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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Background - I lost the use of my long-serving Revue Thommen Airspeed Classic Quartz Chronograph earlier this year, when a leak whilst swimming wrecked the movement. Whilst waiting for Max Schweizer, the watchmaker who is also a Fortis dealer to give me the verdict on the RT, I spotted in the display case a Fortis GMT Chrono which the previous owner had earlier traded with Max for a Fortis Flieiger Chrono. The Fortis was beyond my means and a repair to the RT seemed to be quite expensive, and so with funds being short, I deferred the decision and instead bought a cheap diver's watch via eBay, followed a few weeks later by the purchase of a new Revue Thommen chronograph, also cheap, via eBay.

The search for a long-term keeper took much time and brought me in the process to Watchuseek, to a degree of WISdom, and to some interesting virtual on-line friendships (thank you Ian and Martin, in particular, for your wisdom and advice). It also took me into numerous watch shops, where I pondered the relative attractions of the Omega Speedmaster Moon Watch, the IWC Pilot Chronograph,the Bell & Ross 01-94, and various other models I could see and handle, as well studying up online on several other brands that were not generally available in Australia, foremost amongst these being Sinn. I was fortunate to meet a couple of local enthusiasts who shared their enthusiasm with me and showed me their collection - thanks Michael and Nick. Chris in Melbourne helped get me started on the watch trading game, and in a few weeks I had sold 4 watches, most of which had been unused for years, and raised enough to buy, erm...

Well, the problem was that the Australian dollar had fallen heavily against the rest of the major currencies, to the point when anything priced in US Dollars was now 55% dearer. So, my preferred Sinn 103 Ti UTC was completely out of my reach. On the other hand, eight months on, that Fortis GMT Chronograph was still in Max's cabinet AND the price had been reduced. With my confidence upped by several watch sales I reckoned that if I didn't warm to it, I could always flip it and probably shouldn't lose too much.

So, a month of ownership later, here are my impressions.

Dial - With a large, 34 mm dial, the main numbers and markers are white on a matt black background, which provides superb legibility. The basic model Fortis Pilot Professional Day-Date is probably one of the clearest watch dials available anywhere and this model is close behind, with only the addition of the chronograph dials and the GMT markers detracting slightly from the excellent readability. The overall look of the dial is however essentially the same as the non-chronograph watch (see Whifferdill's review of that model elsewhere on this forum) and owes a lot to the stark simplicity of traditional aircraft instruments which are designed to be read at a glance.

Hands (Permanent) - the straight main hour and minute hands are simple and unadorned batons with pointed tips - somewhat reminiscent of a schoolroom clock, with the white (probably C3) luminova coating evenly applied across all but the innermost 2mm of the hands. The lume glows green in the dark, and holds its charge well enough to be legible even after 6-8 hours. The painted part of minute hand at 13.5mm is clearly differentiated by length from the 9mm hour hand, and reaches all the way to the minute markers on the edge of the dial, making it easy to read, even in low light. The sub-dial at 9 displays permanent seconds, with 5 second markers, 15, 30, 45 and 60 second number and a fine continuous sweeping white second hand. This positioning makes it easy to hack the watch against a time signal, since it is least likely to obscured by any other hand.

Hands (Chronograph) - The 30-minute chronograph sub-dial at 12 has markers every minute, larger markers and numbers every 5 minutes and a fine orange chronograph hand which stands out very clearly against the black of the dial and the white markings. This hand moves in jumps every minute, as the second hand passes the 12. The 12 hour chronograph sub-dial has a similar but obviously much smaller orange hand, which stands out well against the small 30 minute markers, more prominent hour markers and the 3, 6, 9 and 12 numbers. This chronograph sub-dial hand moves continuously and I sometimes find it hard to tell at a glance whether the 30 minute mark has been reached, or passed. By comparison, on my Revue Thommen quartz chronograph, the chrono hour hand on the 12 hour accumulator moved in jumps between the hour marker, making it easier to read clearly. Presumably the continuous movement is a feature of the Valjoux 7750. The chronograph sweep second hand is, like the other complication displays, dayglow orange and stands out very well, even in low light, though it is, like the other minor hands, unlumed.

Revue Thommen Airspeed Classic Chronograph - which has the Lemania 5100 type centre minute hand display:




Day/Date Display - The date is shown by white-on-black numerals in a window at 3; in this, the GMT model, the day window is replaced by an inverted orange triangle and the letters "GMT". Above this is the word "FORTIS", surmounted by the manufacturer's crown symbol; below, in smaller print, the words "CHRONOGRAPH AUTOMATIC". At the bottom of the dial, in very small print either side of the 6 marker, the words "SWISS MADE".

Hour and Minute Markers - The hours are shown by lumed, large, clear Arabic numbers from 1 - 11 though without the 3, 6, 9, and 12 hour markers; the 12 position is marked by the traditional triangle and 2 dots. There are minute markers every minute on the edge of the dial and the numbers are shown every 5 minutes. The lumed numerals stand out very clearly when first charged, but are indistinguishable within 30 minutes, but the gaps at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 points make it easy to orient the hands in the dark, even several hours later. The lume, when I compared it in the shop, was inferior to that on a new Fortis Flieger, but I bought the watch used and it may be that it has deteriorated with age.

