This week, we return to the classic B-Uhr (Beobachtungs-Uhren, or observation watch) pilots’ watch design, with this series produced by the historical manufacturer Laco. The B-Uhr style, specifically the Type A or “Baumuster A” design, was first produced for the German air force beginning in 1940 by national brands Laco, Stowa, A. Lange & Söhne, and Wempe, and by the Swiss brand IWC — the last of which produced watches for both the Axis and Allied powers during the Second World War. Of these brands, only Laco, Stowa, and IWC still produce pieces directly inspired by the vintage model.
Since its initial introduction, the B-Uhr has gone on to be one of the most important watch designs in history, having a substantial impact on the war years, going on to inspire countless watches, and influencing almost every subsequent pilots’ and military design that followed it. Laco, founded in 1925, today produces an array of different B-Uhr style watches in different sizes and colors, using various movements, and each at a slightly different price point. For conciseness, we’ll be focusing our eye on the brand’s most historically-informed series, called the Replica models.
In this series, Laco produces two similar 45-mm and (more historically faithful) 55-mm watches – the Replica 45 and Replica 55, respectively. Both sport the classic B-Uhr Type A design, and are in robust steel cases; the 55 (above) has the historical, extended onion crown, while the 45 (below) uses a transitional-style crown somewhere between an onion type and a more contemporary jewel design. The dials of the watches are meant for maximum readability, each using a straightforward black-and-white design. Each has an outer minute track with enlarged marks and accompanying Arabic numerals for each hour, with the exception of the 12 o’clock position, which features the B-Uhr’s signature double-dotted triangle icon. The 55 features a slightly green hue to highlight the white elements on its dial, while the 45 goes with a very subtle faux patina for those elements, all of which are treated with Super-LumiNova for luminescence.
Indicating the time on both models are two blued-steel sword hour and minute hands, along with a simple stick seconds hand with a black counterweight. Powering the 45 is the hand-wound Laco 04, based on the ETA 2804.2, which has a 42-hour reserve and is revealed behind a sapphire caseback, while the 55 uses the hand-wound Laco 97, based on the ETA 6497.1, which has a 46-hour power reserve and is instead hidden by a solid caseback engraved only with the watch’s serial number. Both watches come on a riveted brown or black calf leather strap like those on the originals, with the 45 listed by the brand at $1,990 and the 55 at $4,190, although both can frequently be found for less through a dealer.
The two watches obviously take direct influence from their predecessor, but it is only the 55 that might be fairly called a “replica.” While the 45 still uses a large and military-inspired case, an elongated stem for its crown, a simple “Type A” design for its dial, and a hand-wound movement, it still features some clear departures from the original’s design. These include the transitional-style jewel crown, the slimming of the dial’s hour and minute markers, the reduction in size of the case from 55-mm to the more practical 45-mm size, and, most noticeably, the sapphire caseback.
On the other hand, Laco clearly made a strong effort to keep the 55 as historically faithful as it could. From the vintage sizing, choice of brass rivets for the strap, the bold dial style, the elongated onion crown, and the plain caseback, this modern B-Uhr could very well be the most period-accurate on the market today. The changes between it and the vintage model seem to be mostly technical, i.e., a higher level of quality in the finishing, movement (as seen above), and luminescence. The brand even resisted attaching a faux patina to the dial accents in favor of the original plain white the watch was produced in almost 80 years ago.
Of Laco’s contemporary watches, its pilots’ watches are its most popular, and of its pilots’ watches, it’s the B-Uhr-style pieces that draw the most consumer attention. For this reason, it’s unsurprising the brand continues to develop replica models so faithful to the original. As a modern company with a real history, it has a lot to gain through the ongoing vintage-inspired watch trend. With stylistic competitors like Stowa, which prices itself well below Laco, and IWC, which of course prices itself far above it, each is ultimately able to carve out its own place in today’s market.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox to the historical model, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.