I recently added two very nice, very affordable watches to my collection and couldn't be happier with them. Both have been discontinued by their manufacturers long enough that they are getting a bit thin on the ground. Although I had no trouble finding either of them on different gray market reseller sites, they weren't on every site I checked and I get the sense that very soon all the brand new specimens will be gone. I think both of them are destined to become collectible classics for Affordable Watch Enthusiasts. One is a tool watch with modern military design cues and the other is a dressier piece with a retro approach and heritage styling. They both do very well on shell cordovan straps, so I thought I'd share my recommendations with Rover Haven readers. If you're looking for a nice Swiss automatic watch and you're on a budget, you could hardly do better than either of these watches. Likewise, either would make a great gift for a young person just getting started in mechanical watches. Lovers of the cheap and cheerful, rejoice.
Part 1. The Victorinox Swiss Army AirBoss Mechanical, Reference 241507
One of the very first watches I ever had as a young man was a Victorinox Swiss Army Officer's Watch. My mother-in-law gave it to me in 1991, which was just as Victorinox was getting started in selling watches. If you're of a certain age you may remember when McDonald's started selling breakfast, and everybody thought, "Huh?" As a Swiss Army knife nut this was how I felt when Victorinox started selling watches. Mine was a quartz watch, but my mother-in-law knew I loved Victorinox pocketknives and she had gauged my tastes perfectly. Despite the slight McDonald's-for-breakfast weirdness, I really liked it. It accompanied me on many adventures, including a lot of swimming and snorkeling, and it never missed a beat. Two decades later I gave it to my nephew and he wore it for a few years until it was ripped from his wrist while he was cliff jumping. I like to imagine it ticking away at the bottom of some pristine lake in Utah.
VSA’s more modern mechanical watches have been of interest ever since that time, and I must admit that I always thought it would be cool to have one as a companion to the several dozen Victorinox Swiss Army knives I own. I have carried a VSAK literally every day of my life since my freshman year of high school. I'm not really a collector of Swiss Army knives, but consider myself more of an accumulator. Every once in a while I retire a knife and replace it with a new one. But what are you going to do, throw away a perfectly good knife? Obviously not, so what I do is sharpen it, oil it, and put it in a ziplock bag with all my other retired knives.
Sometime in 2017 a fellow blogger, Andrew Hughes, who writes the Watch Hunter Blog and is into VSA watches the way I’m into LL Bean watches, wrote me to inquire about a watch I had for sale. We struck up a pen pal friendship, and his passion for this brand pushed me over the edge and made me think I should finally get one. So I did a little research one cold, snowy Saturday in January and discovered VSA's AirBoss line. They update it and tweak it, even sometimes goofing it up in my opinion, but the basic formula stays the same -- a no-nonsense tool watch with pilot/navigator design cues, good features and build quality, and a great price. A Sinn EZM it is not, but then you could buy eight of them for what one EZM 9 costs.
Unfortunately for me, the AirBoss model I liked had recently been discontinued and replaced with a model with some minor details that I didn't care for. VSA used to demarcate the sequential generations of AirBoss watches with a "Mach" number. It looks like they got up to Mach 9, after which they abandoned this nomenclature and started calling this watch the AirBoss Mechanical. As a new model, this watch retailed for $950. I picked mine up brand new from a gray market reseller for $472 all-in. A really patient, careful shopper could probably do even better.
Given the AirBoss's features, design, and build quality, I find this an amazing value. Its 42 mm brushed case is elegantly simple, and the lovely bevel on the lugs was an unexpected detail. The lugs have two sets of strap bar holes to accommodate the bracelet, but it also means that this watch can accept a really beefy leather strap and wears very easily on a pull-thru NATO-type strap. In fact, the lower spring bar holes are so low down relative to the caseback that the watch seems to almost float on top of the NATO strap.
The dial of the AirBoss Mechanical is full of pleasant and interesting details, and its line of descent from the Mach 1 can clearly be seen. The chapter ring has two distinct faces each with a different scale. The uppermost ring is divided into fourths, presumably because this is a 4 Hz movement, so the hash marks line up with each two ticks of the sweep seconds hand. The lowermost ring has simpler one-minute marks on it. I find it a bit busy, but certainly we could never say that the watch is difficult to read. The outermost portion of the dial is grooved in a way that reminds me of a vinyl record. Moving in from the raised and lumed Arabic numerals, it becomes smooth again and there is a tasteful and well-placed date window just above the 6. The hands are fully lumed swords, and the numerals are bold and easily read at a glance. The lume on the watch is very good, glowing through the night with no problem. Even the cool little Victorinox Swiss cross logo at 12 is lumed. How cool is that? The watch is powered by an ETA 2824-2, and so far mine has been keeping time at +1 sec/day.
After wearing the watch for a week or so I can say that it wears a bit bigger than its nominal 42 mm case size suggests, so if you're sensitive to this, you should definitely keep this in mind. If I could magically change just one characteristic of the watch, I'd make it 40 mm with 20 mm lugs, but for the price, there is no nit worth picking, no peeve worth petting, no hair worth splitting with this watch. It is a fun and practical addition to any watch collection; especially so for the Victorinox watch collector or VSAK fan.
Just one more thing to say about this brand before we close up Part 1 of this post. The proper pronunciation of Victorinox is vic-TOR-ih-nox, not VIC-tor-ee-nox. It drives me nuts when I hear people pronounce it as "victory-nox." And don't even get me started on the proper pronunciation of the world's most famous peanut butter cups!
Tune in next time to see the second installment in this Fun Affordable Watches post. As always, I love hearing from other enthusiasts and I welcome your comments, factual corrections, or any other thoughts. Thank you for reading my blog!