Today I'm going to discuss my daily driver watch : the Fortis "Flieger Professional". While not perfect (is anything?) it is certainly a cracker of a watch and well worth looking at in detail. There is a lot to appreciate in a watch that at first glace seems perhaps a bit plain.
This review has been a long time in coming, as I have been thinking about it for ages. In some ways I have felt a little indecisive about some of the features of the watch, so I wanted to see how a longer term experience played out. An example of this is the mixed finish in the band, with the high polished centre links. My preference is for an all-brushed look, and the high polish is "a bit fancy" for me, but what was it like in the real world? Well, read on.
Stepping back a fraction, let's start by discussing the brand. Fortis on the whole seems to fly under the radar of the watch world. This is a great shame as they have a long history and very decent model line-up. I will confess that a lot of their models do not appeal to me, they are too chunky, thick and complicated on the whole for my tastes.
Where does Fortis fit in? Well, it depends on your perspective, but it is generally agreed that they are a low to mid tier Swiss brand, or makers of a "Basic luxury Swiss watch". The prices usually have four digits. Things are generally made well, with ETA Swiss movements, sapphire crystal and decent if not high quality control.
It is a bit hard to categorise the watch accurately. There is that "Flieger" in the name, and it does have the fairly classic A-dial design with the triangle and two pips at 12 o'clock. So, it is a flieger, right? Well, hang on a minute. I would argue that it looks a lot like a field watch, and isn't large like a typical flieger at 40mm. And then it goes to 100m and the strap has a divers extension. It has in some conditions a somewhat dress air about it. So, which is it now? In the end it really does have some elements of a flieger, diver, sports, field and even dress watch. That may sound like a hot mess, but it is actually a good thing.
An acid test for any watch in my collection is if I can easily, quickly and intuitively answer this question when looking at it - "what is the time?". That might seem like a no-brainer when it comes to watches, but honestly there are a lot of designs on the market where this is significantly harder than others. Most people would summarise this simply as "legibility", but it is a subtle variant of that - the primary purpose of the watch over all other features. This is also perhaps why I am yet to own a chronograph, as the dial gets so crowded with subdials that telling the time becomes a challenge.
Anyway, back to the Fortis! With the arabic numerals around the dial (except 12 for the traditional flieger triangle + pips, and the 3 for the day/date aperture), it is trivial to see what hour it is. Next is the minutes, and the track there has smaller white markers every 5 minutes to assist with this.
One other important thing about telling the time is knowing your hour hand from the minute hand with absolute certainty. The hands here are mat black framed and lume filled. The hour hand is just-right (IMHO) length, just hitting the hour markers, and wider. The minute hand is longer and goes all the way out to the minute track. The second hand, for what it is worth, is a shock of orange and is easy to look at or ignore depending on if you need it or not. One subtle feature I enjoy is the fact that all three hands are matt black near the center of the dial, so there is no visual clutter there.
Overall the dial and handset work extremely well together and it gets a gigantic big tick for visual clarity. Note that I am not into military 24-hour time and so I am very happy not to have this on the dial. Some people may miss that if it is part of their life is to reference time in this way, but I have no need for it.
In the car, what's the time? Fri 11th, 4:25
The dial itself is black, a deep slightly glossy black. There is a sort of sunburst to it, but it is very subtle and perhaps more of a sheen than an official spec sheet point. Where the pips for hour markers are there is a circular track of engraved lines, much like the groves in a record, except circular rather than a spiral. This is where the "Swiss Made" text is located around the six pip. This track provides a visual break to the sections of the dial, and quite a lot of again subtle interest. The more you look here, the more you see. The applied indices are lumed, and are even framed in black, which really is a fine and premium finish and give the dial a lot of depth and character. The lume is fairly good too, often glowing when I come inside from being in the sun.
The minute track around the outer edge of the dial is perhaps the plainest feature of the watch, in simple white (not lumed) and just markers for each minute. As an aside, I have owned watches with sub-minute markers and I always wondered what the point of these were, particularly when you have a second hand to read the sub minute time much more accurately. Anyway, the way it is here is my preference, although I also like the old fashioned "railroad" track too.
