Fabrique en France — tell me that’s not a refreshing sight at 6 o’clock! Don’t get me wrong, I love a good German or Swiss flieger, but a fresh take on a classic style is always welcome. The MAT (Mer-Air-Terre) Sea-Air-Land Escadron (“squadron” in English) is a distinctly French timepiece that is instantly recognizable as a pilot watch, yet is unique in its interpretation of what a modern pilot’s watch can be. Bold and aggressive, yet stealthy, the Escadron stays true to MAT’s roots as a manufacturer of watches for elite French police units. Do a quick Google search for the “French RAID” ….yeah, those guys are pretty badass. It’s only fitting that MAT’s watches match their clients’ personae.
Founded in 2007, MAT does its design, prototyping, R&D, manufacturing, and quality control in-house. Even the straps are made in the brand’s Parisian workshop, with leather sourced in France. Yup, MAT watches are French through-and-through. One of the few independent French watchmakers operating today, the brand got its start by creating watches for the French Special Forces and has been closely allied with police and military ever since. Of course, you don’t need to don a Kevlar vest or ghillie suit in order to wear a MAT watch, but it’s nice to know the watch would fit right in.
The Escadron was purpose-built for modern pilots and features a PVD gunmetal coating to avoid reflections in the cockpit, minutes shown at five-minute intervals for ease of time measurement in flight, and a 12-hour bezel to quickly adjust to multiple time zones without a dedicated GMT function. Overkill? Sure, but that’s rather the point. Let’s see how this function-first pilot watch works day-to-day when solidly planted on terra firma.
Case and Bezel
The case lines of the Escadron are on-brand for MAT. When looking at the watch from above, the most definable characteristic, which is found across the brand’s range, is the widely spaced and angular 24mm lugs. In fact, the lugs are a perfect illustration of why we reviewers at aBlogtoWatch spend weeks, and often months, consistently wearing the watches we review. At first, I wasn’t a fan of the wide lugs. Mostly, I was grumpy about the fact that none of my aftermarket straps would fit. (I really wanted to see this on a green NATO.) But after several weeks of wearing this watch, I realized that much of its charm and personality comes directly from the widely spaced lugs. Even though a 22mm lug-width would make it easier to find aftermarket straps, it would also change the distinctive case shape and lose that je ne sais quoi.
The case itself is PVD-coated stainless steel in a deep gunmetal hue. The PVD is well applied and complements the aggressive aesthetic of the watch. The case is angular with minimal beveling and a screw-down crown that is solid, easy to grip, and silky-smooth. The watch hides its 13.5mm height well and doesn’t feel bulky or tall. Add in an AR-coated double-domed sapphire crystal and 200m of water resistance, and the case shouts function-first in the same voice, but different language, as Sinn or Damasko. The small detail of drilled lug holes is a welcome addition, making strap changes a breeze. Flipping the watch over, the caseback is etched with the MAT logo and technical specs around the outside. Straightforward, nothing fancy.
The 12-hour bezel is uni-directional with 120 clicks, excellent action, and no backplay. I’m a sucker for copperplate numerals (think Sinn and Bell & Ross), so the font choice on the bezel is spot on in my book, and the red triangle at 12 adds a nice pop of color. Lume on the bezel numerals would have been welcome, especially as there is no lume dot on the triangle, but this is a pilot watch, not a diver, so the lack of bezel lume isn’t out of the ordinary.
Overall, I was quite impressed by the case. Despite being 42.5mm in diameter and roughly 50mm lug-to-lug with those wide MAT lugs, it fits comfortably and securely on the wrist. It certainly wears smaller than the specs would suggest. The all-around manufacturing quality is top-notch, and I enjoy that the case doesn’t look or feel like every other pilot watch — it has a character and personality all its own and one that I’ve found charming.
Dial and Hands
I have a soft spot for dark gray sunburst and the Escadron’s dial immediately drew me in. It’s a captivating dial for such an austere and function-focused watch, and it’s the one area in which MAT decided to throw in a bit of additional style and personality. Depending on the light, you can get hints of copper or bronze in the sunburst, but the sunburst was never distracted from legibility, which is always high due to the stark white hour and minute markers. When you get to the minute track, the radial sunburst changes to a circular texture, subtly differentiating the minute track in an organic and attractive way.
The Arabic minutes at five-minute intervals are reminiscent of a Baumuster B dial, yet lack the inner hour track, which allows for a cleaner look overall and opens up the dial. The hour markers and hands are applied with a generous amount of white lume—this is something I appreciate on dark dials, as they appear stark white in daylight with no greenish overtones. Text on the dial is kept to a minimum with the stylish MAT logo at 12 and “Automatique” in red above 6 o’clock. (I confess, I always feel a nerdy excitement about other languages on dials — the German “Automatik” on Sinn watches is another favorite.) That little touch of red works brilliantly with the red triangle on the bezel. Thankfully, MAT also opted to go with a white-on-black date disc, which aligns seamlessly with the Arabic numerals for the minutes. Classy.
As much as I enjoyed the dial, my one quibble is with the hands. Proportionally, they’re spot on. The issue is that the black borders blend in with the dark dial, making the hands seem slightly diminutive. I would have preferred either a thinner border on the hands or, preferably, no border so that the white would extend to the edges.
The MAT Escadron is powered by the tried-and-true ETA 2824-2. Though MAT doesn’t provide additional detail about the grade of the movement, it has a 42-hour power reserve and beats at 28.8kbh. The ETA 2824-2 and its doppelgänger, the Sellita SW200-1, are the go-to Swiss movements for watches in this price range, so I was perfectly happy to see it here. As expected, the movement is running flawlessly and I have no complaints. As noted above, MAT opted for a color-matched date wheel — a great choice since a standard black-on-white date window would have been jarring and out of place.