Hanhart 417 ES: The Bundeswehr Chronograph

It’s been almost half a year since my last article. Watches did come and watches did go. I decided to slow down a bit with my media. Two things are the same as ever: I only write about watches from my personal collection and the blog is not sponsored in any way.

The watch I will talk about today is one real classic although some of you may never heard of it: The Hanhart 417 ES. Let’s first have a look at the company.

Hanhart was founded in 1882 in Diessenhoffen / Suisse, a small town near the German border. In 1902 the company moved to Schwenningen in Germany and from now on Hanhart is a true German company. Schwenningen in the Black Forest was one of the capitals in watchmaking in the beginning of the 20th century. In 1924 Hanhart released the first of this type of watches they became famous for, their first stopwatch. Used to measure times in athletics, the former stopwatches were expensive pieces. Hanhart created the first affordable piece and produced them in an industrial level. From this time on Hanhart was the word leader in mechanical stopwatches and you can buy both mechanical and electronic sportwatches until today.

Stopwatch from the 1930s (picture copyright by Hanhart)

Having this know how it was no surprise Hanhart released their first wristwatch with a chronograph complication only a few years later in 1932. In 1957 the model 417 was released in two versions: a chrome plated brass model and a stainless steel version called 417 ES. ES meaning “Edelstahl” the German word for stainless steel. In the same year it became the first pilot chronograph of the airforce section of the German forces (“Bundeswehr”). That’s why it’s nicknamed “Bundeswehr Chronograph”. A piece of this watch found it’s way to Steve McQueens watch collection and he frequently wore it at motorcycle racing. It is said, that this was the favourite piece in his collection.

Hanhart 417 ES from 1957 (picute copyright by Hanhart)

In 2020 Hanhart released a reissue of this famous watch and gave it the same name: Hanhart 417 ES (of course, there is no brass version today). They increased the size from 39mm to 42mm – the only thing I don’t really like on this reissue. I think they should have stayed to the original dimensions. At least for my 17,5 cm wrist.

Hanhart is a very small company today and did not have the ressources for an inhouse watch movement like in 1957. So while the original Bundeswehr Chronograph has a real Hanhart movement in it (Caliber 42) the new watch has a Sellita 510. A reliable workhorse with a handwinding mechanism like the Caliber 42. The movement allows to keep the height at a comfortable 13mm, the length lug to lug is 49 mm. The extremely clear an legible bicompax dial makes this watch a timeless stunner. The logo is the historical logo of Hanhart used in the 50s and 60s. Typical for Hanhart is the red dot on the rotating bezel to mark a fix point in time. With a price tag of 1,750 Euro it is very reasonable priced. I don’t think you can get a better executed chronograph for this amount of money. With excellent finishing, outstanding design and rich history it’s in fact a bargain to my opinion.

The perfect match to this watch is the black “Bund” strap, but if you don’t like this you can get a different strap. I strongly recommend the “Bund” strap not only for it’s perfect look but it feels very comfortable too.
No matter which strap you choose, the watch comes with a very nice and soft black leather watch roll.

From the first release date the Hanhart 417 ES was a big success in Hanhart’s portfolio and so you will have to wait some time until you can get one – the production is sold out for months. But believe me it’s worth the waiting.

Dekla Baumuster B: The inhouse choice

It’s been some weeks ago since I showed you my first “Flieger”. I was looking for a Baumuster A watch and, as I am a collector who values history, decided for a watch from one of the five original brands: A Laco Augsburg. You can read about the five original brands and the Laco Augsburg in my blog entry https://michaelswatchblog.de/2019/11/01/laco-augsburg-blaue-stunde-affordable-history/.

Last year when I saw some beautiful photos of my friend @makespictures of his Laco Baumuster B I felt the urgent need to buy a Baumuster B for myself. I think you know this feeling…

Searching for an affordable watch I found the small German brand Dekla and emailed with …. the head of Dekla. Their retail prices are really fantastic. For a Flieger with your choice of ETA automatic (2824-2) or handwound (2801) movement, sapphire crystal, temperature blued hands and Superluminova you have to pay only 500 Euros. And that’s just half the story …

Founded in 2015 Dekla decided to make their own watches and ordered 200 cases from a supplier. The quality of the cases were rather poor and so they changed their business and bought a CNC machinery to make their own cases. The cases came out in good quality and the business began to grow from small roots to a supplier of cases for other companies. Today not only the cases are inhouse made. They make the hands themselves, hand-polish them and fill them with Superluminova, they print the dials for their watches and of course they assemble. Only movements and straps are from other suppliers. And they are working on an own movement based on famous Unitas. So we have true “made in Germany” watches here.

