For a long time, I didn’t know how I felt about pilot’s watches. For years, I found myself underwhelmed whenever another in a seemingly endless queue of “me too” models hit the market. Every brand was at it, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then, quite by accident, I ended up with one on my wrist, and I finally got it. What followed was an irrational interest in the unusually large, plain cases, enormous emergency pushers, proud onion crowns, and the bold dials that can be read from a block away (at night). The Mühle-Glashütte Terrasport I Beobachter is not the easiest pilot’s watch to read, but its integer-heavy display gives it an identifiability other more generic layouts sometimes lack. This watch is a simple three-hander with a centrally-mounted seconds hand. The slenderness of the red-tipped seconds hand is perfectly designed to precisely indicate the passing time, and makes best use of the ubiquitous line markers on the dial.
There is a tendency amongst pilot’s watches to go for a matte case finish, more than likely so as not to distract pilots with a shiny finish as they already are surrounded by the countless screens and lights of the cockpit. The Mühle-Glashütte Terrasport I Beobachter is no exception. The 44mm stainless steel case is so brushed it looks almost sand blasted. I think that the unobtrusive case shape and scuff-friendly finish are essential components of the pilot’s watch design code. In fact, they are so common, they are almost invisible at a glance. As seventeenth-century essayist Richard Steele said, “It is to be noted that when any part of this paper appears dull there is a design in it.” And that’s kind of the point. A pilot’s watch is a tool, and an essential one at that. The disappearing case is further supposed to draw the eye directly to the dial and an easy-to-read display – and that’s where I feel the Mühle-Glashütte Terrasport I Beobachter falls down.
The Mühle-Glashütte Terrasport I Beobachter comes in two dial variants: a cream dial with black printing and a black dial with white printing. The technical information in the press release claims that the hands, hour markers, and numerals are coated with Super-LumiNova, but there are as yet no night-time pictures to prove it. It is totally plausible that the black dial with white printing is fully luminous, but I hope to see the inner hour chapter ring, as well as the outer minute ring glow brightly in the dark, not just the hands. In contrast, the attempts I’ve seen at black lume in the past have been shockingly inept, so I presume it is the full dial (and the hands) that glow on the creme colored version, not the indices.
Despite this glaring functional omission, the Mühle-Glashütte Terrasport I Beobachter in cream can still boast some excellent hands. Both variants feature classic Pilot-shaped hands, which are beautifully proportioned and very generously lumed – although it would be nice to see them be a bit wider so as to improve at-a-glance legibility.
Pleasingly, the case, which is water resistant to 50 meters, has a display case back, through which the calibre SW 200-1 can be viewed. The SW 200-1 is a pretty solid ETA clone that has a 38-hour power reserve and a nice Mühle-Glashütte modification with the addition of a woodpecker neck regulator, custom rotor, and custom surface finishes. Sellita, the company that makes the SW 200-1, churn out movements for many high-end brands. Their timekeeping capabilities are good and more than capable of chronometer standards. The simpler they are, the less chance you have of problems. A three-handed automatic like this, especially one without a day/date function, is about as a sure a bet as you can place when it comes to any manufacturer.
Visually, it looks a lot like an ETA 2824, so even though there are no case back images available yet, you can get a rough idea of what you’ll be seeing through the glass back. The movement also features a hacking seconds hand – a standard, but appreciated function. This enables you to set the time to the second as the second hand stops dead (by way of a brake arm engaging with the balance wheel) when you pull the crown out to the hand set position. It’s an essential feature on military watches for group synchronisation, and a nice thing for serious horologists to have if they like to check the accuracy of their timepieces.
Mühle-Glashütte give you a choice between a butterfly folding clasp or a pin buckle on a buffalo leather strap. I would take the latter, but am very impressed to see an option. The Mühle-Glashütte Terrasport I Beobachter is an unlimited issue and will be available for the price of $1,999 on leather and $2,199 on the steel bracelet. muhle-glashutte.com