My previous reviews were personal purchases preceded by a painstakingly process. And now for something completely different: the Stührling Original Tuskegee 684 Aviator. Arriving as a surprise package from RF, the watch and I were a blind date, free from confirmation bias. My first task: explore the brand’s heritage . . .
Wikipedia and other authoritative sources were no help. selfgrowth.com tells the tale of the original Max Stührling, a “silent protégé” of Jules-Louis Audemars. Living sometime in the 1800’s, Max was “an anonymous genius working in obscurity, producing the finest and most precise movements for some of the most famous watchmakers of the time.”
“Stührling grew bitter and frustrated. It bothered him that only wealthy aristocrats could afford his multi-complicated watches . . . Unknown to his partners, Stührling had trained his 11-year-old son, Max, Jr., to take up the family business.” Who didn’t. But his son’s son, Max Stührling IV, decided to realize Audemars’ assistant’s dream of horological democratization – by selling Chinese-made watches online.
The Tuskegee name attached to the 684 Aviator surely refers to the Tuskegee Airmen, the 1940’s African-American military aviation unit. Usually a watch commemorating anything historical is accompanied by a historical treatise and archival photos – in the vein of the old J. Peterman catalog.
Stührling’s product page for the Stührling Original Tuskegee does none of that. It’s just a name. The watch is devoid of any special markings. Sometimes the special edition honorifics get overdone, but Stührling’s playing it very safe here. Or, more likely, the name is SEO bait.
The Tukegee Aviator’s real price is $100, with a transparent anchor price five times that amount. The packaging doesn’t belie the latter amount. A sleeved glossy hinged box (similar to Shinola’s latest), A warranty card in a little envelope, and tiny branded cleaning cloth all provide the guise of a luxury purchase.
One card lays it on thick:
- Respect for the Art and Tradition of the Swiss Watchmaking Legend
- A Message of Sincerity For Our Valued Collectors and Friends
- Our factory is SWISS OWNED and run with strict Swiss supervision with the overriding mission of maintaining the high standards previously set in Switzerland
As mentioned above, the Stührling Original Tuskegee is made in China. (Some rubes may fall for this chicanery, but I’d like to think most people can detect what’s not being said.)
The watch is a better-than-usual fashion watch. The screwdown caseback and 100M water resistance claim are the only elements differentiating it from department store fare. Since I’ve been handed four-figure watches by friends and been underwhelmed, I can’t say it is deficient in any way.
The brushed fixed bezel atop the polished stainless steel case limits glare. The contours are well executed and harmonious in design, with no blemishes. The engraved case back is a nice touch.
The brown leather band is particularly non-premium. It looks like a Hershey bar, uniformly flat in color and texture. The edges of the 3.5mm thick strap are finished in a perfectly matching brown, as if it’s just brown Plasti Dip.
Normally I’d blanch at the sight of rivets on a watch band, but they look thematically period correct. The hefty polished stainless buckle with etched logo steals the show, earning admiration I couldn’t muster anywhere else.
The dial has a vintage cockpit gauge air with jumbo hour markers in white for 12, 3, and 9 o’clock positions. The design is needlessly complex – fashion over function.
I had to study the dial for a bit to find the pattern to it all. Even number hours get smaller characters with red index marks. Odd are white, and don’t get numerals, outside of the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. The seconds sub-dial at 6 o’clock ticks away with a hand whose crescent back lends a little red rocket appearance.
There is a balance of texture and height that adds refinement. However, it also suffers from stylistic quirks. Our three large numbers sit in smooth patches extending from the outer ring; double digit 12 sits in a rectangle while the other two are round. Between the major index marks are concentric textured arc islands whose edges catch light to annoyingly mimic crystal reflections.
Setting the time is pleasantly smooth. The decently sized fluted crown and oversize dial afforded much better control and precision than I get with dinkier pieces. The crown guards are almost flush but stylistically unobtrusive.
I have narrow 6.5″ wrists. I consider 38mm to be my personal limit. Big military watches used to be referred to as half-dollar sized. That can’t be right, as that coin measures 30.61 mm (1.205 in). Maybe it was a silver eagle, a nominal dollar coin measuring 40.6 mm (1.598 in)?
