Originally, my plan for this third watch review for another watch. After some requests, I’ve instead chosen to review the Glycine Airman 44 (GL0055). Here’s a watch with a few unique features and a very interesting history. Let’s see if you will enjoy reading this review as much as I did writing it.
Timekeeping in a big small world
Being able to accurately determine time was essential for navigation back in the day. More precisely, together with the right tools and information, the current time would allow a seafarer to determine latitude position accurately. In the industrial era, this extended into aeronautical navigation which brought forward various classes of instrumental pilot watches. In my first review, a pilot watch was the subject and I also elaborated briefly on the origins of the B-Uhr.
Standard time zones were introduced by the end of the 19th century and put in effect by 1929. After the WWII, international air travel grew into a global industry allowing many people to visit other countries in an extent not possible before. Intercontinental jet flights enabled travels of unprecedented speed with the effect that both travelers and flight crew had to keep up with the various time zones.
I remember how overwhelmed I was in preparations of my first long trip that would take me over a multitude of time zones and two stopovers. Fast forward 20 years, multiple overseas flights and having lived in different continents, I’ve (to a decent extent) managed the time zone juggling fairly well. Still, every now and then, I mess up due to daylight savings or some other detail. Despite the modern technology of today, there is in my view still a valid use for a second (or third!) time zone on a watch.
Glycine Airman: the first watch with a second time zone
Shortly after the introduction of intercontinental jet flights, the major airline Pan Am sought to overcome their pilots’ struggles. Rolex was approached to develop a watch that would indicate a second time zone. This eventually resulted in the Rolex GMT Master (ref 6542) released in 1954, a watch that today is perhaps the key reference for watches with a slaved 24 hour-hand. This overshadows the Glycine Airman with a rotating 24-hour bezel, released a year earlier, in 1953. Wait, what? Rotating bezel? 24 hours?
The Glycine Airman’s hours hand was not on 12-hour rotation, but rather 24 hours. The rotating bezel was therefore an as ingenious solution as it is simple. One could simply set and lock the bezel at a different time zone.
The 1960’s were Glycine’s golden era with an image firmly rooted in aviation and military. The original Airman also had a very distinct dial, with “A.M.”, “P.M.” and “12 Noon” printed at 3, 9 and 6 o’clock positions. What many people maybe don’t know (and I for sure didn’t know before doing my research for this post) is that the Airman went to space twice: Gemini 5 in 1965 and Apollo 12 in 1969. Both times, they were on the wrist of Charles Conrad, who also wore the official watch on the opposite wrist. In my view, this is a pretty strong testimony to the utility of the Airman.
Glycine survived the quartz crisis and have over the past two decades had a solid line-up of Airman variants. This review is about the GL0055, 44mm case and fourth 24-hour hand.
A traditional, but not top-tier watch maker
Glycine was established over 100 years ago, in 1914 by Eugene Meylan. During the first decade and a half, the watch maker focused on smaller movements, primarily for ladies’ watches. By 1930, Glycine launched automatic watches and had, as mentioned, its major surge after the introduction of the Airman in 1953. Since then, Glycine’s watches have all been military and/or aviation-themed.
Glycine did survive the quartz crisis, but was not part of the major consolidation of brands into the Swatch group. Since 2016, Glycine is owned by the Invicta Watch group. For good and bad. After the acqiusition by Invicta, Glycine watches have been fairly affordable due to major discounting via various online retailers.
In the watch communities I frequent, Glycine watches are unfortunately not that popular. In addition to the occasional Airman, the Glycine’s diver, the Combat Sub, appears every now and then. This is not because the Glycine watches have poor design or quality – rather the contrary. The Glycine watches live up to all expectations for Swiss made watches.
The Glycine Airman comes in a traditional hard box, wrapped in thin foam plastic and then enclosed in a black cardboard outer box. It’s strikingly similar to the boxes I’ve seen from other Swiss watch makers, which makes me wonder if they are procured from the same vendor.
The first quirk about the Airman is the movement. There are manufacturers with true inhouse movements, ranging from high to low range. Most others are quite transparent in the use of standard movements and adaptions of those. In the case of Glycine, this doesn’t seem to be the case. According to the specifications, the movement of the Airman is the “GL293”, indicating that this should be either an in-house movement or an adaptation. In this case, it is based on the Selitta SW330-1, but this is not apparent without a bit of research.
The movement is visible in the see-through case back and has a nice engraving on the rotor. The movement with elaborated finish has 42 hours of power reserve and works with 28 800 beats per hour.
Case, crowns and glass
You may think that the plural crowns in the heading is a typo, but the watch does have two crowns. This is one of the hallmark design features of the Airman, that goes back to its inception in 1953. The second crown, located at 4 o’clock has the sole function of locking the teethed bezel with by means of a spacer. The main crowns is large, 8.5mm and the secondary measures 7mm. The secondary crown has the classical Glycine crown logo prodtruding and the main crown has a checkered pattern. The main crown, located at 3 o’clock of course, has three positions in addition to the fully locked. There’s a quick set of the date, a position to set the GMT-hand and the regular time setting position.
