The A-13A Flyback Chronograph — Tried And Tested By Real Pilots
Sometimes you come across a watch with a story behind it that is truly intriguing. When the A-13 Flyback Chronograph landed in my inbox, my curiosity was triggered by its distinctive looks. A very clean-looking pilot’s flyback chronograph but without the usual sub-dials and the crown and pushers on the left side of the case. Obviously, the product of some deliberate choices made by founder Paolo Fanton. As it turns out, the story behind the watch is just as interesting as the watch itself. I had a chance to test the watch and chat with Fanton about his passion project. Time to find out more about the A-13 Flyback Chronograph.
Whenever a watch like the A-13 Flyback lands on my desk, I immediately jump on the opportunity to find out more from a fellow watch enthusiast. In the end, we’re in this because we share the love for watches. And that’s exactly what Italian company founder and engineer Paolo Fanton triggered to create A-13 watches. It’s refreshing to see a pilot’s watch developed by an engineer who is a pilot himself. On top of that, he had fellow pilots from all over the globe help test the watch. There is no better test environment for a pilot’s watch than in a cockpit several thousand feet up in the air.
The inspiration for the A-13A
Milan-based Paolo Fanton’s adventure started with the idea to create a pilot’s watch that is inspired by the A-13A cockpit clock. This clock has been used mostly in American airplanes since the 1960s. The A-13A clock combines the functionalities of a clock and a stopwatch. The clock features two buttons. The one on the top right operates the chronograph. The bigger knob on the bottom left acts as a crown and winds the movement, and lets you set the time. Besides that, the clock is easy to use; its readability is the best thing about it. A key feature that is necessary when flying a plane.
As Fanton is a pilot who spends a lot of time in the air, he was inspired to use the A-13A design and functionalities as inspiration for a chronograph watch. Besides being an avid pilot in his free time, he is an engineer by day. So he took upon the task of designing and engineering the watch himself. He had a clear view of what he wanted and was very specific to ensure it was developed exactly how he wanted it. After two years of development and going back and forth with producers of the different parts, the first quartz version of the A-13A chronograph saw the light of day in 2017.
The central idea
Keeping the same functionalities, layout, and colors was crucial in bringing the A-13A clock design to life. So a flyback chronograph with central chronograph seconds hand with a black dial, contrasting white numerals for the hour and minutes tracks and large hands. All to maintain the same great readability of the cockpit clock. To power this first version, Fanton chose to use the 27-jewel quartz ETA 251.264 movement. After a lot of back and forth with producers about all the separate parts necessary, and two years of development, the first A-13-A was finally released (in limited numbers) to the public.
After the watch was released, enthusiasts started asking whether a mechanical version was also an option? While Fanton was open to the idea, it obviously was a lot easier said than done. The biggest challenge was to figure out what movement to use for the watch. There are not that many mechanical movements that you can source that feature a central chronograph seconds hand. The best and last known production movement that lives up to that one criterium is the famous Lemania 5100. However, as it is challenging to source, it was simply not an option. The Lemania 5100’s intended successor was the ETA caliber C01.211. This movement was, unfortunately, missing the feature needed to create the mechanical version as it is not a cam-actuated direct-drive chronograph movement that is capable of showing the chronograph seconds and minutes centrally.
The mechanical version
The answer to the question of how to realize the mechanical version was finding a fitting movement. The only solution was to turn to Dubois-Dépraz for a base movement with an added chronograph module on top. And that’s how the realization of the A-13A Flyback could come to life. Fanton chose to go for the Sellita SW200 rather than the ETA 2824. Most of you will know the SW200 is based on the ETA2824, so there are no real technical differences. The downside to using a base movement with a module is obviously the total height. That’s what Fanton had to deal with, though, and try and resolve in the case design. The mechanical version of the A-13A features a 42mm case that is 16.3mm thick. That’s considerably more than the 13mm of the quartz version. The lug-to-lug is 50.5mm, and the lug width is 20mm.
The overall case design for both A-13A versions was inspired by the MoD military spec WWW design from World War II. To modernize it for the quartz version, Fanton updated the lug design to give it a more contemporary feel. The curved lugs were the key to ensuring the overall silhouette didn’t become too chunky for the thicker mechanical version. Additionally, the brushed finish of the case also puts less emphasis on the height of the case. I love the understated presence with only the bezel and the pushers having a polished finish. In the end, there is no denying that it is a chunky watch, but then again, it’s a tool watch that is meant for actual use in a cockpit. The closed case back design is simple with the brand logo, the model number, and a statement of its proud Milanese origins.
