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Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

It’s no surprise that pilot’s chronographs are so popular among both watch aficionados and just ordinary citizens. With their aggressive tool watch presence, reputation for precision, and aviation/military heritage, they toughen up pretty much any wrist. But there are a ton of iconic pilot-styled chronographs out there to choose from – so why might one choose this new model from Vulcain, which recently brought out its own version, the Vulcain Aviator Instrument? What sets it apart in an already-crowded marketplace? Well, it turns out, a few things…

The Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph isn’t the first flight-themed watch in Vulcain’s history – the company also offers the Aviator Dual Time in its collection, a very cool GMT timepiece. But the Vulcain Aviator Instrument is Vulcain’s first pilot’s chronograph. Vulcain, of course, is a venerable Swiss manufacture currently enjoying a resurgence among its cultish following of connoisseurs, having revived itself in recent years after being one of many watch brands felled by the Quartz Crisis in the ‘70s.

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Vulcain’s reputation was grounded in watches that have become icons in their own right. The Vulcain Cricket is perhaps the brand’s true classic: one of the earliest and most successful iterations of the alarm complication, the Cricket became known as the “watch of Presidents” due to its being a favorite of many of those inhabiting the Oval Office (Harry Truman was a Cricket fan, for example). Vulcain also has a reputation for its dive watches. Upon its introduction in the early ‘60s, the Nautical Cricket dazzled not just for its jazzily distinctive dial, but for a then-ingenious system to track decompression times and a unique case design that allowed divers to hear the alarm function underwater with loud clarity.

But Vulcain also made a superlative line of chronographs in the ‘60s and ‘70s that aren’t as well known as its flagship models. Typically powered by gorgeous Valjoux movements, these chronos combined their timekeeping precision with an aggressively ultramodern design sensibility that had real wrist presence. Indeed, these watches weren’t homages to anything; they inhabited their own futuristic, groovy horological universe of their own creation.

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Those chronographs seem to be the family from Vulcain’s history most related to the introduction of the Vulcain Aviator Instrument, which is powered by Vulcain’s caliber V-59 – its take on the Swiss ETA Valjoux 7753, a self-winding, hacking automatic with a 42 hour power reserve and a 28,880 bph heartbeat. The 7753, of course, is a slightly revised version of the 7750 movement family, which has its own unique differences. In addition to moving the minutes counter to three o’ clock instead of the 12 position and the date’s quick-set feature converted into a button at ten o’clock (here operated by a wonderful key-like tool provided by Vulcain), the 7753 is more frequently tuned to high-end specs. Indeed, the Vulcain Aviator Instrument performed at near-chronometer levels, losing just a couple of seconds over the course of a week’s timings. As well, the chronograph functions – from the chronograph seconds hand to the twelve-hour and thirty-minute counters – worked with utter exactitude.

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Lots of pilot’s chronographs have 7750 engines, however; where the Vulcain flies high, however, in its finish and a dial design that seems eccentric at first, but is actually quite sophisticated. Compared to the usual suspects of Swiss watchmaking giants, Vulcain represents a more boutique marque, only producing somewhere in the range of 3,000 watches a year. That allows for an attention to detail with each watch that’s clear from the exquisite finishing on the nearly 45mm steel case – a play of polished, matte, and brushed surfaces that doesn’t take away from the Vulcain Aviator Instrument’s toughness, but feels more refined than one might expect. Also, it goes without saying that the Vulcain Aviator Instrument has a dial and movement layout that very much resemble the Graham Chronofighter II watch collection (reviewed here).

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Vulcain is also famed for their dials, and this one doesn’t disappoint: a rich navy whose subtle iridescence shifts in the light from a royal blue to an inky midnight, very legible against the white, perfectly proportioned antique-clock style hands. Vulcain is also famed for its guilloché work, and the Arabic numerals here are ringed in enamel: in the dark, when the lume kicks in, the enamel outline stays dark, which slenderizes the numbers, giving the dial a slightly different, more minimal look.

The watch is placed on a satisfyingly heavy, somewhat rigid leather strap with a deployant clasp – it may be my favorite deployant I’ve ever worn. For one, it’s very comfortable on the wrist, almost to the point that I forgot it was there, and it never snags hairs. But what I like best about it is the exquisite perlage work on its locking mechanism – a detail that really personalizes the watch. With a deployant, you’re constantly locking and unlocking it, so to get this little visual surprise throughout your day is delightful: a secret only for the wearer of the watch. Alas, the movement, showcased via an exhibition sapphire caseback, has very little decoration – a surprise coming from Vulcain, which usually excels in this area. With little striping or jewelling, the movement comes off as a bit austere and industrial, with only a skeletonized rotor adding visual interest. (That said, the skeletonized rotor does look very, very cool).

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

There are a few key elements that make clear this ain’t your grandpa’s pilot watch. A traditional feature of many pilot watches is the large onion crown; however, these crowns sometimes make such watches slightly uncomfortable, as they can dig into the wrist. Vulcain solves that problem here with ergonomic flair, reducing the size of the crown and adding a groove in the middle that allows even the most gnawed fingernail to pull it out easily. But where the Vulcain Aviator Instrument flies highest are the intriguing risks it takes in its use of asymmetry.

