Earlier this year, the German watchmaker Steinhart has issued their new take on the concept of a “vintage-modern pilot’s watch”. Successfully blending vintage exterior with a classic caliber and modern CNC machinery, the new Steinhart Nav.B-Chrono 47 Baumuster B Grey Edition (ref. 106-0877) offers, perhaps, the best “value for money” ratio for those interested in buying a relatively affordable brand new pilot’s timekeeper.
Steinhart enjoys a controversial reputation of a company that makes its living by selling “poor man’s Rolexes.” Offering a combination of solidly built cases that house good Swiss Made movements, and exteriors that sometimes balance on the verge of intellectual property violation (their 2013 Steinhart Ocean One Vintage Automatic is the first one that comes to mind, although the company is careful enough not to overstep the border,) they are popular among enthusiasts who always wanted that gorgeous Rolex with colorful “Pepsi” bezel, but never could afford one.
While the business model is frowned upon by die-hards, it has an advantage: when you spend a lifetime balancing on shoulders of giants, you eventually acquire enough expertise to make products of your own (just ask Hyundai and Toyota.) Their latest Steinhart Nav.B-Chrono 47 Baumuster B Grey Edition (ref. 106-0877) is a great example of such an approach: the Germans took the classic B-Uhr, added a chronograph mechanism, and got a design that is both classic and original enough to blow most of competing brands out of the water.
The obvious competitor here is Laco: another niche brand of German origin. While operating in the same ballpark in terms of price and exterior finish quality, it also has one advantage over Steinhart: it is on the original watchmakers that supplied the German Luftwaffe with the original “Navigators” and “Observers,” while Steinhart, for all intents and purposes, is just one of many makers of “homage watches.”. Some may find the lack of “heritage” a serious drawback that undermines Steinhart’s “value proposition.”
Luckily for Steinhart, neither Laco, nor Stowa (another contender when it comes to affordable pilot’s watches) have chronographs in “Baumuster” design in their product ranges. Also, latest Steinhart watches use premium mechanisms from ETA (unlike Laco that installs Japanese calibers in their cheaper timepieces,) which is, too, a serious advantage when it comes to “value”.
Case, Bezel & Strap
Steinhart seems to use the same case design for all of their 47mm-sized watches that, while looking great, also has a design flaw that some customers consider a deal-breaker. With its overall thickness of 16 millimeters that is exacerbated by the deliberate flatness of profile, and the way the spring bars are positioned above the case’s “waistline,” on some wrists the oversized and heavy (150 grams of ill-positioned weight on one’s wrist is nothing to sneeze at) watch may feel awkward. Together with the German brand’s official return policy, buying one of these devices without trying first may become an adventure in itself.
The size of this thing, too, may give a rational person pause: for an overwhelming majority of customers, the Nav.B-Chrono 47 collection is just too big.
I, for example, have a 21cm (I think it translates to roughly 8 3/8 inches) wrist, which is just slightly above what is considered the average for men, and find any watch that is larger than 45mm in diameter extremely uncomfortable, not only in terms of dead weight, but also in the way it constantly reminds me of its awkward presence. So, again, if you have never experienced such a monstrosity on your own wrist, think about a way of test-driving one before committing to this model: after all, at more than $1k, the trinket is fairly expensive and, taking into account its potentially lower than normal resale value, you don’t want to lose a couple of hundred dollars trying to flip it to another poor sucker.
The gadget’s water resistance rating of just 50 meters doesn’t sound particularly reassuring for a sports activity watch. Steinhart explicitly states that it is “limited water resistant, no swimming or shower,” however I personally would be very careful even washing my hands while wearing this timekeeper.
If ergonomics isn’t a problem, then congratulations are in order: the exterior of the timekeeper looks very impressive (I especially like the “historic” oversized crown and the way the anodized orange chronograph “Start/Stop” button plays nicely with the orange elements of the dial.) Even the black “vintage” leather strap with its light grey contrast stitching looks interesting enough, although a grey and orange textile strap would probably do the watch more justice.