For the numerals for the seconds there is the "flipping" of the text between 15 and 20, and then again at 40 and 45. As the numerals are center aligned, this is the most common way of handling the issue. If you don't do this, then the 30 at 6 o'clock ends up upside down, and most people don't like that. I am not like most people though and I think this is the right way. I used to be a bit more passionate about this issue, but now I've softened my opinion after owning this watch. I appreciate the legibility does trump the aesthetic purity of the non-flipped numerals.
The text on the dial is really minimal, and all printed crisply in white. There is "Fortis" at 12, and AUTOMATIC at 6, and that's it. There seems to be a trend, seen easily in dive watches like the Rolex Submariner, where 3 or 4 lines of text at 6 o'clock are standard fare and denote some sort of luxury credentials. I am not a fan of this trend at all, and so again the Fortis wins with my preference on how things should be in a watch, it is another tick from me, even if a small one.
The dial has at 3 o'clock the day/date window, framed in a thin white box. The wheels are color matched (white text on black background) and blend in nicely with the rest of the dial. Sometimes it seems like the disks might have a slightly different black/matte than the main dial, but it is pretty damn near the same. I could now spend a long time going over why I love having the day and date at 3 o'clock, but I feel like I've covered that ground already. So, I'll just leave it at that - I love having the day and date on this watch and I think it is a stand out feature. Good luck finding another watch with this set of specs, look and the day complication.
On top of the dial is the glass, so let me talk about that for a minute. It is, as you would hope and expect, sapphire crystal. It sits slightly proud of the polished bezel, perhaps by a single mil or so. One of the few slip ups with this watch are with the AR coating, which is of the purple variety and works very well. The problem is that the glass is coated top and bottom, which means it can scratch off ... in theory. In practice I have had this watch for, gosh, is it a few years now? And in that time it has not scratched. Well, I just looked at the surface very carefully with a 10x loupe and could see under this magnification that indeed there were some faint scratches, and even wear at the very edge of the glass. But with the naked eye? You don't see anything.
Action shot! Underwater...
One other quirk with the crystal is that in some angles of direct (sun)light, there are some internal reflections and a number of concentric light circles are seen on the glass. This only happens occasionally and I think is caused by light getting into the edge of the crystal and causing issues from there. Despite this, in normal use the glass and AR coating are very effective and the glass just disappears from view. There is a glow from the inner vertical edge of the steel case, and this plays off the groove ring of the dial. It is all fairly fascinating to look at!
Next I want to move onto the case. There is a mix of finishes, with the top fixed bezel being polished, the mid case is brushed, and the screw in caseback is polished again. The brushing is horizontal on the sides and actually vertical between the lugs. This is only something an owner of the watch would notice really, but there you are. There are no bevelled edges on the lugs but they are elegantly curved at the sides and meet the case in a pleasing way.
The crown is unguarded, which looks right on this watch. It is a fairly chunky and knurled, signed and easy to operate. It is just push/pull, not screw-down, so you get the convenience of that and still have 100m water resistance, which is nice. The crown sits quite low down on the watch, when you look at it side on, but it does not dig into the wrist, although I wear my watches "above the bone". If you are all gansta and wear a super loose watch then it might be a problem and dig in.
There is a sapphire (I believe) window in the caseback enabling you to see the moment. I like this from the perspective that I sometime take it off to show people if we are talking about watches and I want to show them an automatic movement. It is surprising perhaps how many people have never seen one, and I am happy to gently educate when it is right to do so. However, the glass window is fairly small and the movement is really not all that special to look at, so it is not a huge advantage in this case. If they really want to see a nice movement I get out my pocket watch and take the back off that - the movement is open to the air and is even more impressive at over 100 years old, but that it another story for another time.
So I think I've covered the head of the watch now. It is a subjective thing, of course, but I find it a very attractive and neat package overall. It is well built, compact and functional.
