 has one button to control all the chronograph functions.
When a pilot is wearing thick gloves, the benefit of only one button becomes obvious. True to Longines’ chronograph heritage, the L788.2 movement, designed specifically for Longines, features a column wheel chronograph. The hinged back opens to display the movement, and the column wheel is easily visible through the sapphire crystal. 54 Hours of power reserve mean this watch stays ready to navigate.
At $4900 USD, the A-7 Avigation is cheaper than most of its historic counterparts, and the person who will likely buy this watch already knows what a Type A-7 watch is. The collector, aviation enthusiast or military buff might enjoy having the amenities of recent technology as well as finding a bargain by buying new.
In terms of preserving history and American military aviation history in particular, this watch is a welcome opportunity, but to the greater public, it will likely remain an enigma, much like its predecessor.
The Longines Avigation Watch Type A-7
Technical specifications – Reference number: L2.779.4.53.x
- Calibre L788.2 (ETA A08.L11) – Self-winding mechanical movement with single push-piece and column-wheel chronograph mechanism
- 13¼ lines, 27 jewels, 28’800 vibrations per hour, 54-hour power reserve
- Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, tachymeter, chronograph
- Round case, stainless steel, Ø 49 mm, chronograph pusher integrated into the crown, hinged case back (engraved and numbered) on top of a sapphire glass case back
- Dial: Black, angled at 50° to the right, 10 white Arabic numerals, white minute circle, white tachymeter scale
- Small second at 6 o’clock, 30-minute counter at 12 o’clock, date aperture at 6 o’clock
- Hands: Rhodium-plated Breguet style hands for hours and minutes
Please visit the Longines website for more information.
This article is written by Max Reddick, contributing writer for Monochrome Watches.