Ask them to make something individual and unique and they will make you an offer. Because of the inhouse parts they can help you with almost everything. One thing they offer for every flieger is the FL engravement FL23883. For a 35 Euro upgrade they are engraving this code on the side of the case. This code is the instruction code of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Ministry of Air Force of the German Reich). The instruction determines the specifications of the watch: diameter 55mm and onion-shaped crown for example. Of course a diameter of 55mm is not the best choice for your wrist today…

FL engravement
Onion-shaped crown

Dekla offers their Flieger in 40, 42 and 44mm. Have in mind, that only the 40mm has length less than 50mm. I have a 17,5cm wrist and watches bigger than 50mm doesn’t fit (unless the lugs are bent, for example the lugs of the Seiko Sumo). Important hint: the dials of all three sizes are equal, only cases are different. To avoid a rather thick case I recommend to choose the 40mm or 42mm version.

The next choice is the surface of the case. Most Dekla watches you can get with either a sandblasted case or a satin polished case. And last of all choices is the color of the indizes. The options are white, old radium or bicolor. That’s all in all a lot of choices available to get your individual watch.

I opted for the Baumuster B, automatic ETA 2824-2, 40mm, satin case, old radium indices. The last choice is the color of the strap. Brown or black strap are available. I chose the brown one.

Automatic, 40mm, satin case, old radium, original brown strap

Let’s first have a look at the things, I am not 100% satisfied with. And the first thing is the rather stiff strap. And it’s not only stiff, it’s too long. I had to punch an extra hole to get it on my wrist, but removed it other minutes because it’s not very comfortable. I talked to Dekla about this and they had already in mind to change the supplier. With a lug width of 22mm it’s no problem to change the strap and I mounted a leather nato from my fundus. To my eyes it makes an excellent combo with the watch.

The second little minus is the inner side of the lugs. They are a bit too sharp to my opinion. Of course if you wear the watch that’s no problem, but be careful while you change the strap.

And that’s it. All other things are excellent and would be even for a higher price point. The case is well-made, the dial has a flawless printing. With a height of 10,2 mm and length of 48mm this is a very comfortable watch on the wrist. And a reliable too, the defiance of the ETA to the atomic clock is only -1 sec/day! The Superluminova is bicolored green and orange, an interesting look at night.

…and night

A friend asked me to compare the Dekla with my Laco. The price difference is 160 Euro, but the Dekla has by far the better specs: A better movement (with a better accuracy) and the temperature blued hands to name first. And although I didn’t like the strap of the Dekla, it’s better than the simple nato strap of the Laco. The Laco has a different case which has almost the same proportions (not the same size) as the original Flieger watches from WWII, especially smaller lugs and smaller lug size. And it has one big advantage: the rich history, which a 5 year old company of course can’t have. But with no doubt Dekla has the better value for price. With similar specs you have to choose the Laco Paderborn, which is 980 Euro, double the price of the Dekla. With this in mind you can see what a bargain a watch from Dekla really is!

Temperature blued hands
Printed dial I
Printed dial II
Two different Superluminovas and engraving FL23883

Laco Augsburg Blaue Stunde: Affordable History

To be honest, I am not a big fan of “Flieger” watches. I have been collecting watches for many years now, but mostly divers. There are some (few) dress watches in my collection and I do have a Seiko Flightmaster (SNA411). But I didn’t have a real Flieger, which means a watch designed more or less in World War II in two variations: Baumuster A and Baumuster B. You can read something about the history of these two dials here: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beobachtungsuhr (German).

In summary the Baumuster A has a triangle instead of a number 12 while the other indices are arabic numbers, Baumuster B has the minutes 5 to 55 instead of the hour indices. They were not worn by pilots, but by the navigators. Both designs are highly legible, especially Baumuster A is hard to beat if you want to read the time with a very short glimpse. Baumuster B in my eyes looks a little bit strange und uncommon with its big arabic numbers for minutes, while Baumuster A still looks very modern: a legible, clear, no-nonsense design. So, the few times I was looking for a Flieger it was always Baumuster A.

Being a watch collector for me the historical background is always important. So let’s move back in time and take a look which companies produced the Flieger watches back in the forties.

