Earlier today the latest aviation-inspired watch from Avi-8 went on sale, though for the last couple of weeks we’ve been working on our hands-on review. The new P-51 Mustang Bottisham is the latest addition to the brand’s extensive (and very affordable) collection.
Once you get into the seriously budget-friendly watch space—especially once you get down to a few hundred bucks or less—both design and overall quality can become a bit of a crapshoot. We’ve all had a laugh at the Daniel Wellington phenomenon, and all of the associated terribly designed watches out there, but I’ve had eyes on Avi-8 for a good six years now, and though some of their designs can be a bit busy for my taste, I’ve always been impressed by their design team’s keen eye for detail. They aren’t in the business of making $2,000 to $20,000-plus watches, so don’t expect elaborate hand finishing or other premium niceties, but if you go apples-to-apples against the likes of most of their direct competitors you aren’t going to be disappointed.
In the case of the P-51 Mustang Bottisham, the brand once again looks to the vintage aviation world for inspiration, this time basing design cues around a group of fighter squadrons running P-51 Mustangs out of RAF Bottisham Airfield. Now, as is the case with any affordable pilot watch, you’ll spot a familiar design cue or two from other pilot watches out there, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Of the more noteworthy details regarding this release, is that this is one of a few being offered as a limited edition—specifically being offered in a series of 1,490 pieces in each of the three available colorways, with special packaging, and a pair of strap options.
Frankly, I’m not the biggest aviation geek out there, but I can totally see how this new P-51 Mustang automatic will have added curb appeal for those more familiar with the war-era fighter. The choice of typography comes from the body of the planes, and the raised dial layer occupying the bottom right quarter of the dial is modelled after a specific cockpit gauge section in the P-51.
Its hands will appear to many as being similar to those found in more classic Bell & Ross BR01 and BR03 models, however even those hands are designed to replicate those found in a vintage altimeter. It’s also worth noting that the length of its hands is spot on here as—something that is often an issue with affordable brands. Conceptually speaking the addition of a crown guard to a watch with pilot roots is a little out of the ordinary, where tradition would dictate a larger oversized crown devoid of guards for ease of operation. That said, this is less of a traditional pilot watch to begin with, and I did find that the guard helped improve overall on-wrist comfort.
Especially for the price, I was legitimately surprised to see a colored date wheel on the P-51 Mustang. This detail can be overlooked SO often these days, even when you’re talking about watches from IWC or even more expensive offerings, so the fact that Avi-8 bothered to add a date wheel that’s color-matched to its contrasting blue seconds hand and other dial text is a major plus.
The small placard on the dial between one and two o’clock adds one last color accent—once again a play on P-51 gauges from its gyro horizon indicator. Where the gauge had a floating placard for its indication of being caged (explained here), the new Avi-8 displays its running frequency here—21,600 vibrations per hour, or 3 Hz. Considering that 3 Hz is basically industry-standard these days it’s an odd choice, but it does add another neat detail to the dial.
Another surprising detail is the varying finishes of black PVD applied to its case. Its bezel and the top-facing surfaces of its case are brushed, whereas the sides of its case and lugs are polished. There isn’t much in the way of elaborate bevelling and whatnot, but again given the entry price here, we really can’t complain.
At 43mm across I expected the P-51 Mustang Bottisham to wear a little bit large on my wrist—as is the case with most watches of this size other than dive watches, but likely due to the combination of its short lugs and dark case and dial, it wears quite comfortably on its rubber strap. I will say the strap design feels a bit more automotive-inspired than it does anything else, but right out of the box it was very soft and easy to wear.
Unfortunately I can’t say the same for its velcro strap, which I really like from a design standpoint. The quality is again reasonable, however that strap will take a more substantial break-in period before it’s as comfortable as its leather counterpart. On the plus side, the piece has 22mm lugs, so there’s no issue with finding aftermarket straps of all sorts that will fit.
All told, at $381.97 in PVD black, and $363.18 in brushed stainless steal, I’m more than comfortable recommending the new P-51 Mustang Bottisham. Reliable Seiko NH35 power, clever design, two strap options, a color-matched date wheel? If I were greedy I would be wanting a sapphire crystal with a touch more anti-reflective coating and a little less distortion when viewed from an angle, but again, you could do so much worse for the same price of entry.