At the close of the Korean War, Lockheed Martin released a supersonic fighter jet designed to be simple, lightweight, and have unparalleled altitude and climb performance — and it had one of the best aircraft names ever: the XF-104 Starfighter. The aircraft lived up to its name, setting records for speed (first to reach 2,259.5kmph), altitude (over 30,000m), and time-to-climb (flying to 30,000m in 904.92 seconds). Though the Starfighter’s stint in the USAF was short, it became a staple in European countries, including Germany. Though long retired from active duty, its name lives on in Guinand’s 60s-inspired chronograph, the Guinand Starfighter Pilot II.
Guinand based the design of the Starfighter Pilot II on classic Heuer chronographs from the 1960s — staples of the German Bundeswehr. If you’re a German brand looking for inspiration for a vintage-inspired bicompax chronograph, the old Heuer Bund chronographs are hard to beat. Staying true to the brief, the Starfighter Pilot II features a running sub-seconds at 9 o’clock and a 30-minute register at 3 o’clock. If you need to time periods longer than 30 minutes, that’s where the bi-directional rotating bezel comes in. Use it like a dive bezel or align the triangle to the current hour, and you can easily and precisely track longer periods when combined with the chronograph.
Though best known today as a German manufacturer of classically styled instrument chronographs, the Guinand story began in the small French-speaking Swiss town of Les Brents over 150 years ago. Throughout the first decades of its existence, Guinand made a name for itself by creating precision chronographs, including rattrapante, or split-seconds chronographs. The company grew rapidly throughout the twentieth century, venturing quickly into the world of wristwatch chronographs — the complication that the brand continues to embrace today.
If you notice some similarity in style or approach to German stalwart Sinn, there’s a very good reason. Now, the watch industry has no shortage of icons and celebrities, from Gerald Genta to Jean-Claude Biver. Amongst tool watch and pilot watch aficionados, however, one name stands above all others: Helmut Sinn. As far back as 1960, Helmut Sinn was one of Guinand’s key accounts, manufacturing many of Sinn’s on-board aircraft instruments. After Sinn established his eponymous brand, the companies remained close collaborators, with Sinn manufacturing many of Guinand’s watches up until the 1990s. Soon, that relationship would get even closer. In 1995, a year after he left his self-named brand, Helmut Sinn took the helm at Guinand and moved its manufacturing and headquarters to Frankfurt, completing Guinand’s transition to Germany. Sadly, Helmut Sinn passed in 2018, but Guinand remains in good hands. Since 2015, Guinand has been run by Matthias Klueh. Born just down the road from Sinn’s workshop in Frankfurt, Kleuh was a passionate collector of Sinn watches and even worked for the brand for a time. When the opportunity arose to purchase Guinand, he naturally jumped at the chance. Today, Guinand’s focus is to build on the brand’s proud tradition — from its early Swiss days to Helmut Sinn’s lasting impact on the world of horology.
With all this history in mind, let’s get to the watch itself. With its bead-blasted case, matte-black dial, and black bezel, it’s easy to overlook some of the finer details that make this watch stand out. For instance, both subdials are recessed and beveled with concentric circles, while the rehaut is blacked out to avoid reflections and increase legibility. The Arabic numerals are true to the early Heuers (just check out that lovely sloping 4), so you won’t find any cut-off or awkwardly placed numerals. Thankfully, Guinand didn’t try to force the vintage look, opting for white hands and markers with Super-LumiNova X1.
The Starfighter Pilot II is, no surprise, a follow-up to the Guinand Starfighter Pilot, the only difference being more compact dimensions (41mm with a 20mm lug width as compared to 43mm with a 22mm lug width). A mere 2mm might not seem like much, but for those of us with smaller wrists (mine is 6.75”), it moved the Starfighter from a great design that was sadly too large for my wrist to one that I had to get my hands on. To be clear, the Starfighter II is by no means petite; along with the 41mm diameter, the lug-to-lug distance is 48.7mm. Add to that a 15.7mm case height and you have a fairly hefty watch (92 grams for the watch head).
The watch is undeniably thick, though the size is not atypical for a Sellita SW510 (or Valjoux 7750) equipped chronograph. Trying the watch on several NATO-style straps and an Erika’s Original strap, I found the watch to be a bit top-heavy; however, the bracelet balanced the weight of the watch head and, with no fabric under the case, provided the most comfortable wearing experience.
Speaking of the bracelet, the Guinand Starfighter Pilot II came equipped with a 20mm H-link bracelet. Given the long-standing connection between Guinand and Sinn, it’s no surprise that the H-link looks familiar. However, the Guinand H-link has a few key differences from its German compatriot. First, and most obvious, is the bevel along the edges of the bracelet. Visually, this decreases the apparent width of the bracelet and gives it a more angular and masculine look. Less obvious differences include the tool-free quick-release spring bars and a push button clasp. The clasp is stamped, and you won’t find on-the-fly micro-adjust, but at least you get four holes for micro-adjustment.
With a watch like the Starfighter II that takes on a classic, established design, the key is in the execution. Aesthetically, the watch would look right at home on the wrist of a pilot stepping out of the cockpit of an F-104 after rocketing well into the stratosphere. But, with the Guinand Starfighter Pilot II, part of the pleasure in wearing the watch is knowing what goes into the watch itself. The bead-blasted stainless-steel case utilizes an FKM-R sealing system for the pushers and screw-down crown, allowing the watch to attain 200m of water resistance.
The bezel, which is coated with anthracite-black DLC is tough and scratch-resistant. More importantly, it’s a pleasure to use, rotating on a three-ball detent system that clicks in each direction with a firm, satisfying thunk. Finally, the watch is topped off with sapphire crystals front and back (the top is lightly domed).
Beneath the display caseback is the Sellita SW-510 chronograph movement. This automatic movement is based on the Valjoux 7750, which has been a go-to movement for chronographs since it was developed in the late 1970s. Sure, it may not be an in-house caliber or feature the most elaborate decoration, but I’m a sucker for chronograph movements and always enjoy seeing them on display. The SW-510 runs at 28.8kbph and features a Glucydur balance wheel, 56-hour power reserve, and plenty of shock and magnetism protection. Guinand also makes sure the watch is running accurately when you receive it, regulating the movement in five positions.
Guinand may have other watch types in its catalog, but since its early history in Switzerland, and more recent past in Germany, Guinand has been, above all else, a manufacturer of chronographs. And it does it incredibly well. If you’re in the market for a chronograph that looks like it could be new old stock from the 60s, but built with modern, German crafting, the Starfighter II is worth a long look. To learn more about Guinand and the Starfighter Pilot II, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Starfighter Pilot II
>Price: 1,999 € including VAT
>Size: 41mm diameter, 48.7mm lug-to-lug, 15.7mm thickness, 20mm lug width
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Anytime, but especially fitting when paired with a thick wool sweater or waxed canvas jacket.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone looking for a bicompax chronograph with classic 60s styling and utterly bombproof construction.
>Best characteristic of watch: Spot-on vintage styling with excellent German artisanship.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Thick case that can be a bit top-heavy if not worn on the bracelet.