Many watches can be described as having a “military” look — the Panerai Luminor, IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, and Breitling Avenger Hurricane are a few that leap immediately to mind — but the Graham Chronofighter takes the look to a new level. With its distinctive and ever-so-cool side-mounted chronograph trigger mechanism, it’s not just military but militaristic. This is a watch that’s spoiling for a war — or at least an airstrike. It’s got “Fighter” in its name, for crying out loud. And yet, now that I’ve finally had the opportunity to wear one — namely the new Chronofighter Vintage Aircraft Ltd., one of a limited series of four timepieces directly inspired by classic military planes — I’ve found that it delivers its own style of “stealth luxury” as well.
What differentiates these limited editions from the standard Chronofighter series are several factors, all of which contribute nicely to their period-influenced vintage look. The 44-mm case — including the stepped bezel and the start-stop chronograph trigger is constructed in what Graham calls “aged steel” and treated with a gray PVD finish for a sleek, dusky, gunmetal look. Other historical flourishes include the onion-style crown tucked under the lever mechanism, a hallmark of early pilots’ watches; the thin, beige-colored hour indices that impart a patina of age; and the riveted pattern on the dial that calls to mind the bodywork of a fighter jet from the dawning age of military aviation.
Four color schemes are available: my review watch — a working prototype, to judge by the “000” series number on the dial — was possibly the most retro-military in appearance, with green highlights on the sunburst-finished anthracite dial, including the central chronograph seconds hand, the indices on the minute track, the hands and outer scales of the subdials (small seconds on a relatively small counter at 3 o’clock, tallied chronograph minutes — up to 30 — on a larger one at 6 o’clock), and the words “Graham” and “Chronofighter,” the latter executed in an elegant old-style script.
At 9 ‘clock, there’s a useful albeit unconventionally placed double window for the date and day. Pulling out the crown to its first position enables you to set both: turn upward to set the day, downward to set the date. Rapid correction and coordination of both is a snap, providing you remember which direction sets which indicator; otherwise you have to cycle through both processes again. The subdials have an attractive snailed pattern, one of the design choices that — along with the sunburst finish — elevates this timepiece from the realm of retro-look tool watches and into that of sporty luxury.
Operating the chronograph mechanism is enjoyable, especially in front of those uninitiated who have never seen a watch with this type of less-than-subtle timing mechanism before. Use the surface of your thumb to press on the lever, which will engage the stopwatch with a muffled metallic snap to send the seconds hand scurrying around the dial and the smaller chrono subdial hand to begin its steady minute-by-minute recording of stopped times. The unusual (in this day and age) mechanism made sense for those fighter pilots of yore, wearing the watch on their left wrist and often wearing gloves, who needed to hold on steady to an aircraft’s controls with their left hand while performing timing operations on the watch with their right. The dial is also suitable for a night flight, with the hands, indices, and the diamond-shaped tip of the chronograph seconds hand emitting a bright green glow in low lighting.
Inside the hull of this wrist-borne warplane is Graham’s automatic Caliber G1747 — which, as the brand has been fully open about disclosing, is a modified ETA Valjoux 7750 but actually built for the brand by another Swiss movement maker, Citizen Group-owned La Joux-Perret. It has been rotated 180 degrees from its usual position in order to accommodate the left-side chronograph pushers (which I suppose also explains the day and date displays being on that side). Otherwise, the movement offers the usual array of features common to this popular, chrono-equipped base movement: 28,800-vph frequency, a 42-hour power reserve, and of course, the integrated chronograph that is started and stopped by that telltale trigger-pusher and returned to zero by the plunger-shaped button at 10 o’clock.
The movement is hidden, however, beneath a solid caseback with a relief engraving of an RAF Halifax airplane as well as the watch’s limited edition number. Most would consider the absence of a sapphire viewing window in exchange for a visual representation of their watch’s rarity and exclusivity to be a worthy tradeoff (though the three other color versions, for whatever reason, do offer a clear caseback). Also, of course, the caseback on a vintage aviator watch of this type would certainly have been solid, albeit less decorative and finessed in its finishing, which adds to the “aged” appeal.
“Aged” is also the word Graham uses to describe this watch’s strap, which looks as military-issue as any I’ve seen — olive-drab canvas, with black rubber lining and matching stitching and culminating in a simple and sturdy steel tang buckle with the Graham logo etched in.
There are two wearability issues one might surmise about this watch from a wearability and comfort standpoint, and both would be wrong, I’m happy to report. The chronograph start-stop trigger mechanism, which looks as if it might wreak havoc on a frail shirt cuff, does nothing of the sort, sliding comfortably underneath until it’s called into action. The case size is in fact more modest than one would think — especially compared to the 47-mm size of its unlimited, big-brother models. The other issue is versatility. Does this timepiece stand out like a sore thumb while worn with any outfits other than fatigues and field jackets? No, in fact, I found it matched up nicely with dress shirts and jackets in blue, gray, and various earth tones. The “aged steel” case and the shiny dial, which can take on a tone of anywhere from green to gray to almost black depending on the lighting, looks good peeking out from just about any shirt cuff.
All four editions of the Graham Chronofighter Vintage Aircraft Ltd. are limited to 250 pieces and priced at $5,450. And much as one does not have to be a naval frogman to look good wearing a Panerai, or a Formula One driver to successfully rock a Rolex Daytona, striding out of a cockpit after a day of aerial dogfighting is not a prerequisite for wearing this timepiece, and wearing it well. The watch is a warrior, but a happy one.