Five companies have been chosen by the Ministry of Aviation to produce these watches and all five are still alive today, some had vanished and rose again, some are part of a bigger company now and some are still or again independent. Four of them have at least one Baumuster in their portfolio today. So when I decided to buy a Flieger it had to be one of this five – and that’s the historic point in this article.

Let’s have a closer look at the fore mentioned five:

First: A. Lange & Söhne:
A true German company based in Glashütte, not existent for decades and rebuild after the downfall of the GDR by a descendant of the Lange family is now a true luxury company with many complicated and expensive watches. It’s also part of the Richemont company, one of the biggest names in watchmaking industry today. But it’s also the only company of the five that doesn’t have a Flieger in its portfolio today. So if you are in for a Lange it has to be a historical piece. Good luck and be sure to hit the lottery jackpot first.

Second: International Watch Company IWC
IWC (also a part of Richemont) on the other side has many Flieger watches in their Portfolio, including the famous “Le Petit Prince” and “Spitfire”. I think the “Le Petit Prince” was the first blue Baumuster A on the market, an eyecatcher for the connoisseur. They don’t sell Baumuster B, but that’s not my problem because a blue “Le Petit Prince” would be fine for me. But there is the price point: IWC is also a company with luxury watches like Lange (not that exepensive as Lange though) and the cheapest Flieger in their portfolio has a price tag of 4.500 Euro. Way too big for what I was willing to spend. So let’s move over to the third company.

Third: Wempe
Wempe, widely known as a retailer of luxury watches, has a long history in watchmaking. For more than 100 years they manufactured highly precise marine chronometers. This history continues today in the Sternwarte Glashütte, where they certify watches according to the German chronometer norm. They have a few Flieger watches in their portfolio (also no Baumuster B) starting at 1,500 Euro. I do like this so called “Zeitmeister” watches because of their excellent finishing, but that was still too much money for my Flieger (remember, I’m more the diver type). But there are two more and smaller companies left, both based in Germany

Fourth: Stowa
I love this company – I have a Stowa Marine Original in my collection which is truly one of my favorites. I love the service and the heart for the customer, ask them something via telephone or email and you see. So this was the obvious choice for my Flieger watch Baumuster A (and to add: They also sell Baumuster B). Still you have to pay about 1.000 Euro ( a little less) but that would be ok for me. They only problem remaining: I was in love with the blue dial of the IWC “Le Petit Prince” and Stowa didn’t offer any blue dials. And besides that, 1.000 Euro is still a lot of money, what if it’s not a long time love with my Baumuster A? So let’s take a look at the fifth company.

Fifth: Laco 1925
Laco offers the widest range of Flieger watches of all five companies, including Baumuster A and B, different color dials and different qualities. Colors include black (of course), taupe and blue. Yes, blue! And a real nice sunray blue dial it is! And they offer them in their simpler quality for only 340 Euro. For this amount of money you get a sandblasted, originally shaped case in your choice of size (39 or 42mm), a sapphire crystal, a see-through bottom (I could live without that) and a Miyota 821A movement (not hacking, but handwinding). The Miyota got a custom rotor and is regulated to an accuracy of -10/+20 sec by Laco.

Surround view

Laco names its watches after (mostly) German cities and the Baumuster A with Miyota Movement and blue dial is called “Laco Augsburg Blaue Stunde” (blue hour, which is late afternoon). Of course the blue dial is nothing but historical correct, but I highly recommend this eye catching colour. The 42mm model has a height of 11,8 mm, a length of 50 mm and a lug width of 20 mm. I think you can hardly get a better looking Baumuster A at this price point. Ok, you can go for a Chinese brand, but I don’t know why to do this if you can get a superb looking watch from one of the original companies for 340 Euro. And that’s the affordable point in my article.

Any downsides? Yes, the strap. The watch comes with a silver grey Nato strap of simple quality. To my opinion the watch deserves a better strap. Laco offers to deliver with a different strap and according to your choice you may have to pay extra money. I didn’t ask. I replaced the strap with an affordable leather strap Flieger style. I have tried several colours but liked black the most. Maybe you prefer a brown one.

For me now, my wish for an affordable historic Flieger comes true with this beautiful watch!

Baumuster A with triangle at 12
Made in Germany…
…by Laco 1925
Nightshot Superluminova
See-through bottom…
…with Miyota 821A
Original strap and case
Natural light
Diameter 42 mm
Lug2lug 50 mm
Height 11,8 mm
Movement Laco 21 (Miyota 821A)
Lug width 20 mm