GMT hour markers - This is a GMT model, with a 24 hour GMT display. The GMT hand is quick-set, meaning that it can be reset without the need to stop and then re-hack the watch, but when you change the main hour hand, the GMT hand moves with it. So once you've changed the hour hand to local time, you have to re-set the GMT hand to reference time then re-hack the second hand.

This is, in my view, inferior to the Rolex GMT and Omega GMT movements, which allow for a fixed GMT and a quick-set local hour hand; after all, even if you change time zones, GMT does not change. But those Rolex and Omega modifications are apparently patented and just about every other brand has to make do with this mod. When I travel across time-zones, I suppose I'll just have to take along a quartz watch to provide a time check to re-hack the watch after re-setting the hour hand.

The GMT hand has a very thin, matt black arm, with a bright orange triangle on the tip. The effect of this is that the arm is practically invisible and the GMT mark is very clearly shown by the position of the triangle around the rim of the dial, a triangle which appears to move almost without any visible connection to the rest of the watch. I really like this design, which does not clutter up the rest of the watch in that way that some GMT hands appear to do.

That's the good news. The bad news is the orange GMT hour markers, which are on the inside rim of the case with the 24 at 6 and the 12 at 12. This is slightly counter-intuitive and I should have preferred the 24 to be at 12; but in terms of positioning this is less of an issue than the readability of the numbers. Because they are on the inside of the rim, all but the numbers from 8 to 17 (I wear the watch on the left wrist) are hard to read without contorting the wrist to get the watch at the correct angle. Since I live in Sydney (GMT +10) and keep the GMT hand set to GMT, this means that it's hard to read the GMT except from 1800 to 0300 local time, each day. The numerals are also too small to be read at a quick glance, which means that this sort of display is better suited to office use or for pre-flight planning than for in cockpit use by a pilot, which seems a shame considering its branding. This is where a rotating 24-hour bezel would come in really handy - either to allow those who need to, to read the 2nd time-zone time very quickly, or for those the leisure to study the watch more carefully (and perhaps more flexible wrists) the ability to calculate a 3rd time-zone.

Watch Movement and Chronograph functionality - It's a modified Valjoux 7750, which means it functions in much the same way as 90% of current production auto chronographs, including some much more expensive models (Bell & Ross, or IWC, anyone?). It's apparently very reliable, if ultimately not as rugged as the much lamented Lemania 5100. It's very simple in its functionality - the top pusher starts and stops the chrono hands; the bottom pusher zeros them. Don't push the bottom pusher when the chronograph is running. And don't change the date when the hour hand is between 10 and 2 - I tried this once in a watch shop, before I knew better, and apparently trashed a very nice IWC Pilot Chronograph in the process (sorry, Hardy Brothers). But I suppose that this sort of weakness/quirk is what people call "character" and is the reason why people lust after Ferraris rather than Audis, gain kudos for flying Pitts Specials rather than Cessnas (!), and covet auto chronographs rather than quartz models. If you want better chronograph functionality in an analogue display, get a watch with the 251.262 quartz movement found in certain Revue Thommen, TAG Heuer and Breitling models. It allows for split lap timing; has a quick-set hour hand and you can change the date whenever you want without risk of damage. That's one reason I kept my Revue Thommen…having said which, the accuracy of the Valjoux movement is pretty impressive - it's running at around 2 seconds slow per day - slightly better than -15 secs per week; which means that there was not too much to worry about in coming from a quartz movement.

Case, Crown and Pushers - The case is brushed stainless steel and for one coming from the 37.5mm titanium Revue Thommen, feels pretty massive; it's not as heavy on a rubber or leather strap as on a stainless steel bracelet, but it's around 15mm thick, which makes it harder to fit under a shirt cuff. In a confined space (such as an aircraft cockpit), or during active sports, it also makes it more vulnerable, so I tend to revert to the Revue Thommen for sailing, especially since that watch's more sophisticated chronograph allows me to adjust the zero point for counting down races. The stainless is also prone to scratches and scuffs, but on the plus side, these can probably be buffed out more easily.
The crown is large and prominent, making it easy to use when manual winding is required or when re-setting the hands; however, it is straight-sided, meaning that it is hard to grasp when pulling it out.

Neither it nor the chronograph pushers screw down; both are unprotected by shoulders. The watch is marked as being water-resistant to 20 ATM, nevertheless, the dealer advised me not to wear it in the water or the shower in case the pushers got knocked, which kind of contradicts the whole concept of this as a rugged and water-resistant watch. I do find however, than when using it in a swimming pool, I'm more aware of the size and its vulnerability to being banged on the pool sides or the lane markers; whilst sailing, I worry about the size; in both situations, I feel more comfortable wearing the Revue Thommen.