The polished case has a rather original form with domed sides. It occupies approximately 2/3 of the 12.2mm height, which I consider quite perfect for this type of watch. The Airman 44 has, as the name suggests, a 44mm diameter. The lug-to-lug mightily measures 53.5mm and the lug width is fittingly 22mm. The Airman comes in three sizes: 42, 44 and the massive 46mm. I was unsure if I would go for the comfortable 42mm or gamble on the 44mm. My reasoning was something like this. Watches with 42mm diameter can sometimes appear disproportionate against large lugs (22mm), and especially if the lugs are large. For the Airman, this is not quite the case. The lugs are not directly narrow, but they are straight (when viewed from above) and therefore not very accentuated. In addition, they are pointing downwards and therefore following the wrist nicely.
The glass is domed, sapphire crystal, with three (3) layers antireflective coating on the inner side towards the dial. I greatly appreciate that there’s no coating on the outside. Although it’s great that aviation watches have plenty of antireflective coating, the coating is also very prone to scratches and marks, which I is why I prefer not to have it on the outside of the glass.
There is also a second glass, on the backside of the case beautifully displaying the movement. The watch is rated to 10 ATM, meaning that it probably will survive an emergency parachute ejection when flying over water, but probably not an ambitious freediving session. I’m glad Glycine opted to go for more than 3 or 6 ATM, as it gives the watch far more utility.
The Glycine Airman originally came with a black dial. Today, the dial of the contemporary version comes in four different colors and here we’re looking at the off-white one. Glycine labels it as silver, another peculiarity in my view. The dial’s main feature is that the minute markers are sacrificed for the 24-hour clock. For those that are interested in aviation watches, this might at first appear as strange, because this means that determining time exactly is harder. However, it’s important to remember that this watch, in contrast to many or most other pilot watches, doesn’t originate from navigation. Instead, the Airman’s main purpose was for the modern globetrotters to keep track of multiple time zones.
The off-white dial has clear white hour markers with Super-Luminova luminescence. The same goes for the four hands. If you are used to diver watches, you might find the lume inferior: it’s definitely not a headlight in a dark tunnel. One might consider this as a design flaw, but then one should also bear in mind that since this is not a diver, it doesn’t need to fulfil the diver criteria. If you wake up in the middle of the night due to your jetlag, it won’t be a problem reading the time on the Airman.
There are 12 hour markers, all even numbered hours of the day 2-24. The date window at 3 o’clock is quite small but has the same height as the width of numbered hour markers, which gives a nice symmetry. The classic Glycine crown logo, in addition to the “Glycine Airman” are printed between the center and the 12 o’clock marker. On the opposite side, the words “Automatic Worldtimer” are written. In a much smaller font, on both sides of the 6 o’clock marker, “Swiss Made” is written.
For all practical purposes, the dial appears as white and nothing else. It therefore becomes quite dominant and one must factor that in. What I really like about this dial (compared to the other options) is that is a bit off-white. This give a slightly classic or vintage association, which for me is very suitable for this watch considering its heritage.
While the original Airman had three hands (hour, minute and second), the GMT version comes with a fourth GMT hand. The hour, minute and seconds hand have a very unique design. The centermost part has a classic straight sword shape which then transforms into a flat, luminated area which ends with a shallow taper and a thin, syringe pointer. The GMT-hand lacks this pointer, and thus all four hands are very easily distinguishable from each other. The hands are shiny; a good combination with the polished case.
Even when not travelling or having to bother about business on another continent, I like being able to see how “deep” into the day it is. Only a 24-hour watch will give you this. The GMT hand can be set separately and this is as important as it is convenient.
Bezel & three time zones
In contrast to the polished case, the bezel is roughly brushed and has the same 2-24 hour markers as the dial. It is bidirectional without ratchets or friction and therefore glides quite freely when the locking crown is unscrewed and the spacer disengaged.
This bezel is more or less identical or equivalent to the original Airman, and is one of the key hallmark features of this watch. Originally the bezel was used to be able read second time zone. With the GMT-hand, however, it can be used to read a third since the GMT-hand can be set separately. Is this in any way a useful feature or necessity? For most people the answer is probably no. However, when I lived in Singapore and travelled locally across a time zone, I happened to end up juggling three different time zones at the same time!
The bezel of the Airman is, in addition to the second crown, one of the key features. I think it has a huge x-factor, even if it’s only appreciated by the bearer of the watch. While the polished case and lugs give a classy impression, the bezel contrasts this with a purposeful display of utility and function. In conjunction with the not-so-discrete size of 44mm, the Airman is there to make a serious point.
