Mercer Airfoil, an Affordable Pilot Watch with a Swiss Heart (Review)
Mercer Watch Co. is an American microbrand that I’ve been following for a couple of years now. I recently reviewed its Lexington Chronograph and was impressed by the aesthetics and overall quality for the price. Although it has a Seagull ST1901 hand-wound movement from China, Mercer assembles, regulates and tests each one in-house and this particular movement has a solid reputation for reliability. A different concept, the Airfoil is its flagship but this time with a Swiss Sellita automatic running the show. It’s a simple pilot watch that recently gained a vanilla dial alongside the original matte black face, and is an attractive, understated piece for just about any occasion. I usually consider something like the Hamilton Khaki Pilot Auto Day Date to be more of a pilot’s watch, but the Airfoil’s simplicity is also what I find appealing. Does it hold up in a very crowded and competitive field? Let’s take a closer look at Mercer’s bestseller with its new vanilla dial for 2018.
Let’s be clear; the Airfoil isn’t based on anything in particular. Mercer simply wanted a flagship piece that had the vibe of a pilot watch without being tied to a specific formula. There were a couple of areas of focus, however, that were important for this watch to stand out in the brand’s portfolio. For starters, it needed a Swiss movement instead of another Seagull (or Miyota or Seiko calibre). Mercer chose a Sellita automatic with a decorated rotor.
The second new feature is a hardened stainless steel case. The company used a proprietary process to make the 316L stainless steel much more durable than its other watches. They call the process ‘ruggedizing’ and it makes the steel over seven times harder, or approximately 1,200 Vickers. This is accomplished with a DLC coating (the steel itself isn’t physically hardened). The Vickers hardness test has been around since the early 1920’s and can measure the hardness of virtually all metals with one of the widest scales of any test. What does this mean? The Airfoil is much more scratch-resistant than conventional stainless steel watches – which have an approximate hardness of 225 Vickers. And with dual sapphire crystals, it should remain in pristine condition for many years.
CASE AND DESIGN
The ‘ruggedized’ stainless steel case is a comfortable 40mm in diameter and 11.6mm in height. The DLC coating gives it a bit of a different feel than regular steel, but it doesn’t feel like a clear coat. There’s a satin-brushed finish throughout and overall it has a nice, upscale aesthetic. Unlike many affordable watch with a mineral glass crystal, the Airfoil has a double-domed sapphire crystal on the front (with anti-reflective coating) and flat sapphire display back.
The Sellita movement has been partially decorated by Mercer, which is a nice touch for an affordable pilot watch. The crown has the company’s M stamped on the end and screws down, allowing the case to be water-resistant to 100m. You can safely swim with the watch, but serious divers should look elsewhere. The case has a bit of a 1940’s pilot look, but I’d just call it a modern sport watch that can easily dress up or down.
DIAL AND HANDS
The vanilla dial is new this year and has been available for only a few weeks. This version is limited to 50 watches and I find it preferable in appearance to the matte black dial. My first reaction when holding the watch in person was that it reminded me of a Bremont Solo. There’s no denying the similarities, but I wouldn’t say Mercer copied them.
A raised black chapter ring surrounds the outermost perimeter and contrasts well with the white dial. Dots with Super-LumiNova are positioned every five minutes with smaller printed dots between them to fill in the minutes. Polished, applied indices surround the outer vanilla portion with numerals throughout except at 3, 6, 9 and 12. A triangle marker, outlined in red, sits at 12 o’clock with stick indices at 3, 6 and 9, and all four are filled with Super-LumiNova. The sword-style hour and minute hands are outlined in black and filled with Super-LumiNova as well, and the seconds hand is red with no lume.
A date complication sits at 6 o’clock in an unframed window. The white background with black print doesn’t quite match the vanilla dial, but it’s not too noticeable and looks good. Mercer’s name and logo are printed at the top with AIRFOIL and automatic (in red) printed at the bottom. It all comes together into a clean, nicely legible package and I’d wear it with anything except the most formal of outfits.
Until recently, Mercer has used Seagull, Miyota and Seiko movements. The Airfoil was the first to house a Swiss automatic. Specifically, we have a Sellita SW200-1 calibre, which is basically an ETA 2824 clone. The Swatch group has made ETA movements difficult to acquire in recent years, so this Sellita is a great alternative. It has 26 jewels, beats at 28,800vph (4Hz) with a 38-hour power reserve. Functions include central hours, minutes and seconds (hacking) with a date complication.
When viewed through the exhibition caseback, the rotor has been slightly decorated in blue, with MERCER spanning the bottom edge, also in blue. The movement is otherwise undecorated, but still looks cool with this custom branding.
The 20mm Shell Cordovan strap is brown with tan stitching and feels great out of the box. Mercer’s name and logo are stamped on the underside and the stainless steel buckle has its sword logo engraved at the end. It’s very different from the rally-style strap on its Lexington Chronograph (which is among the most comfortable I’ve worn this year), but it fits the pilot aesthetic well and gives it a more upscale vibe. My only complaint would be the lack of quick release levers, which I always appreciate.
The Airfoil is a cool pilot/sport watch and also my favourite in the lineup. I like the new vanilla dial and prefer it over the matte black, which I felt had some legibility issues as the applied indices blended too much into the background. The hardened case is a big plus as scratches should be minimal (or non-existent) and I’m glad it went with a Swiss movement this time (not that I object to Miyota or Seiko calibres in this price range).
There’s a lot of competition out there from both microbrands and established brands, but on its own this is an attractive, well put-together piece. If you’re looking for a simple pilot watch with some upscale features (hardened case, custom rotor, Swiss movement), you can’t go wrong with the Mercer Airfoil.
This latest model with a vanilla dial is limited to 50 watches and sells for USD 649 (down from USD 799). That’s a fair price for what you’re getting, but Tissot, Seiko and Hamilton have comparable pieces in that price range, not to mention a dozen or more microbrands. That’s a lot of competition, but Mercer seems to understand its audience and continues to launch compelling watches. The Airfoil comes with a two-year warranty and 15-day return window. You can buy one now at Mercer’s website.
As you mentioned at this price level no one can compete with Seiko. Come on people. A limited edition enamel watch for 1k.