I expected the 44mm Tuskegee Aviator to look overbearing and ridiculously clunky on my wrist. Buckling went all the way to the very first hole and left a finger’s room underneath. Those with wrists under 6.5″ will need an awl or replacement band.
Wearing it made me feel like a kid. Partially because of the flyboy aesthetic, partially because it so resembles what I see the younger crowd wearing, and partially because I looked like a child wearing daddy’s watch.
Thanks to quartz technology, case thickness is on par with a Timex Easy Reader. The lugs barely protrude for a lug-to-lug of 50mm. Most importantly, the lugs properly curve down to fit the wrist, so it stayed put and didn’t slide around. The wide band readily took the the shape of my wrist after a day, causing no comfort issues.
Half my shirt cuffs were too narrow to cover the wrist clock and got caught up on the band. I felt this signified comical ineptness and bad taste, but nobody commented. Fuller shirts with adjustable cuff openings managed to conceal the Stührling Original Tuskegee.
Despite expecting impeccable legibility, I suffered a second’s disorientation when checking the time. Either I’m used to focusing on half as much real estate, or it’s the hands. For some heritage reason, Stührling’s Chinese operatives only dipped both hands about two thirds into the white lume paint bucket. This left the center invisiblack with no immediate clue where the contrasting part of the hands are pointing.
I expected the illumination to be similar to my old Timex Camper, where necessary charging with bright light leads to rapidly fading illumination that disappears within an hour. After a normal day of ambient light, I wore it to bed and it glowed ’til dawn. Not a radioactive glow, but enough to clearly read the time from a foot away in total darkness.
The crystal is flat Krysterna, their name for a proprietary treatment I can’t understand, that supposedly has fantastic optical clarity and shatter resistance. Amazon says Hardlex. Looks like glass to me? It emerged unscathed from my casually dragging it across nasty metal surfaces while taking photos, so I can’t complain.
For a watch I initially judged harshly as a big dumb fashion watch, I begrudgingly developed a respect for the Stührling Original Tuskegee 684 Aviator. The deceptive marketing hype detracts from the product. This is not a magically inexpensive Swiss watch. The design is a bit funky, but the build and materials exceed expectations for the non-imaginary price.
Stührling Original seems to be Fossil with an inferiority complex and a phony accent: stylish, if not groundbreaking products filling the slot between disposable and entry serious watches. Costs are kept down with Asian parts and labor, but deliver real value. I know people that lament the loss of their long-lived Fossil watch.
You can’t cheat an honest man. Anyone thinking they are getting a $500 Swiss watch here is being cheated. As a $100 Chinese watch, it’s worth every penny. It has all that the average watch wearer wants at beyond satisfactory levels. I can see why the young men I see wearing watches usually sport ones very similar to this Stührling Original Tuskegee 684 Aviator.
Despite my newfound appreciation, I don’t think I’ll shed a tear when I box it up and send it back to whence it came.
Model: Tuskegee 684 Quartz 44mm Aviator
Price: $100 (actual, alleged MSRP $500)
Case diameter: 44mm
Case thickness: 10.25mm
Lug to lug: 50mm
Case lug width: 22mm
Case metal: Stainless steel
Band: Matte finish genuine leather with metal stud decoration
Crown:Push/Pull Fluted Crown With Stuhrling S Logo
Weight: 66g (2.33 oz)
Lume: indices; hour, minute and second hands
Movement: Japanese Quartz
Water Resistance: 100m/330ft
Functions: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Warranty: 2 years
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Design * * * *
Evokes old school military aviation without looking fussy or dated. Nothing new to see here though.
Legibility * * *
Crystal reflection is an issue, as is finding the ends of the hands. But it is mega-sized. A nighttime winner.
Comfort * * * *
Surprisingly good, except for not fitting under some shirt sleeves. Lugs curve around wrist as God intended.
Overall * * * *
Big, bold, and masculine. Doesn’t stray from the pilot watch script (less quartz movement). Solid Chinese fashion watch hindered by wannabe Swiss luxury hucksterism.