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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
My first review ... this is a new arrival, and although it definitely has fans at WUS, I thought it deserved a comprehensive inspection.

A-13A Pilot Watch


I've been looking for a new chrono inspired by the vintage Lemania 5100 movement, which used a central minutes register. Compared to squinting at a tiny sub-dial, it's a much easier, more intuitive way to read accumulated minutes. This is especially true when you're trying to record splits in the middle of race, which is my primary use for chronographs. You can generally recognize a central minutes on a vintage chrono by the "wings" on the hand.

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Vintage Heuer Silverstone ... needs 50M of drool resistance ...

For such a practical function, it's surprisingly rare these days. Sinn, Damasko, and Tutima currently make the only automatic models I'm aware of; ETA makes a quartz central minutes used by Swatch brands Certina, Rado, and Longines. TAG, Eterna and Revue Thommen also produced a handful of quartz models. Vintage examples are relatively easy to find, but a Lemania 5100 in good condition is way too expensive to use as a sports watch (for me, anyway).

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The A-13A Pilot Watch ... (borrowed)
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Borrowed from the A-13A website.

As I considered my options, a WUS member recommended the A-13A Pilot Watch, produced in Italy by a pilot, engineer, and WIS named Paolo Fanton. It's an homage to a hand-wind cockpit clock used since the 1950s in military and civilian aircraft. The A-13A clock was manufactured by numerous companies including Waltham, Longines, and Revue Thommen, under military specs that included an 8-day power reserve on a single full wind.

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Waltham A-13A Aircraft Clock, c. 1960 (borrowed)


Ordering, shipping, packaging:
Ordering on the A-13A website was a breeze. Mr Fanton emailed shortly after saying he would assemble my watch, QC it, and get it shipped within 48 hours. It got a fresh battery, which is nice to know since the first batch of watches were delivered back in September 2017. From ordering to unpacking was eight days, not bad considering I ordered on a Saturday morning and it came from Italy. It was packed in a clever cardboard tube meant to evoke vintage packaging for spare aircraft parts.

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First impressions:

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It is never love at first sight with me. IMO, a primary advantage of buying new from a retail vendor is the return period; I have returned three watches in the past two years without even removing them from their pillow. Before it goes on my wrist, it gets examined under magnification, photographed, tested, and timed. (Btw, I would never do this to a private seller with a pre-owned watch. In private deals, there is no such thing as buyer's remorse.)


So my first surprise was a happy one: the central minute register is a jump minute hand, which vastly improves legibility. I was also happy to see that both chrono hands -- seconds and minutes -- hit the indices perfectly.

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The chrono pushers are crisp and precise. It can measure splits, a necessity for me, and it's a complication rarely found in mechanical chronographs (like the Lange Double Split, a twin rattrapante that costs more than my car).

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ALS Double Split ... actually costs twice as much as my car ... (borrowed)

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A-13A costs a fraction of my car ...

Another unexpected flourish is the reset: the second hand returns first to the twelve, followed a split second later by the minute hand. It's a small detail, but draws your attention to the fact that your watch has indeed reset, but it is also fun to watch after years of watching an instant mechanical reset.

Considering the dial has a full set of Arabic numerals, and the chapter ring has a minutes/seconds scale, the watch is remarkably uncluttered. Mr Fanton cleverly chose to write "Pilot Watch" in raised black letters, which is another nod to the aircraft clock, which sometimes would have specs printed in black or gray on the dial. It's a charming detail.

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The watch:
On paper, the A-13A has solid specs: a sapphire crystal w/inner AR coating, a brushed stainless steel case, screw-down crown, and a screw-in caseback. It is rated for 100M water resistance, which for me is the minimum required to add the adjective durable. Unlike many quartz watches, this has the heft of a mechanical.

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Dimensions are 42mm x 52mm L2L x 13mm thick. I have a modestly-sized wrist, varying from 7.0-inches to 7.25-inches depending on my current diet, exercise, or blood pressure, and I've been trying to keep my watches at 40mm diameter/48mm L2L at most, and based on the specs, I was worried it would be too big.

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Wears a bit thick for a quartz ...

It's definitely not demure, but it wears far more compactly than I expected. Maybe it's the gloss black dial or the stubby downward curving lugs making it seem smaller? The case is fairly unremarkable: it's brushed 316L stainless steel with straight sides, which at 13mm is a bit thicker than I'd expect from a quartz watch. The top of the tapered bezel is polished: it's barely noticeable since that's where it meets the crystal, but it adds a nice halo around the dial. Aside from that, the only other polished surfaces are the pushers, the flat surface of the crown, which is signed with a very subtle logo (a cross section of a wing), and the outermost perimeter of the case back. It's enough to show some attention to detail, but doesn't detract from the overall military vintage vibe of the watch.

