Monday, August 7, 2017

MEET THE WATCH: Victorinox Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 Automatic Watch

Looking over the details of my watch collection, it occurred to me that Victorinox Swiss Army has made some big watches in their famous Airboss series that started back in the 2000s. I know this because I have owned at least one of each version (Airboss Mach 1 through Airboss Mach 8). Plus-sized watches of 45 mm have been in vogue for some time, and I have worn many of them.

Maybe it takes a certain cocky type of guy to wear these larger aviation-inspired watches like a young Val Kilmer as the Ice Man in the classic movie "Top Gun." You thought I was gonna say Maverick, didn't you... but everyone knows he wore a Porsche Design Chronograph by Orifina (others claim it was an IWC).

Up close or from far away, the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 makes a statement
Then came the unfortunate moment when I accidentally noticed my 45 mm watch choice in a chrome elevator, which was like a "mirrored cube of shame". In a flash, I came to the realization that perhaps my 6.375" wrist might not be hulky enough to wear some of the plus-sized watches anymore... fashion trends or my desires be damned. I am not condemning them for everyone, and I am not going cold turkey, but I am trying to be more realistic with what works best on my wrist. You can do what you want on your own wrist... it's a free country.

No, the Mach 7 is NOT bigger than my dog...maybe.
Notwithstanding my personal wearability issues, if you want watch with serious wrist presence, then the Victorinox Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 is going accomplish that mission. One look at the gorgeous dial and chunky case and you know this model is a masculine pilot's watch that demands attention. The Airboss designs (known as Mach's) have been diverse with the style of hands, accent colors, movements, and complications changing every few years. The Airboss Mach 7's design language can be seen as far back as the Airboss Mach 3, model #241380 (below).

Swiss Army Airboss Mach 3 - #241380
The Airboss Mach 3 had distinctive dial characteristics that included squarish numerals, the use of triangles, and thick and thin indices. It used yellowish-green lume as an accent to its white elements. To my knowledge, the Airboss Mach 7 was the last model to use this dial design language before the Airboss series went in other directions. In my opinion, the Airboss Mach 7 could mark the end of a design era for Swiss Army with it being the last to echo the Airboss Mach 3. Let's check out this fascinating watch in greater detail.

As I mentioned, I consider this to be a large watch, but not freakishly so. Measuring 45 mm wide x 15 mm tall, the Airboss Mach 7 stretched the limits of what I can personally wear on my wrist, but it may work great for others. You are just going to have to figure that out for yourself.

Victorinox Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 on an olive drab NATO strap
It can be a bit of a mystery how watches that measure the same size can often present different impressions to the wearer. Theoretically, similarly sized watches should feel the same to the wearer and look the same on the wrist, but that is not guaranteed. The differences are often revealed in the proportions of the watch and how the case, dial, lugs, crystal, protruding pushers and crown(s), etc. go together. The other important dimension known as the lug-to-lug distance is sometimes not mentioned in sales literature, but it can have the greatest effect on how the watch fits on a wrist.

Case width and lug-to-lug distances are both important measurements when fitting a watch to your wrist
The height of a watch also plays a key roll in determining how large a watch feels and looks. For a three-hand automatic watch, 15 mm seems like it is a bit on the high side for the Airboss Mach 7. Chronographs can easily be this tall because of the extra gears required to make the chronograph work. Dive watches can easily be this tall because they often have thick cases built for withstanding intense water pressures. Dive watches also have ratcheting bezels that allow a diver to keep track of time on a dive. The dive bezels can add several millimeters to the height of a watch, however, the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 does not have one of these external bezels.

The Victorinox Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 is robust at 15 mm tall
Instead, the AirBoss Mach 7 has a pilot's internal countdown bezel that works differently than a dive watch's bezel. First, it is bi-directional, spinning both clockwise and counterclockwise. This means making minor adjustments is as easy as turning the large crown at 2:00 in either direction. Comparatively, most dive bezels will only spin counterclockwise, and any adjustments will require a full turn of the bezel to a new starting point.