Turning things upside down
Another big difference compared to the quartz version of the A-13A — and many of you probably already spotted it — is that the pushers and the crown are on the left side of the case. It’s a direct result of the crown’s placement. Because of the construction of a base movement and a chronograph module on top the crown sits quite low on the case. The best option to ensure it does not dig in your wrist was to flip the movement and have the crown and the pushers on the 9 o’clock side. As a result, the lower pusher starts and stops the chronograph. The upper pusher obviously operates the flyback and the reset functions of the chronograph. Inverted controls that become intuitive after just a couple of uses. The crown screws down, ensuring the watch is water-resistant up to 100 meters.
The dial is a thing of beauty. It is simple and highly effective in its design, but the execution is truly impressive. The applied numerals look super crisp against the black background. The outer ring that holds the 60-minute track is raised, so it seems like it hovers above the dial. I also love the variety in the handset. The oversized sword-style hands are black with large white contrasting sections. The chronograph seconds hand is nice and sleek and is a joy to watch go around the dial. But the best hand for me is the black central chronograph minutes hand with the white arrow tip. The hand and hour markers on the outer ring are generously filled with Super-LumiNova BGW9 that lights up blue in the dark. The brand’s embossed wing-shaped logo on the upper is a nice detail that is only visible if you look closely.
Wearing the A-13A Flyback
The first thing that obviously stands out when seeing the watch is its chunky case design. But in all honesty, once I put the watch on my wrist, I never felt that it was too chunky. I am a tall guy, so the 42mm case size is perfect for my wrist. On top of that, I can easily pull off the height of the watch. The watch came on one of the Cordura/kevlar straps that the quartz version comes with. It made sure the watch sits perfectly on the wrist. For the final mechanical version, Fanton will partner up with Red Rock straps to provide a hand-made canvas strap of the highest quality.
Once on the wrist, what truly stands out is the incredible quality of production and finishing. It really does feel like a great watch. The action on the chronograph pushers is really crisp. Setting the time with the crown also feels great. Operating the chronograph is not a problem at all if you wear the watch on your left wrist. It’s actually very easy with the bottom pusher as the start/stop activator. It’s easy to operate with your right thumb and does not feel out of the ordinary at all. Overall I really enjoyed wearing the A-13A Flyback Chronograph. And knowing this is one man’s passion project and having spoken to Paolo Fanton about his passion for flying that sparked the creation really made me enjoy it even more.
The best part of the story is probably that brand founder Paolo Fanton did not create this watch for a large crowd. He first created it because he wanted to have one for himself and the people he shares his passion for aviation with. And the reactions have been overwhelming. He has already sold over 300 watches to pilots and other aviation enthusiasts all over the world. To make sure that pilots also approve of the mechanical A-13A Flyback, he sent out prototypes to pilots around the world. They have tried and tested the watch and love what Fanton has come up with. When I asked him how people reacted to the substantially thicker case, he explained that none had complained about it.
The A-13A Flyback Chronograph is a tool watch first and foremost to be used when flying. It’s why the dimensions are not an issue for most pilots. Instead, they love wearing this watch that was inspired by one of the world’s most famous cockpit clocks. Although I am not a pilot, I think that story is what I love most about the watch. Its intentions are pure, its design is clean and crisp, and its execution is unbelievably well done. I truly enjoyed wearing the watch during the time we had it in the office. After my initial reservations about the height, I quickly took a liking to the watch as soon as I started wearing it. Realizing this is not a company, but a solo project makes it even more impressive.
I do not doubt that all 55 pieces of the limited production run of the A-13A Flyback Chronograph will be sold. Especially since there are already quite a few people that have made clear they want one. The price for the watch will be €2,950 when it goes on pre-order in the upcoming weeks. When I spoke to Fanton, he expected to have the pre-order online by the end of August or the start of September. So if you are interested, make sure to check out the brand’s official website for the official launch date. Sure, it’s not a cheap watch. It’s also not a stylish pilot’s chronograph like, for instance, the IWC Pilot’s Chronograph or the Longines Spirit Chronograph. If you are looking for that, this is not for you.
But if you have a passion for aviation and/or you are looking for a great tool watch with a fantastic story behind it, then this A-13A Flyback Chronograph could be the perfect watch for you. Fanton explained that a passionate community of A-13A watch owners is already out there. They share their love for flying, and their A-13A watches online. And as most watch enthusiasts will know, there is no greater thing than sharing your passion with like-minded people. That is the solid foundation upon which Fanton’s passion project stands.
If you want to find out more about the A-13 Flyback, visit the official A-13A website.