For one, the chronograph pushers are totally different shapes. The bottom pusher is a rectangular block with grippable vertical grooves carved into it, while the top pusher has a round cap etched with a design that evokes a propeller in motion. In the other colors the Vulcain Aviator Instrument comes in, this akimbo quality is enhanced by making the top chrono pusher a different hue: the white-dialed version has a blue pusher to match the hands and numbers, while the dark gray option features a red pusher to match the hands on the subdials. The asymmetry here works because it isn’t random: every asymmetrical element has an echo somewhere on the watch, either in surface treatment or color – just not where you’d expect. To my mind, that is a very sophisticated aesthetic approach, and a fairly bold and edgy one, making the Vulcain Aviator Instrument stand out among the fleet of more conventional pilot watches available.

Vulcain Aviator Instrument Chronograph Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

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  • mla

    Very nice. I just discovered Vulcain a couple of weeks ago and am really liking their designs. I hope we start seeing a lot more from them and getting wider distribution.

  • hautejalapeno

    I’m not the biggest fan of pilots watches (much too samey) but this is sumptuous. I can’t take my eyes off it. Bremont take note this is how to make a desirable aviation inspired watch. I want, but at that price I imagine they will go quick!!

  • Stunning. I saw a picture of this on the forums about a week ago and was immediate smitten, mostly so with this blue dial variant. The shade of blue is unique in watches and works so magically.
    I’m sure it might lose a few points for having the date cut into the chronograph indication, or because the chrono dials slightly overlap, but these items don’t bother me at all: I find the dial to be very harmonious and well thought out. Love that handset.
    To bad it wasn’t also a cricket.

  • Very Breguet Type XXI inspired. Lotsa stuff going on with that dial but seems it should appeal to the gear heads out there.
    Not a bad use of the venerable 7750.

  • thornwood36

    Grrr ,…..my screw fixation comes into play here. they have to be at right angles.. I notice that pic 10/32 shown of this timepiece seems to be a different watch ( the bottom screw is all wonky ) . And Ariel , are you a bare knuckle fighter i  your spare time : ) . i would be more than happy to have this watch on my wrist . Sort the screws out and it would be perfect.

  • BIGCHRONO

    SuperStrapper 
    “To bad it wasn’t also a cricket.”
    CHIRP!

  • Don’t rub your legs together at me like that. I don’t know you well enough.

  • sigp226

    Very well put together and there is nothing the eyes don’t like about this watch. But.. only 4K? Seems like an appealing watch at 8K+. Well done!

  • BIGCHRONO

    SuperStrapper 
    Be grateful I’m not a female Praying Mantis.

  • BIGCHRONO

    mla 
    Lots more to enjoy here.
    http://www.vulcain-watches.ch/en/index.html

  • shinytoys

    Vulcain has been making fine watches for many decades.  This is a another gorgeous watch with a fine proven engine. Nice work Vulcain !!!

  • Spaceguitar

    Luminous horizontal barber pole second counter FTW!!!!!

  • Shawnnny

    Love the watch in every way. Love the video. But Ariel, if your going to pick fights, please wear some gloves. You can hit harder and not scrap your knuckles!

  • Shawnnny

    It’s a stripper pole!

  • Shawnnny

    I’m a hungry falcon!

  • bnabod

    I like this a lot, a big fan of Vulcain in general. one thing the rotor does not scream”aviation” to me but screams auto racing.
    I would have liked some cricketing out of it as well, since that is Vulcain’s top thing and also a better looking movement. it is rather plain for that price point (looks like my tissot prs 516) and not at all like my B&M flyback.
    so good effort but pricey

  • Shawnnny Haha. True story is that I wrapped my hands “differently” at boxing and tore up my knuckles.

  • thornwood36 FYI to all, even though I took the pictures of the watch on my wrists. Our Matt Diehl reviewed the watch and wrote the article. 

    I like all the bare knuckle fighter comments. I have been boxing for about 2 years now (taking out watch industry stress on the bags is remarkably cathartic) – so I do try to wrap my hands properly, but that doesn’t always work out.

  • MisterDeal

    bnabod Vulcain actually has a pilot-styled GMT watch with the “cricket” alarm function. A fine watch – just a different beast:

    http://www.vulcain-watches.ch/en/collection/all/aviator/gmt-steel/100108.333L

  • MisterDeal

    SuperStrapper Personally, I find that, if you’re going to have a date window on a chrono (always a tough proposition), this is a pretty elegant solution (and slightly provocative, in a good way). Re: the Cricket, as I wrote above in the comments, there is already a Vulcain GMT pilot watch model with the “Cricket” alarm function. Personally, I love me some Cricket! I especially love how Vulcain executed and enhanced the “Cricket”alarm function for their divers!

  • MisterDeal

    BIGCHRONO mla Getting into the history and heritage of Vulcain and their various iconic timepieces is really, really fun. And IMHO of all the watch marques to crawl back to life after the “quartz crisis,” I think they’re one of the best in terms of how they’ve done it, bringing back/updating iconic retro models and doing new stuff, too.

