Many brands are associated with pilot watches these days, which is among the most popular of styles. IWC, Breitling, Zenith, Laco, Hamilton and scores of others have long histories with these tools of aviation and bona fide war credentials to back up contemporary offerings. Glashütte-based Tutima is on this list and perhaps best known for the legendary Flieger Chronograph of 1941. In 2013, the brand released the Grand Flieger Classic Chronograph as a modern take on the 1941 original with design cues harkening back to World War II. The Grand Flieger Classic Automatic is a three-hand variant of the chronograph with a day/date complication and similar wartime roots. Let’s take a closer look at this affordable modern classic.
Tutima was founded in 1927 by Dr. Ernst Kurtz who formed two watch factories from the recently bankrupt Glashütte’s Deutsche Präzisions-Uhrenfabrik (DPUG). Urofa (Uhren-Rohwerke-Fabrik Glashütte AG) concentrated on the production of ébauches while Ufag (Uhrenfabrik Glashütte AG) manufactured complete watches. The best movements were named “Tutima” from the Latin word for “safe, secure.”
By 1939, plans for the Flieger Chronograph began in earnest with strict specifications including accuracy to -3 to +12 seconds per day, shock and acceleration resistance, and pressure resistance to 1.5 atmospheres for 90 minutes. Production and distribution started in 1941 with the newly developed hand-wound Calibre 59 and it was among Germany’s most successful aviation watch, joining the iconic B-Urhen pilot’s watches produced by five separate companies (A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, Laco and Stowa in Germany, and IWC in Switzerland).
By the end of the war, whatever wasn’t decimated by air raids in Glashütte was confiscated by Russia, and Kurtz fled to West Germany with a handful of skilled watchmakers and artisans. By the mid-1950s, financial hardship from Swiss competition led to Kurtz handing control to company employee Werner Pohlan. Dieter Delecate, an associate of both Pohlan and Kurtz who had been a distributor of Tutima-branded watches, took control of the company in the 1960s, forming Tutima Uhren GmbH. He kept the company afloat during the quartz crisis and was contacted by NATO in 1984, supplying the ref. 798 NATO Chronograph. This remains the official service watch for German army pilots today.
CASE AND DESIGN
The 316L stainless steel case of the Tutima Grand Flieger Classic Automatic is sizeable at 43mm in diameter (13mm in height), but size and legibility are key aspects for pilots. The original B-Urhen pilot’s watches hit 55mm in diameter, but as this is more oriented to mainstream consumers, 43mm is well suited for a contemporary piece. The iconic, bi-directional fluted bezel with a single red reference mark makes this easily identifiable as a Tutima and is again directly tied to the 1941 Flieger. The front and side surfaces are brushed with the underside of the lugs and ring spanning the lower third of the case being polished. The bezel has a polished finish as well.
The screw-down crown is modestly sized with a half-onion shape and is among the best screw-down crowns I’ve had the pleasure to use. Very smooth and precise with no fuss, it allows for a water-resistance of 200 metres. A domed sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating protects the dial with a sapphire exhibition caseback. This piece is mostly dial with relatively short lugs, consequently wearing a bit smaller than the diameter suggests. 43mm is at the upper limit for my smaller than average wrist size, but it’s still comfortable and wears well.
DIAL AND HANDS
The Tutima Grand Flieger Classic Automatic features a matte black dial with large, luminescent white Arabic numerals. It has a professional, no-nonsense vibe, but this is far from being a utilitarian bore. The polished bezel against the black provides an upscale contrast and the day/date windows at 3 o’clock deviate from the traditional simplicity.
A basic minute track spans the outer perimeter with slightly bolder marks every five minutes, removing the original’s small five-minute printed numerals. The cathedral hour and minute hands are virtually identical to those on the wartime Flieger and filled with lume, and the narrow white seconds hand has a small counterweight reminiscent of the original. The dial is simple, stylish and sporty, well suited for both the office and great outdoors.
The heart of the Grand Flieger Classic Automatic is the Tutima Calibre 330, based on the ETA 2836-2. Modifications are generally cosmetic with polished screws and a custom, antique-grey open-worked rotor featuring the brand’s logo in a gold seal. The movement has 25 jewels, beats at 28,800vph (4Hz) with a 38-hour power reserve. The lack of embellishments fits the overall theme of the watch, but this proven Swiss workhorse is still an attractive sight under the exhibition window.
The piece I have on-hand came with a “beads of rice” style stainless steel bracelet with butterfly folding clasp. A black leather strap with white stitching and folding clasp is also available, although I prefer the steel option despite the more traditional look of the leather. This isn’t a universal opinion as I actually prefer the leather strap on the aforementioned Grand Flieger Classic Chronograph, but at the end of the day, both are excellent choices.
I had a Tutima Flieger Automatic over 20 years ago that was very similar to this reviewed piece, having a simple date at 3 o’clock rather than the day/date complication. It’s good to see that the brand’s traditional styling has endured over the decades and it’s tough to discern my older piece from a new Grand Flieger model today.
If you’re a fan of military-inspired watches, especially from the World War II era, Tutima has that coveted vintage style with wartime credentials to keep it genuine. This concept isn’t new, of course, with brands like Longines and IWC (among many others) sporting their own military recreations. The distinctive styling helps set Tutima apart, however, with its fluted bezel, signature red marker and utilitarian black dial. If tradition and military heritage are important to you, and you don’t want to break the bank, a Grand Flieger should be at the top of your list.
Price and availability
The Tutima Grand Flieger Classic Automatic retails for USD 2,500 with leather strap and USD 2,900 with steel bracelet. For more information or to find a retailer, www.tutima.com.