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Mil-spec engraving on caseback ... and yep, I still have the sticker on ...

I'm not in love with a 20mm lug size on a 42mm watch. I would have preferred 22mm, but the smaller lug size contributes to the compactness of the watch. The strap is a departure from the vintage vibe: it's made of cordura and kevlar, with a signed buckle. It's a bit stiff, but the kevlar lining is as smooth as leather and comfortable. At this price point, I find the custom strap to be a bit of a disappointment, and I would have preferred an aviator-type leather strap. However, it's certainly not a drawback, and is slowly growing on me.

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The movement is an ETA 251.264, which is the base movement used by the Certina Precidrive thermocompensated HAQ. In a thread on WUS introducing the watch, Mr Fanton mentions he wanted to use the HAQ version, but had to make do with the basic model. He refers to making adjustments to this movement, which -- oddly -- is not the same movement used in the Certina, Rado, or Longines chonos (which is an ETA 251.262). I'm not exactly sure what he did, but it worked! The motion of the A-13A chrono hands is much smoother and crisper than the Certina, and the reset is much quicker and more decisive. I happen to own the Certina model, a DS First, and it was interesting to compare them side by side.

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The Certina DS First is a fantastic watch, with 200M of water resistance, a ceramic 120-click dive bezel, and a domed sapphire crystal. It is slightly more svelte at 41mm x 51mm L2L x 12.5mm thick. The A-13A is a pilot watch, and the Certina is a dive watch, so a direct comparison is tough, but -- IMO -- the A-13A stands out regardless. It has the advantage of a real personality: being based directly and accurately on a cockpit clock, it evokes a vintage military sensibility. The DS First is a sleek sports watch, but it could have Tissot, Rado, or Balmain written across the dial, and you'd never know. The screw-down crown on the A-13A is perfectly sized, nicely knurled, and beautifully machined. The pushers are crisp and decisive. The Certina's screw-down crown is too small and not quite as smooth, and the pushers are too dainty, and feel squishy in comparison. Both watches have an independently-set hour hand, which is handy for travel and DST; on the DS First, there's a bit of wiggle room when setting it, while the A-13A feels like a precision instrument. These are practically the same movement, so I can only attribute the difference to the maker's attention to detail. Again, I really like Certina. IMO, of all the mid-tier Swatch brands, they make the best looking dedicated sports watches. (I have also owned the DS-2 Precidrive HAQ, and for the money it's a truly impressive timepiece rated for +/- 10 SPY). Yet I have to give the edge in these finishing details to Mr Fanton, hands down, no contest.

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As you might have guessed, I bought the Certina DS First because it has a central minute register. And even though it also happens to be my only dedicated dive watch, I have a feeling that the A-13A is going to bump the DS First into the Sales Forum sooner than later.

Pricing ...

Here's where the Certina wins hands-down. The DS First has a similar MSRP to the A-13A, but the gray market offers significant discounts. Using a coupon code during a clearance sale, I bought both of my Certinas at 70% off. There is no gray market for the A-13A Pilot Watch, and very few have made it to the preowned market. I found one recent listing on WUS from about a month ago, and it sold pre-owned before the first bump for very close to what I paid new.

So ... it's an expensive watch, and if you want one at a discount, you'll probably have to be patient.

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At this price point, if you could only have one quartz watch, I would probably recommend the Gavox Aurora as a better buy. It has similar specs, sapphire, 100M water resistance, and rivals Casio and Citizen as a multifunction quartz, using a custom-made Soprod quartz movement. It has a chronograph (flyback, splits, 31-hour totalizer), a timer (hands move counter-clockwise, 31-hour time limit, visual alarm), UTC mode (+independently adjustable hour hand in 15-minute increments to accommodate non-standard time zones), perpetual day/date/month calendar, moon phase, optional retrograde running seconds, and a remarkable power saving mode that allows the chrono and timer to be run simultaneously while in a standard timekeeping mode. (Caveat to Casio/Citizen fans: I said it rivals, not surpasses. Casio & Citizen make extraordinary multifunction watches, but I'm just pointing out that Gavox offers a unique analog alternative to a G-shock or Navihawk.)

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Do I recommend the A-13A at its current asking price?