The Airman comes with calf leather 22 to 20mm strap with white stiches. As another strong emphasis on not being a navigation watch, Glycine has tastefully not applied a classic flieger strap with rivets. Mine still has the plastic on the buckle as I’ve used a sand colored seatbelt Nato and subsequently a oiled leather strap. This is in no way a suggestion that the original strap is bad. However, there’s nothing special about it. I also think it’s a shame that there is no standard bracelet option. I’d love a mesh or rice & beads bracelet designed specifically for the contemporary Airman.
All complications have already been mentioned so far in the review, but I’ll sum them up anyway:
- Hands: hour, minute, second and (independent) 24-hours
- Bidirectional bezel with locking mechanism
Some pilot watches also sport a day function. It has to my knowledge never been part of the Airman’s design and is nothing I think is missing. From a utility point of view, however, I think it would have been handy. Because if you’re confused about time zones, chances are that you may also be confused about the day.
Price, buying and options
As mentioned, buying a brand-new Glycine Airman is done online and most likely to a heavily discount of the list price of about 1800 EUR. This means in practice that you get a watch priced well within the midrange for the price of a watch just above entry level. This, to me, is confusing as it is not a very viable long-term marketing approach if you want to retain a certain image of your brand. Prices on the secondhand market varies between 500 to 1200 EUR and the Airman seems to appear every now and then at a good price.
Before moving into my selection, I need to mention the obvious although irrelevant option: Rolex GMT Master II. The GMT Master won the popularity contest already back in the 60’s since the 24 hour clock didn’t quite appeal to the users outside military and aviation. The reason for why it’s an irrelevant option is that it belongs to a completely different price range. A more viable option is perhaps the Tudor Black Bay 58 GMT (if you dare taking the risk with its date wheel) or the borderline homage Squale Atmos GMT.
I have selected one other “worldtimer” and two wildcard options:
- Sinn 856 UTC
- Ollech & Wajs P-101
- Hamilton Khaki Field
The Sinn 856 UTC is an ultramodern pilot watch, featuring propeller-like hands, and a fourth, inner GMT hand with a nice yellow outer band on the pointer. The 856 UTC is smaller than any Glycine Airman; “only” 40mm diameter and 11mm height. It has an equivalent movement, ETA 2893-3 (but doesn’t try to hide that fact) and is made in the same excellent quality as other Sinn watches. The 856 UTC is a great option if you prefer a slightly smaller and perhaps more modern watch. In contrast to the Airman, a very nice bracelet option is also available. In addition to 20 bar rating, Sinn’s tegiment technology is included so the 856 UTC is fit for rougher duty!
If the GMT-function is less important than the aviation connection, I want to suggest the Ollech & Wajs P-101. As for the Sinn 856, it measures 40mm in diameter. The P-101 is a pure, modern pilot watch with certain sublime details that reveal a long heritage of its brand. Above all, it has a very unique design and is in many ways a more versatile watch than the Airman. Priced lower than the 856, you can get a brand new P-101 for around 1000 EUR and about 150 EUR more for the S version with the inhouse bracelet. If you can afford it, go for this one. The bracelets are not sold separately and are in my humble opinion second-to-none.
The other “wildcard” option is the Hamilton Khaki Field. You may think I’ve eaten funny mushrooms when suggesting an option that has neither a GMT function nor is an aviation watch. The idea here is instead the appeal of a classic watch that was popular in the field during the 60’s. As related, the Glycine Airman was quite popular among the service personnel during the Vietnam war era.
Wearing the watch
As mentioned in earlier posts, 44mm is the upper limit for non-digital watches for me. I have several watches in this size that wear well, while I’ve also had to get rid of others that didn’t. The Airman, despite its massive lug-to-lug size, wears quite well thanks to its geometry and relatively low height. Make no mistake: it’s still a beast!
The Airman, I say, works very well as an everyday watch thanks to its versatility. It can emphasize and complement anything between business casual to smart casual attire. It can also be a great conversation starter if one finds the GMT function or its heritage interesting. For me, both of these features were key reasons for getting this watch in the first place. I love the idea of using this watch when travelling and it also accompanies me to the office on a regular basis. Due to its size and dominant appearance, I would avoid using it with a suit. Having that said, there are much worse options should you appear to be in a situation where this is your only available alternative with a jacket.
I think it’s quite fair to say that there are many conclusions for me regarding this watch. It is a very well designed and made watch. Glycine has managed to combine the classic design features of the Airman with contemporary design elements into a fantastic watch piece. Above all, I think the versatility of the Airman is perhaps one if its inherent key features. In many regards, I find this watch completely underrated in contrast to its diminishing popularity in the watch communities I frequent.
It is for sure not an ordinary watch. Either you like its original design, or you don’t. Either way, and especially considering the discounts one can get when buying this watch, you can be up for a very good deal!
Rating: 6.3 – Everyday watch