Case-Back - The GMT model features a transparent sapphire case back. This is the first time I have ever been able to see the movement of a watch, and whilst it can be fun to see the nicely decorated rotor whizzing round, I'm no more excited by this feature than I would be about the idea of a Perspex car bonnet; years of dull quartz movements have left me perfectly happy with the idea of a metal case-back.

Crystal- the flat sapphire crystal is 35 mm across and has an anti-reflective coating on both sides, making it almost invisible and adding to the clarity of the display. It is one of the clearest crystals I have ever seen and on a par with that of the Revue Thommen which is also excellent. The flat rather than domed crystal also helps with clarity and reduces the risk of scuffs and scratches.

Strap & Lugs - I have the watch on the Fortis rubber strap with butterfly clasp, which is designed for the watch and fits snugly against the curve of the case. This is waterproof and fairly comfortable, though less so than the NATO nylon straps I tend to favour; and, has enough stretch to fit over flying suit and gloves. However, the pushers for the clasp release are somewhat vulnerable to getting knocked, causing the clasp to undo of its own volition - which is not good for safety. I have tried the watch on a Fortis metal bracelet but found it ridiculously heavy. I might change to a waterproof leather strap or a NATO at some stage.
The lugs are screw-in, which means there is much reduced risk of losing the watch owing to spring-bar failure, which was a major factor behind my decision to buy the Fortis.

Conclusions - Overall, an excellent automatic chronograph watch which is rarely seen, but which has a combination of features and functions which make it well suited to the "Pilot Professional" branding.
Pluses are: Exceptionally clear, highly legible display, very much in the "tool watch" idiom pioneered by Fortis; very accurate Valjoux 7750 movement, with date; "true" 24-hour GMT function with very clear, unobstructive hand; screw in lugs.
Minuses for: The sheer size and bulk of the watch - I'd rather it was about the same 11mm thickness as the non-chrono version - but that's probably a fact of life with the Valjoux movement; the positioning of the numbers for the 24-hour display - both in terms of having the 24 number at the 6 position and for the illegibility of numbers positioned where they are hidden by the rim of the dial.
Wish-list - I'd love to see a variant, with a lower profile case, preferably in titanium, using a Lemania 5100 or the Quartz 251.262 movement with centre minute sweep hands, and with the addition of a 24 hour bezel for easy reading of the 24 hour display.


It's my first new automatic watch in 25 years and in exchanging the accuracy and lightness of a titanium quartz chronograph as my everyday watch for the attractions of a mechanical one I know there are things I've given up - the lightness and lower profile of my Revue Thommen, and the excellent functionality of that 251.262 chronograph being the main ones. OTOH, I've gained a watch which has one of the best displays around, with a chronograph - which I wanted, and a 24 hour GMT complication, which I value. So it's been a successful trade - and I still have the RT as my, well, if not my beater, as the watch that's useful in specific situations where size and lightness matter.

Overall, I'd rate it as 8.5/10. And I'm not planning to flip it anytime soon! I reckon it's a keeper...


 

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Great review HappyJack! Very thorough. Nice to see the comparisons with your RT.

I was interested to learn how you found that GMT display - a useful feature but it does seem to have been 'squeezed in' as an add-on to an already complete design, rather than perhaps coming up with a whole new watch addressing the GMT function more carefully - I love the hand indicator, but as you say, an external 24 bezel would have been a much neater solution and would have retained the legibility of the rest of the dial a little better.

Great looking watch though, and it has all the features you were looking for - a pilot chrono with a very useful GMT and it sounds like you got it at a good price too. Enjoy!
:-!
 

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Hi HappyJack - great review!

I have to admit I haven't seen a B-42 GMT Chrono before - I quite like it!

Comparing it to the Sinn 103 St Sa UTC that we discussed, the benefits would appear to be size - 15mm vs 16.5 and a UTC/GMT function that's a lot more readable.

Regarding water resist - the nice thing about the Sinn is the copper sulphate capsule that gives me a gauge of whether it's okay to take it for a dip. If the Fortis is a few years old, it may be worth inquiring about the service interval - because they are likely to replace the seals and do a pressure test.

Glad you've found a chrono that you like. Now you can start planning the next one. ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Hi HappyJack - great review!

I have to admit I haven't seen a B-42 GMT Chrono before - I quite like it!

Glad you've found a chrono that you like. Now you can start planning the next one. ;)
Don't tell my wife - she asked if I was planning to buy any more watches and I said, "Not at the moment." But I have been having lustful thoughts about a CWC chronograph - I've had CWC quartz Navigator for about 25 years, and I like the simple, functional style... then the longer term goal remains the Sinn 103 UTC, plus the Damasko 66, and it would be churlish not to have one with a Lemania 5100 movement - perhaps a Fortis Stratoliner as the poor mans Omega Speedmaster L5100; then of course an Omega Speedmaster Pro; oh dear - that would be just too much time on my hands...!
 

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Congratulations! Excellent choice.
I love the design of this Fortis. And although I always thought of the orange and white triangle as a bit silly, I don't anymore. Several times already, when wanting to change the second timezone, I incidentally changed the date, which means having to turn it one full month forward, and thereafter set the 2nd timezone as well.
 
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