Chicago-based Astor+Banks is a new brand that concentrates on affordable watches with a military-style design. Generally speaking, brands describe their watches with some pretty highfalutin language. I mean, who can blame them? If they don’t do it, who will? Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see Astor + Banks of Chicago describe their newest watch, the Pilotmatic, in very down to Earth terms. “This is a no frills watch that is simply made to last with high quality materials.” A+B don’t think they are changing the world one wrist at a time, redefining the watch industry or proving that something can be done that no one has done before. Nope, they just wanted to make a good watch, pure and simple.
According to that mind, approaching the Pilomatic is an easy proposition. The vintage inspired timepiece combines a classic, 42mm German-made pilot case with an ETA 2824-2 and a clean dial. Available in either black or blue, both limited to 50 units, it’s a three-hander with a date and a just a little extra style. The case has lines you’ve seen before, with a smooth taper on the lugs, slab sides and a broad chamfered bezel. The massive diamond crown shouts vintage flieger. As noted, the case is German-made, which sets up expectations for sharp lines and good finishing, which it fully delivers on. The brushing around the case has a nice texture, while punctuations of polished surfaces on the top and sides of the bezel add some complexity. The case back is very plain, just a lightly etched solid surface. Though in keeping with the notion of producing something that’s “no frills,” something a little extra would have been nice.
The theme continues to the dial, which has a series of graphic indexes without numerals. Before getting to them, it’s worth looking at the two color options. First there is the black option, which is as expected, with a matter surface and white highlights. The blue is more odd and unexpected. The surface is a dark blue sunray that is accented with bright green lume markers and white printed indexes. This takes the concept of the watch into slightly more stylized territory as it does come across a bit colorful.
Based on their previous chronograph line, the dial design is closely, but with some differences. There are large, lumed rectangles at each hour that sort of float in their own little space with an inverted V at 12. I can’t help but think the V is a bit thin, but I do appreciate having something special at the 12 position. Between the hours are long thin lines per minute, with smaller lines along the very edge of the dial for 1/5th seconds, framing the dial as a whole. Overall, the design is clean and highly legible.
Just below 12 you’ll find the Astor + Banks logo in white with Chicago in red underneath. At six, you’ll find Pilomatic in script, also in red, and a date window. The six o’clock date suits the dial design, fitting in well with the layout. They used white on black dates for both dial colors, which works even on the blue, as it’s fairly dark.
For hands A+B went with wide leaf hands, which is an unexpected choice. Typically, one finds something more geometric such as Roman sword hands on pilot and aviator watches. The smooth, flowing hands don’t quite correspond with the markers below, but they don’t clash either. They definitely have a retro look either way. On the black dial the hands are white with white lume, while on the blue they are polished steel with off-white lume. Both feature red tipped seconds hands.
The Pilomatics feature 22mm lugs and come mounted on some pretty gnarly handmade leather straps. I have to give them some points on these as they definitely are nicer and more rugged than what one normally finds stock on a watch. They are thick, fold over designs with burnished and painted edges, thick row stitch by the lugs and a nice taper. The black comes on black while the blue comes on blue, both made using Horween leather. They are supple and will break in beautifully.
On the wrist, the Pilomatic wears, well, like a 42mm pilot watch. It’s big, but not too big, with a 52.5mm lug-to-lug. That might limit smaller wrists, but it was tolerable on my seven-inch wrist. I was concerned the crown would cause discomfort, but it didn’t bother me in the end. I occasionally had a small depression in my skin from it, but that’s not a big issue. Aesthetically, it’s a no frills pilots watch, as they say. Then again, most pilots watches that aren’t loaded up with bells and whistles are pretty no frills, so this is sticking to the concept. That said, it’s not a cookie cutter flieger with the same dial you’ve seen a thousand times before. The blue one in particular has its own personality and style. It’s not a massive departure, but it’s not the same ole thing either.
The last piece to the Pilomatic is what gives it its stylish suffix, the ETA 2824-2 movement. The standard workhorse movement is Swiss made and simply a trusted engine for any watch. It’s a significant part of the “high quality materials” A+B chose to make a watch that “is simply made to last.” This adds to the overall cost too, but at the discounted $950 it’s decently priced. That said, would I prefer this watch with a Seiko or Miyota movement and an Asian-made case for half the price?…
In conclusion, the Astor + Banks Pilomatic is a very decent, honest three-hand pilot-inspired watch. It’s not about to turn the industry on its head, but it doesn’t want to either. With only 100 units split between the two models, it’s just looking to make those 100 people happy, and I think it will achieve that. For someone looking for a down to earth watch with nice finishing, a good movement and appealing looks, the Pilomatic will get the job done.