Hands-On With The Forstner Pilot Ref. F-6B/346
Since Forstner reopened its doors in 2019, it has become a go-to for vintage-inspired bracelets. The brand was founded by William Forstner almost a century earlier in New Jersey, concentrating on ornamental jewelry and watch bracelets in its early years. The company’s real focus came about in 1939 with the introduction of the “Komfit” bracelet, which was followed in the next decade by Forstner’s version of the “Bonklip” bracelet. Now we see Forstner introducing the Pilot Ref. F-6B/346, the brand’s take on the classic Mark 11 pilot’s watch.
Given Forstner’s long history of producing watch bracelets and the relatively short period since refounding, it’s perhaps surprising that the Pilot Ref. F-6B/346 is the second watch added to an already-comprehensive collection of bracelets. The A-12 garnered a fantastic response as a reproduction of the Bulova Astronaut, and now Forstner delivers its version of the “6B” pilot’s watch.
Where it all began…
In the late 1940s, the Ministry of Defence issued the 6B/346 watch specification for “a highly accurate time-piece, suitable for Astro-navigation purposes.” In other words, a pilot’s watch. Cosmetically, this required a matte black dial, a complete set of Arabic numerals for the hour markers, white minute markings with lumed indices at the cardinal points, and a central sweeping seconds hand.
Further requirements regarding antimagnetic shielding and water resistance, materials for the case and crystal, and the performance of the movement were also detailed. Additionally, the watch was to be fitted with a Bonklip-style bracelet. From this, the IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre Mark 11 models were born. Now, Forstner never produced an original Mark 11 watch, but including a Bonklip bracelet makes this an obvious choice for reworking.
Contrasting dial options
Forstner is offering two dial variants. One intends to stay true to the original reference, and the other diverges from the MoD’s specifications. Although there is little scope for creativity, Forstner has succeeded in keeping a clean and balanced dial while also decorating with a bit of texture. The result is an easily readable dial with just a little flair. That texture is even more pronounced on the white dial, although the creamy orange indices and hands catch the eye in this case. Thankfully, the color is too bold to be interpreted as fauxtina. As successful as I find the combination of colors and textures, the whole package feels more coherent in its monochromatic form.
The distinctive squared-off hour hand is typical of the Mark 11 reference, and both hour and minute hands are treated with the same C3 Super-LumiNova as the triangle marker at 12 and other markers at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. This appears as a very pale light green in daylight. Therefore, at times, this is noticeably different from the crisp white of the central seconds hand and Arabic numerals. For the white and orange colorway, all indices and numerals are lumed. One apparent departure from the original military specification is the presence of a sapphire crystal. What is an upgrade in terms of scratch resistance can sometimes be viewed as a compromise in aesthetics. Each of these two materials produces a markedly different effect, especially towards the perimeter of a heavily domed crystal.
Good things come in small packages
In keeping with the watch’s 1940s origins, the case is small by modern standards. Owing in part to the domed crystal, the watch comes in at 12.6mm thick. This isn’t excessive in absolute terms, but the small 36mm diameter accentuates that thickness. Dimensions aside, the case shape and size are uncomplicated. It features a brushed finish throughout, including the engraved case back and the unsigned crown. The long and elegant lugs sit appropriately on my 7-inch wrist. Perhaps these help it to feel larger than it looks. As the drilled lug holes are pretty far from the lug tips, a comfortable fit may still be possible for small wrists.
The hand-wound movement powering the Forstner Pilot Ref. F-6B/346 is the Sellita SW210-1 in Elaboré grade. This Swiss caliber should give 42 hours of power reserve on a full wind and beats at 28,000vph. I have never been one to get pleasure from winding a watch. That said, the sizeable push-pull crown and audible clicking make it plain sailing.
A period-correct bracelet
Now on to one of the key parts of this watch — the bracelet. Before taking this watch in for review, I had never worn a Bonklip-style bracelet, nor had I wanted to. From afar, I can appreciate how distinctive it is. It’s very accommodating and also very apt for such a watch. But just because it looks right doesn’t mean it looks good. Each time I fumble to wrap it around my wrist and latch it together lessens my enthusiasm further. Once fastened, however, I love it. Fans of the Forstner Klip will already know just how light, malleable, and altogether wearable it is. It’s even just jangly enough to remind you it’s there.
The Forstner Pilot Ref. F-6B/346 is big on charm
There are no huge surprises with this piece, good or bad. The brand plays to the heritage of the Forstner name, albeit more to the period-correct bracelet than the watch itself. Overall, this piece is small, simple, and packed with charm. If you don’t feel comfortable springing for an original Mark 11 or even a modern reissue from one of the original brands, then the Forstner Pilot Ref. F-6B/346 has a lot going for it. Pre-orders are currently open on Forstner’s website, with prices set at US$850.
Follow me on Instagram: @bradwatch | @fratellowatches