HOW TO USE A DIVE BEZEL – On a dive bezel, you align the starting point (aka zero) of the bezel to the minute hand's current location. The user can then see how many minutes have elapsed by reading the minute markers on the dive bezel.

A dive bezel is set with a starting point and elapsed time is read on the bezel as it counts upwards
HOW TO USE A COUNTDOWN BEZEL – The Airboss Mach 7's countdown bezel is different because you have to set a time interval in advance. You do this by moving the bezel so that the length of time (seen on the bezel) lines up with the minute hand. The countdown is on as soon as you set the bezel. As time moves forward, the watch's hand will move and eventually reach the bezel pip (shown as a hollow triangle on the inner bezel of the Airboss Mach 7. The user has to remember to glance at the bezel during the countdown because there is no alarm (but wouldn't that be a cool idea).

Align the desired countdown time on the inner bezel. When the hand reaches the open triangle, the time is up.
While the operation of each bezel seems opposite from each other, they both are just used to measure incremental minutes under an hour. There are some great tricks to using both of these styles, and I will dedicate another article to the nuances at a later time. I felt like I had to address this because a countdown bezel is not as common as a dive bezel.

Also, some people might not be familiar with internal bezels, which is the kind that the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 has. Many dive and pilot watches have bezels that appear beyond the edges of the crystal. An internal bezel is located under the glass, which has to be wider than usual. Together, the dial and internal bezel on the Airboss Mach 7 measure about 39.5 mm. That is the size of some whole watches! The bezels are the Airboss Mach 7 is fairly thin to try to minimize the visual bulk, but that only goes so far. The dial and internal bezel make this watch look large. See for yourself how internal and external bezels affect the perceived size of a watch in the photo below.

An informal size comparison of perceived size differences between internal and external bezels
The rest of the case is elegantly simple letting the dial steal the show. The lugs are tapered with a bevel that gives it some interest. The signed crowns have fluted ridges and no crown guards that make using them satisfying. This kind of double crown is sometimes referred to as a "compressor," named after some of the first watches that had this configuration. By positioning the crowns at 2:00 and 4:00, Victorinox Swiss Army reduced the watch's width in a meaningful way. Crowns in these locations generally do not hit the back of a wearer's wrist increasing comfort. The action on the crown at 2:00 should be smooth and buttery. Older ones in need of oil or that have had a hard life might feel more ratchety.

The crowns are offset reducing the virtual width of the watch. The top one controls the internal bezel
If you have read this far, you might think that I am bashing the Airboss Mach 7, but this is not my intent. In fact, this watch was one that I sought out and purchased because the design is bold and daring. I like the gadgetry of the extra crown and internal bezel, but the dial is what attracted me most to this watch.

Victorinox Swiss Army somehow managed to make a memorable dial despite all the included elements that could have short circuited their plans. The dial has:
  • applied numerals of varying sizes with the "3" partly cut by the date window
  • a logo shield with lume in it
  • the aforementioned internal bezel with its own number track, 12 lume triangles, and 48 tick marks
  • 12 lume polygons near the numerals and 48 more tick marks for the second and minute scales
Even with all that going on, the dial works for me. Sure, it is gutsy and a little audacious, but I think it fits the size and personality of the watch. I have one small nitpick... I could have done without the white date window cutting the "3", but most modern watch companies feel the need to include a date window (unless they are going retro). Victorinox might have considered it too risky to leave it off.

On a black NATO, the Airboss Mach 7 looks like a large tool watch.
This striking aviator watch will never be mistaken for subtle, so Swiss Army used a handset that could compete with that dial. The polished steel Roman sword hands do the trick with the right weight and length. The continuously sweeping second's hand is also polished steel and works well to add some kinetic interest. If you lose track of it against the background, simply tilt your wrist to add a reflection. The lume on this watch is outstanding, only needing a quick charge in the sun to make it glow into the small hours of the night.

Ancient Roman soldiers might recognize the shape of the Mach 7's hands
Unlike some other Airboss models that had deployant buckles on their watch bands, the Airboss Mach 7 came with a signed buckle. There is nothing wrong with that, and the style matches the watch well enough.