Moving now on to the bracelet. This has a fairly bad rap online, when I was doing some research before purchasing the watch I read some describe it as "cheap, thin and rattly", which sounds fairly horrible. While I don't think it is perfect, by any stretch, it is a lot better than that. The links are slender, compared to some chunky watches, but in no way cheap or flimsy. There is a little rattle when taking the watch on or off, but none when wearing it. I actually like the sound it makes when I take it off and put it on. There are actually a bunch of positive things to say about the bracelet now that I think about it.
The two-tone thing is interesting. As I said earlier, I would generally rather a fully brushed but this has grown on me a lot. For a start, in many lighting conditions and angles it looks like the same finish. If it was two-tone it would really stand out, but as it is silver/silver, you don't often see it, and when you do it adds interest rather than annoyance. I was also thinking initially that it would scratch but despite a lot of wear it is still fairly unblemished. There are plenty of micro scratches, but the brushed outer sections still look brushed, and the polished inner link still look polished. Overall it has worn really well.
The clasp, however, has taken a bit more of a beating and it shows. It is very compact a clasp actually, and low profile, but it is the thing that contacts when you rest you arm on a surface. Here is a question for you though - do you bite your nails? If you do, then the clasp is going to frustrate you no end, as it is not a push button deployment. Instead, there is a pressure fit fold over security clasp (high polish, with the Fortis logo, nice looking) which really needs a fairly healthy finger nail to use. Then the clasp opens, again, with a pressure fit. Whenever there is pressure fit systems the question is how MUCH pressure is needed, too much or too little is a problem. In my example they have got this pressure value pretty much just right, so it works. It is these subtle tactile things that do differentiate a
well made vs cheaply made watch. The butterfly section is milled but undecorated.
I would certainly recommend the bracelet over the standard strap BUT it does kind of depend on the price. When I bought the watch the bracelet option was actually fairly expensive thing to go for, adding perhaps $300 AUD to the total price. You can get a whole watch for that. So it does depend on your budget. There are pros and cons, but overall the bracelet is good without being great. It does suit the watch, and overall makes it an elegant package rather than the more rugged or utilitarian end of the spectrum. To me this is good, as it shifts it gently more into the every-day wear that I use this watch for.
This model is discontinued now, but you may be able to find new-old stock about still. The closest replacement watch, which I have not tried on, is probably the Fortis Aeromaster Old Radium, model Reference 655.10.28. I quite like this too, although I'm not sure of the thickness of the watch. Some of the Fortis watches are quite thick, which I am not fond of, so it is one of those specs I pay attention to myself. It is a different look, with the angled rehort, tan markers and missing minute numerals. But it is clean and nice too in my opinion, worth looking into.
Final thoughts. I've rambled on about various elements of this watch for long enough. If you have read this all so far, well done for you perseverance. I can summarize how I feel about this watch overall fairly easily - I wear it almost every day and it gives me a lot of pleasure to do so. When choosing a watch to wear I have to force myself to pick something else. It doesn't make the best dress watch, but it can hold its own. It doesn't make a diver watch, but it can go in the pool without concern. When I need to know the time, date or day, it can tell me without fuss. When I am driving and my arm is in front of my, I catch myself admiring various elements of the design. It is a watch that keeps on giving, the initial impressions might be of a plain watch, but there is honestly a lot there. I think this watch is really overall unappreciated in the watch community, and I think that is a bit of a shame as it really is worthy of more attention. If you are looking for a one-watch collection, this could well fill that role. A fairly easy recommend, if the few minor points don't bother you like they don't bother me.
- Perfectly legible and usable as a daily watch
- Attractive dial and indices. Minimal printing
- Thin and very comfortable to wear
- Day and Date complication, colour matched wheels
- Swiss movement and well built
- Compact clasp with 4 micro adjusts and divers extension
- Not applied logo on the dial, but is crisply printed
- Top (outer) coat of AR on sapphire glass can scratch
- Some fairly rarely seen internal reflections on glass in some light conditions (I call the "onion effect")
- Movement not very decorated or pretty
- Brushed surfaces a little blingy, perhaps
- Clasp needs finger nails to use