The movement here is the good old Caliber ETA Valjoux 7750 in its “Top” grade variety. While, even in this price range, the quality of timekeeping still varies noticeably from one mechanism to another (some lower-grade calibers may actually be better at keeping time than some higher-grade ones,) there is still a number of differences between the “Elabore” version (which is considered a base one for the 7750 family) and the one that is marketed as “Top.”
First of all, the “Top” versions are adjusted in five positions (CH “dial up”, FH “dial down”, 6H “crown left”, 9H “crown down”, 3H “crown up”) whereas the “Elabore” version is only regulated to the three most common positions when the watch is lying on its back and on its sides.
The second is, of course, the finish with blued screw heads and Geneva stripes on bridges. As with their other recent models, Steinhart tried to make the mechanism look even better by adding a gilded and sandblasted (and even partially skeletonized with the brand’s “crown” logo) oscillating weight to the whole assembly, but I still think that the German watchmaker needs to invest more time and effort into designing something more appealing. The personalized oscillating weight in its current form doesn’t add much to the gadget’s overall perceived value.
All in all, this is a great movement that, while not looking particularly stellar (and being rather noisy, but in a pleasant sort of way,) is usually good at keeping time -especially after a brief visit to a good service person- and is not very common when it comes to watches listed below €1000.
Dial & Legibility
The main selling point of the Nav.B-Chrono 47 Baumuster is the dial, which is actually really good from any perspective.
While most chronographs are characterized by their dramatically lowered legibility compared to normal three-handers, this one does a very good job at its primary function: telling time. The sword-shaped hands are large enough to be easily read from any angle (the contrast color scheme and the sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating help a lot,) and there is enough space on them for bucketloads of Superluminova that make the watch extremely legible even in twilight.
Some people may not like the way the Arabic numerals on the minute chapter are covered in lume in an alternating fashion, but that’s one of the key characteristics of historic B-Uhrs, so there is no reason to complain here.
The orange elements on the other three hands (namely, the central chronograph seconds hand, the 30-minute totalizer at 12-o’clock and the small seconds sub-dial at 6 hours) are, regretfully, not luminous: it’s just orange paint, but the layout is still contrasting enough to be seen in normal lighting.
The only legibility issue here is the date window. Being as small as it is, it may be sometimes difficult to read. Also, given how broad the minute pointer is, it will be completely hidden from your eyes for at least four minutes every hour: something that I personally find a bit irritating.
Pricing & Availability
At the time of original publishing of this review, the Steinhart Nav.B-Chrono 47 Baumuster B Grey Edition (ref. 106-0877) was available at Steinhart’s own online store at a fairly affordable price of €990 (approximately $1150 USD) with the sticker price including European VAT, but not including shipping and handling. For those living outside the EU, the price is obviously lower at some €832. From where I stand, this is one of the best choices for those not willing to pay five or six times more for a pilot’s watch issued by a premium brand.
Build Quality: 4.5/5
Overall Legibility: 4.5/5
Nighttime Legibility: 4.5/5
Value for Money: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Steinhart Nav.B-Chrono 47 Baumuster B Grey Edition (ref. 106-0877) specification
Price: €990 (Retail, includes 19% VAT tax, but doesn’t include shipping and handling)
Winding: Automatic (self-winding)
Movement: ETA Valjoux 7750 “TOP” grade, Swiss Made
Movement finish: Gilded rotor with Steinhart logo, blued screw heads, diagonal Geneva stripes
Number of Jewels: 25
Cadence of Balance: 28,800 vph
Power Reserve: Approx. 42 hours
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph, date
Case: Stainless steel, grey (316L grade, matt finish)
Size: 47.00 mm
Case height: 16.00 mm
Lug width: 22.00 mm
Numerals: Arabic, luminous (Superluminova)
Hour markers: Luminous
Water resistance: 50 meters
Strap: Black “vintage” leather, contrast cream stitching, grey steel “butterfly” clasp with Steinhart logo, 22 mm / 18 mm width
Crystal: Sapphire, antireflective coating inside, domed