When tracing the roots of the modern pilot’s watch, all roads inevitably lead to World War II. It’s no secret that today’s pilot template has its origins in the flieger designs produced by brands such as Laco, A. Lange & Söhne, and IWC for the German Luftwaffe during that conflict, and to this day there’s a strong collector community surrounding original wartime “B-Uhr” examples (and to a lesser extent, surrounding the array of pilot’s watches manufactured by Seiko for the Imperial Japanese military). What about the watches that actually won the war, however? By contrast, the enthusiast following surrounding the Allied pilot’s watches of WWII is far smaller, but the watches themselves are no less inherently interesting. Young American brand Praesidus is dedicated to these sorts of off-the-beaten-track military watches, reimagining historic U.S. military-issued timepieces with modern build quality and aesthetic tweaks while maintaining the rugged, affordable spirit of the originals. For its latest release, Praesidus has teamed with retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and World War II triple fighter ace Bud Anderson to develop a tribute to the watches he wore throughout his long, decorated career as a military aviator. Although it blends together visual cues from both WWII and Korean War-era timepieces in a slightly upsized case, the new Praesidus A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition keeps the spirit of early American pilot’s watches alive while adding a loving tribute to one of America’s most celebrated military aviators.
While it’s markedly larger than a true WWII-issued Waltham, Elgin, or Bulova A-11 watch at 36mm wide, the Praesidus A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition’s stainless steel case nonetheless nails the feel of those compact wartime timepieces on the wrist. Even with today’s trend toward smaller case sizes, the original A-11’s 32mm-wide dimensions are diminutive at best, but the A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition still carries over many of the A-11’s idiosyncrasies. The first of these is the case thickness. Original A-11s are remarkably tall for their diameter, and the considerable 13.5mm-thick overall height of the A-2 preserves this small, pleasingly chunky feel on the wrist. As an added bonus, the tall, narrow proportions help to shrink the case diameter during wear, further solidifying the A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition’s visual impression as a small, old-school military-issue watch. Likewise, the A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition’s narrow 16mm-wide lug width is carried over directly from its war-era inspiration, complete with drilled lugs and a sharply downturned lug profile. On the other hand, the watch’s low-dome sapphire crystal is a purely modern inclusion, but its clarity and scratch resistance are certainly benefits worth having here. It’s the caseback where Praesidus fully departs from its vintage inspirations, however. Most of the solid caseback’s visual real estate is dedicated to a finely detailed engraved rendition of Colonel Anderson’s famous “Old Crow” P-51D Mustang, in which he scored a historic 16.25 aerial victories during World War II. Just above this profile image of the aircraft, Praesidus includes a small numbered medallion, made from a piece of an original P-51D airframe. Even by the standards of historic materials used in watches, it’s a tiny piece of an airplane, but the inclusion here is less about the value of the material itself and more about its emotional impact. Despite using a screw-down crown, Praesidus rates the A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition for a middling 50 meters of water resistance.
While the case of the Praesidus A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition is all about interpreting the WWII-era A-11 for modern audiences, its dial broadly draws from its successor, the A-17. Issued to U.S. military personnel throughout the first half of the 1950s and during the Korean War, the A-17 was a sharper, more focused evolution of the design concept focused on maximizing legibility. Although many of the visual elements of the A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition’s dial are lifted wholesale from the A-17, Praesidus massages and sharpens the design for a cleaner, richer, and more focused look. The tapering syringe handset and flat, businesslike printed Arabic numerals are all true to their A-17 roots, but the brand gives this layout a more minimal spin with subdued outer minutes numerals and a removed central 24-hour scale. The A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition’s largest dial shift may be the hardest to spot at first glance, however. There’s a slight dégradé gradient at play on the matte black dial surface, dropping rapidly from charcoal gray at the dial center to true black at the edge. It’s not a pronounced enough effect to draw attention to itself organically, but when placed alongside the warm fauxtina lume of the numerals and handset, this nuanced fade effect further reinforces the watch’s well-aged feel on the wrist.
Praesidus offers the A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition with a pair of automatic movement options. Our test sample arrived with the more upscale Swiss Soprod P024 powerplant, but budget-conscious buyers can also option the watch with the more affordable Seiko NH35. Marketed as a competitor to the long-running ETA 2824, the P024 offers broadly similar performance, including an acceptable 41-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. The P024 delivered similarly entry-level Swiss performance figures in our accuracy testing, averaging out to just under +8 seconds per day over the testing period.
Given that the Praesidus A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition sports a slender 16mm-wide lug gap, the variety of third-party straps that can be fitted to its case is somewhat limited. With this in mind, the manufacture strap option for this watch is particularly important, and thankfully Praesidus’s American-made black Horween leather strap does not disappoint. Right out of the box, this strap is supple, plush, and extremely flexible, with an attractive cracked patina that drives home the watch’s vintage military feel on the wrist. A suitably simple matte wire pin buckle completes the look in a simple, rugged style.
While the American pilot’s watches of World War II and the ‘50s may not have the design lineage or collector cachet of their Axis counterparts, the new Praesidus A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition proves that these smaller Allied designs are still fertile creative ground for compelling and capable military-inspired timepieces. Only 100 numbered examples of the Praesidus A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition will be made with the P-51 case medallion, and the watch is available now through the brand’s e-commerce platform. MSRP for the watch as tested stands at $595 USD as of press time. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: A-2 Bud Anderson Limited Edition
>Price: $595 USD as tested/$349 USD with NH35 movement
>Size: 36mm wide, 13.5mm thick
>When reviewer would personally wear it: When flying, or as a rugged military-style daily beater.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Aviation fans looking for a unique and affordable watch option; history-minded watch enthusiasts in search of a “greatest hits” approach to American military timepieces.
>Best characteristic of watch: Intriguing, easily wearable compact proportions; subtle dégradé effect adds a layer of intrigue to the sterile dial; impressively intricate caseback.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Slightly ahistorical looks may put off some military watch purists; khaki lume is a love-it-or-hate-it inclusion.