Well, if you have a central minutes fetish like me, this is an inexpensive way to scratch that itch. The Sinn EZM models are gonna cost $4k to $5k. The Damasko DC-80 is nearly $3k. The Tutima is $4k to $5k. A vintage Lemania 5100 watch is at least $1500 (for a 25-year-old TAG Aquagraph), and I've seen Heuers, Sinns and Tutimas listed for up to $10k.

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Sinn EZM 1.1 ... awesome ...
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Damasko DC80 ... awesome ...
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Tutima Commando II Chrono ... awesome ... but not what I need (all borrowed)

At that price, I need to buy something that reasonably meets my needs, and none of the automatics came close. For a quick example, both the Damasko DC80 and the Sinn EZM 1.1 use aviator countdown bezels (which makes sense because they're pilot watches, but that's useless for my purposes), have no running seconds (for me, it's a must-have on any automatic), and have no numerals on the dial (which I find disorienting, not conducive for recording a quick split time, and doesn't exactly scream "precision," especially on the EZM, a watch touted as a mission timer). So yes, the A-13A is an expensive quartz watch, but it offers nearly everything I was looking for, and I figure Paolo Fanton saved me between $900 and $4000.

Taking price out of the equation, I wholeheartedly recommend the A-13A. It doesn't have the multifunction of the Gavox, but it performs its primary function extremely well, with a lot of personality and charm. Currently I have two fantastic single-watch micro brands in my rotation, this one, and the Merci LMM-01 handwind field watch. These two amazing watches are the result of a talented WIS focused on creating a single great watch instead of trying to launch an entire brand.

To wrap up: Like many WIS, I have a preference for automatic movements, but I think anyone on this forum would be extremely impressed by what Mr Fanton has created. Yes, it's an homage to an aircraft clock, but he managed to make it so much more than just a vintage military novelty. It's really one of a kind, an imaginative and useful tool watch that isn't like anything else I've seen before. Check it out!

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Customer Service/Shipping/Packaging: A+
(Fantastic experience, buy with confidence, nice touches like a signed note from Mr Fanton)
Build quality/Precision/Durability: A+
(It's an A+ so far .... I'll check back in 6 months ...)
Aesthetics/Charm/Distinctiveness: A-
(Not a solid A because of a) the strap, b) my preference for a 22mm lug size, c) thickness of the case ...)
Price: C- for value proposition; B+ for the chance to own a one-of-kind watch
(To be fair, the currency conversion made it more expensive; but even still, there are better value options, ranging from a slew of Citizens to the Gavox Aurora, and the Certina DS First. If this was priced under $500, it would be getting a lot more attention on WUS; at under $400, it would be a runaway best seller. But I'm guessing Mr Fanton isn't retiring on these watches, so the price is the cost of opportunity.)

Handy links:

online store: https://www.a-13a.com/shop/en/

The Custom A-13A Pilot Chronograph Built to Survive a Spy Plane - Worn & Wound

Form Follows Function - Why Paolo Fanton's A-13A Pilot Chronograph Hasn't Left My Wrist - Worn & Wound

Interview: Paulo Fanton's A-13A Pilot Watch - Worn & Wound

https://www.watchuseek.com/f512/quest-perfect-pilot-watch-headache-project-2919930.html

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Thanks for reading my review!
 

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Amazing write-up! So happy to see a comprehensive review of this watch. I'm still very much in love with mine, though I share your sentiment about the strap. It has an awesome, cool aura, but to me the watch deserves something more (I have an incoming one from redrockstraps that I hope will do the trick).
Finally, congratulations on your new watch!
 
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Discussion Starter #5
Amazing write-up! So happy to see a comprehensive review of this watch. I'm still very much in love with mine, though I share your sentiment about the strap. It has an awesome, cool aura, but to me the watch deserves something more (I have an incoming one from redrockstraps that I hope will do the trick).
Finally, congratulations on your new watch!
Thank you, that's very nice of you to say. Happy to hear that you still love yours!
I have a few straps that'll look great with this, but it's gonna take some thought to find the perfect match. Hope you post your new Redrockstraps when it arrives, would love to see how it looks.
Thanks again for the kind remarks!
 

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Fantastic review. Thanks!
 

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Gratulation and thank you for this wonderful review.
I am waiting for my Damasko DC80 and have a Sinn EZM 1.1 on the left hand.
But thinking to buy these absolut cool watch.
In crown position 2 jumping the hour counter is perfect for time zone and stoping longer distance than 60 minutes.
 

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Nice watch and good review! Enjoy.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

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Thanks for posting, such a stellar watch, expensive, but one I’ve been considering nonetheless.

My two hesitations on a purchase have been the small lug width as you mention, and oddly enough- I would like a non chronograph version.