The watch band has a thumbnail buckle instead of a deployant clasp
There was also a stainless steel bracelet that fit the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7. I already had one and just put the watch head on it to see what it would look like. Unfortunately, I just took a quick snapshot, but you can get a general idea of what it would do for the watch. In some ways, I think it makes it even more of a beefy timepiece. It is nice to know that the option exists if you want it.

The only photo that I have of the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 on a metal bracelet
Victorinox Swiss Army drills 2 sets of holes into the lugs of some of their watches that can take metal bracelets. This is great because you can use the different lug holes that fit your needs the best... one set for the bracelet and 1 set for most everything else. Thinner watch bands can be fitted to the hole closest to the case and thick leather bands can use the holes furthest from the case. Believe me, you will want to use them because the Airboss Mach 7 was meant to be personalized with custom straps... or at least it is much more fun if you do. There is a catch, however. The watch was designed for uncommon 23 mm watch bands.

So many strap choices... but only one Airboss Mach 7
The 23 mm lug size will drive some people crazy. I can appreciate that, however, I find this size to be versatile. This is because thousands of watch bands have either 22 mm or 24 mm widths. Just pick one of those for your Airboss Mach 7 and see what happens. You probably have some of those  watch bands sitting in your junk drawer right now...

Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 on a Bond style 22 mm NATO strap
This watch can have many personalities depending on what kind of strap, band or bracelet you put on it. Because the dial is black, you can pair it with practically anything. This is a case where pictures are worth a thousand words so, I'll just let you check out how the different styles and colors of watch bands can transform the look of the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7.

This 2-piece watch band was not installed, but orange might work too!
If the thought of a small gap in the lugs bothers you, then skip any 22 mm watch band and go for a 24 mm one instead. Depending on the material, it should flex into place. NATO straps work well. Leather watch bands without rubber edging work well too. Be careful if your 24 mm leather watch band has a painted rubber coating on the sides because this treatment may eventually rub off.

OD green picks up the greenish tint of the dial text and lume.
Or, you can buy actual 23 mm watch bands from a few companies online such as Tactical Watch. Luminox comes to mind and I have several of their suede bands with twin prong buckles.

A Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 on a red & black striped 22 mm NATO
Powering the Victorinox Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 is a 24-jewel movement that you might not know by name, which is ETA's Swiss-made Valgranges A07.11. It was designed for large watches. Here's a fun fact... it is named after an area in Switzerland. Even though this is a 3-hand movement with a date wheel, this caliber is based on the well-known Valjoux 7750 chronograph caliber. 

The movement has a lot of depth as seen from the rear window
The Valgranges A07.11 has a rotor to automatically wind the movement, and you can hand-wind it too. The one in the Airboss Mach 7 is decorated with perlage plus the rotor has Cote de Geneva (Geneva stripes) and a logo. The Airboss Mach 7 that I owned had excellent accuracy would have made a reliable friend if I had kept it.

Like many watch collectors, I sometimes have to sell or trade some of my "children" to get the next big thing. While it can be painful, I have to remember that this one did not fit my smaller wrist. There is no need to keep a watch just because I like the way it looks in my watch box.

The Airboss Mach 7's movement is decorated
So, what are my closing thoughts on the Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7? I had to really think about this because I bought this watch when I was at a personal crossroad on a journey from larger 45 mm watches to smaller ones about 40 mm.

The yellowish-green lume is used as a secondary color on the dial
There are things that I love about the Airboss Mach 7 with its bold graphic design and versatility on a strap. The dial is the opposite of sterile and that is fine by me. Sometimes I prefer a lot of drama on a watch dial.  This model also represents a time for Victorinox when their designs were a little bolder... arguably a little riskier. I happen to like that design period for them.

A Swiss Army Airboss Mach 7 on a 23 mm strap borrowed from one of my other Airboss models
In the end, I think that the Swiss Army Mach 7 will make many watch collectors happy as long as they know that it is a larger watch. If you like the design of the Victorinox Swiss Army Mach 7 but want a smaller size, then you can buy the Airboss Mach 3 (#241380), which is a 43 mm wide by 12.5 mm tall quartz watch. You can find both of them on the secondary markets for a decent price. 

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