    The design/finish, especially for the price, too, is just astonishing… Big fan.

  • Cagatay10

    I have great respect to Vulcain watches but i have to admit, this one looks like a Victorinox model more than Vulcain.

  • MisterDeal

    Cagatay10 If you saw the Vulcain in person/had it on your wrist, I think you would change your mind. I actually love the Victorinox watches, but the finish and detail on the Aviator Instrument are well beyond them. I even put the Aviator Instrument next to more expensive pilots and it had details/finish that surpassed many of them; as well, it tested at chronometer-level timekeeping, which is something a Victorinox hasn’t been regulated for I’m guessing. This is a tool-oriented watch, so all tool watches of this ilk will share some stylistic DNA, but it is also a fine Swiss automatic timepiece at its core.

  • Shawnnny

    Good to hear your not knocking women out in the elevator. Lol!

  • Shawnnny Haha! Too soon?

  • Shawnnny

    Oh, are you the one getting knocked out? Haha!

  • BIGCHRONO

    MisterDeal BIGCHRONO mla 
    Also look @ Oris watches. It too offers excellent price/value ratio, terrific models & innovations, & none of the obnoxious hype & pretentiousness.

  • MisterDeal

    BIGCHRONO MisterDeal mla Love Oris.

  • BIGCHRONO

    MisterDeal BIGCHRONO mla 
    You read my head.

  • spiceballs

    I applaud the architectural-like asymmetry of the design and from the pix the finish appears top class.  I didn’t think I would but have to say it all somehow works for me., at what seems a fair price.

  • As I was beginning to be wooed by this watch, I couldn’t get pass the hideous screws.  The interesting tension among the asymetrical plays in the dial  would be so much better without them screws…

  • mitch57

    I love this watch.  But when I went to the Vulcain site and looked up ADs for the US it listed two stores.  Arizona Fine Time and Feldmar Watch.  I contacted both ADs and they are no longer ADs for Volcain and both of them said that there is no US distribution for Vulcain.

    Can anyone comment on this?  Where can you purchase one of these watches in the US?

  • MisterDeal

    mitch57 Actually, if you go to the link below, it lists 14 stores that carry Vulcain (including a number of Tourneau locations):

    http://www.vulcain-watches.ch/en/distribution/distribution/North+America/USA/0

    There are 7 pages, with two dealers on each page. As well, there is contact info for Vulcain’s American agent, who may have updated information. However, I will reach out to Vulcain for information as well.
    Glad you love the watch!

  • mitch57

    MisterDeal mitch57 
    I see.  I don’t remember seeing those other ADs when I looked the other day.  But cool!  I’ll check them out.

  • Time2Go

    mitch57 Same problem here.  The 7 pages of ADs that were shown on the Vulcain site just 2 days ago has dwindled down down to 5 pages now.  Most of the enries are for Tourneau, and when I contacted them they told me they are no longer carrying Vulcain.  The other ADs I contacted also told me the same and one indicated there are no US distributors for Vulcain.

    Would really like to find this watch.  Hoping somebody out there can give us a hint…

  • MisterDeal

    Time2Go mitch57 I contacted Vulcain and they said the best place to get their watches in the U.S. is here:

    KENJO
    40 West 57th Street
    New York, NY 10019
    USA

  • Time2Go

    MisterDeal Interesting, since Kenjo’s web site (kenjo.net) doesn’t even show Vulcain in their brand list.  I’ve contacted them…with my fingers crossed…

  • mitch57

    I’ve been in contact with Vulcain via email.  They’ve made me a nice offer to purchase one direct from Vulcain.  But I had to ask them what that meant for me as far as paying taxes/import duty/fees if I purchase direct from Switzerland.  
    I just emailed them a few minutes ago so I haven’t gotten a response back yet.  I also asked them why there weren’t any US dealers/distribution any longer.

    Perhaps Matt could chime in and provide us with some further information on what he knows about Vulcain’s US distribution problems.

  • Time2Go

    MisterDeal Kenjo doesn’t have it or know any details about it, but said they would check with Vulcain to get availability and pricing.  I’ve also contacted Vulcain directly, but have not heard back from them yet.  Still hoping…

  • mla

    Time2Go MisterDeal

    I emailed Vulcain a while ago asking about their ref. 100117.088. They said they would check if they could make still make it at their headquarters (and that standard service would run ~ $500).

    I haven’t pursued it yet, but thought that was kind of a cool response, that they’re willing to work with you. Hopefully that doesn’t signal they’re in financial trouble.

    They really are producing first-rate designs IMO, so if they’re having problems marketing themselves, me thinks we need to help them 🙂

    Anyone from Vulcain reading? How are things going? 😉

  • MisterDeal

    Time2Go mitch57 More news! Check in with 

    .

    about purchasing Vulcain in the U.S.

  • anyvenue

    Possibly a little late to the party here, but if anyone still reading…the crown & pusher asymmetry talked about in the video and referred to above from a pilot perspective is very interesting, I fly airbus and each of the 5 autopilot rotary selectors are different shapes and finishes in order that they can be differentiated by feel, say in a smoke filled flight deck. So for an aviator watch possibly a style choice with some hidden depth?

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