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Discussion Starter #11
Can you hear this watch every time ticking or only when the stopwatch is running ?
Thank you
I didn’t hear the watch at all ... I have a 6497 hand-winder that makes a racket, and my Timex quartz has woken me up, but the A-13a ran silently.
Highly recommend!


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Any long term ownership update?
He no longer owns it.

This serial number is currently on my wrist. It has basically been my daily watch since October. It has been on a number of work trips and the jumping hour-hand works fantastic. I actually don’t think it’s been set/hacked since October.

When I acquired the A-13A, I was rotating several Tudor watches for daily use. I liked the A-13A enough that I sold my stock of Tudor watches, straps, and bracelets and bought an Explorer II. Between these two watches and a Unitas hand-winder for dress use, I feel completely content.

I still wish there was a high-end bracelet option for this watch but I have made due without. It’s currently on a Breitling rubber strap and clasp. It looks and feels like it could be OEM.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Any long term ownership update?
Long term update: I really wish I hadn't sold it. I sold it during a big watch box blowout on my way to purchasing a Speedmaster. As much as I like the Speedy, the A-13A is still one of my favorites, and maybe even my favorite quartz ever. Mr Fanton was on a thread recently teasing an automatic version of the watch, which would definitely be something I'd add to my already bloated rotation.

He no longer owns it.

This serial number is currently on my wrist. It has basically been my daily watch since October. It has been on a number of work trips and the jumping hour-hand works fantastic. I actually don’t think it’s been set/hacked since October.

When I acquired the A-13A, I was rotating several Tudor watches for daily use. I liked the A-13A enough that I sold my stock of Tudor watches, straps, and bracelets and bought an Explorer II. Between these two watches and a Unitas hand-winder for dress use, I feel completely content.

I still wish there was a high-end bracelet option for this watch but I have made due without. It’s currently on a Breitling rubber strap and clasp. It looks and feels like it could be OEM.
Not at all surprised to hear your thoughts. It's a great watch. The OEM strap was well made, but ultimately I also wore it on a variety of other straps, and I'd love to have this on a bracelet as well ...
 

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Fantastic review of the quartz A-13A Pilot Watch. Interesting how Mr. Fanton made some adjustments to the ETA 251.264 to improve the smoothness and crispness of the Chrono hands.

Finally, sorry to hear you regret selling your A-13A, but at least you have the automatic version to look forward too.
 

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Long term update: I really wish I hadn't sold it. I sold it during a big watch box blowout on my way to purchasing a Speedmaster. As much as I like the Speedy, the A-13A is still one of my favorites, and maybe even my favorite quartz ever. Mr Fanton was on a thread recently teasing an automatic version of the watch, which would definitely be something I'd add to my already bloated rotation.



Not at all surprised to hear your thoughts. It's a great watch. The OEM strap was well made, but ultimately I also wore it on a variety of other straps, and I'd love to have this on a bracelet as well ...
Thanks all - thinking very seriously about getting one.
 

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Any long term ownership update?
As one of the "Brave 75" (mine's numbered 050/500) it's on my wrist as I write this.

It hasn't missed a beat.
It's used heavily but so far not collecting scratches.
I still love looking at it and it's the one watch that attracts comments from other people - "Nice watch! What's that?"
Dealing with Paolo is a joy.
I moved it to a milanese mesh to dress it up a little - I like it, your mileage may vary.

Yes: fairly expensive for a quartz watch, but it is very special and I have spent more on watches that have been less functional, less durable and much less precise.

All in all: wholeheartedly recommended!

(@ Vioviv: Great review!)
 

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Discussion Starter #19
As one of the "Brave 75" (mine's numbered 050/500) it's on my wrist as I write this.

It hasn't missed a beat.
It's used heavily but so far not collecting scratches.
I still love looking at it and it's the one watch that attracts comments from other people - "Nice watch! What's that?"
Dealing with Paolo is a joy.
I moved it to a milanese mesh to dress it up a little - I like it, your mileage may vary.

Yes: fairly expensive for a quartz watch, but it is very special and I have spent more on watches that have been less functional, less durable and much less precise.

All in all: wholeheartedly recommended!

(@ Vioviv: Great review!)
Agree with everything you said about the watch & Paolo.
I saw a picture of the A-13A on a public forum thread yesterday ("Most Legible watches" or something like that), and I missed it so much, and it has been my number one most regretted flip ... So I ordered another from Paolo yesterday as an early birthday present. And I'm probably more excited about getting in that any watch I've bought in the last year.
Thanks for reading my review!
 
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