Disclaimer: These watch were sent to me to review, and I was not incentivized in any way to make this review. This is in no way sponsored by Laco or any other entity. All opinions here are my own. Since this watch was worn/used by other reviewers, please make note that the experience might differ from that of a brand new watch.
Note: This article / review is in many ways a continuation of my review of the Laco Münster Blaue Stunde 42mm. But I will try my best to keep this self contained.
Laco Basic Pilot Watches
The Laco Münster Blaue Stunde 42mm watch is, in many ways, the ideal flieger watch for the modern watch enthusiast. In my opinion, it is a perfect amalgamation of the vintage design language (the case, lugs and the minimal dial layout) that can cater to the modern taste palate (stunning blue sun-ray dial, reasonable dimensions and trendy strap choices). But like everything in life, one size cannot fit all (literally). For many wrists, 42mm is still to large, and the the $1200 price-tag makes the watch out of reach for the vastly growing community of affordable watch enthusiasts. Add to this the fact that many enthusiasts (such as myself), have deep appreciation for the fundamental design principles of the flieger watches (clean, legible, robust), but also enjoy some of the ‘unnecessary‘ elements of watch design too, like a well positioned brand logo and an exhibition case-back. While these are strong contradictions to the authentic flieger flavor, we ‘humans are structurally made of contradictions’.
Laco’s line of ‘Basic Pilot‘ watches are far from basic in terms of design. They have taken many creative liberties with their historic watch designs and created a growing lineup of watches that cater to the above needs. Today I’ll be looking at the Laco Augsburg Blaue Stunde 39, which is an excellent example from this lineup. The Augsburg 39mm is a smaller, more affordable alternative to it’s arguably more conservative bigger brother, the Münster Blaue Stunde 42mm. However, a 42mm Augsburg is also available. At roughly $400, you would typically expect this watch to be sub-standard ‘hand out‘ for those that want to own a modern flieger, but can’t afford the real deal. This is what I’ve typically seen from well established brands, and their ‘affordable’ versions are usually disappointing and most often a waste of your hard earned money. The Augsburg is definitely not one of them, and with a few side-by-side comparisons, I will show you that the attention to detail and quality of finishing is very close to the Münster. Of course this watch isn’t perfect either, and there are some areas of weakness that can be attributed to the affordable price-tag.
Let’s get into it!
The Augsburg 39 measures in at 39mm in diameter, roughly 45.8mm from lug-to-lug (extremities) and 12mm tall. The case has a similar media (sand) blasted finish to the Original series watches, but the actual ‘medium‘ used to blast the case is different and is described by Laco to have more of a matte finish. Unfortunately my eyes can’t tell the difference in texture, and neither can my fingers. But I do observe a slight difference in the materials used. The Münster feels a bit more solid in terms of weight, and in terms of color a little bit darker.
On the Augsburg you have modern lugs that inconspicuously extend out of the case and quickly curve down, allowing for a short lug-to-lug width. The lugs are thick, and the 18mm lug-width ensures that the overall silhouette is well proportioned. The Basic series have all abandoned the original lug design, perhaps to cater to modern preferences. It will be interesting to see if Laco eventually introduces a Basic series watch that has the original lug design, because we know from the Heidelberg that they can manufacture this case design for 39mm without compromising the structural integrity of the lugs.
The crown is also completely changed for the Augsburg, and is smaller, with a 6.9mm diameter. The ridges are very well machined and the crown is easy to grip and operate. The crown action is good and there’s no crown or stem wobble. I prefer the conical crown design on the Münster over the somewhat onion-esque crown of the Augsburg. But the quality of manufacturing and finishing on both are identical.
The top of the case is beveled in a manner similar to that of the Münster, but the Augsburg has a flat sapphire crystal instead of a double domed crystal. The crystal is very clear, with no distortion and good viewing angles. There appears to be some anti-reflective coating on it, but the website doesn’t indicate if there is any.
Flipping it over, you have a pressed on case-back with a flat sapphire crystal exhibition window. I’m not a fan of exhibition windows for movements that are well… just not worth exhibiting. But this idea is rooted in some elitism on my part, since I do have more expensive watches with better decorated movements. But this isn’t the case (pun intended) for everyone. For the enthusiast who is making this his/her first purchase or only collects affordable watches, this will be positively accepted. The pressed down case and non-screw down crown allow for the watch to be rated only up-to 50m, similar to the Münster.
So in terms of case design and materials, these two watches are a bit different, but the quality of finishing across both of them is identical. It is very impressive that Laco are able to maintain these high standards across this wide spectrum of prices.
When trying to cut down costs, I suspect that delivering a good quality case isn’t that difficult – just use slightly cheaper raw materials, but stick to the same assembly and finishing practices. And Laco appears to have done just that, and while they retained a lot of their case excellence, it seems reasonable. The dial is usually a different beast, with incredibly tight tolerances and very high quality control standards. The dial on the Münster is beyond impressive, both in terms of appearance and the quality of finishing. I imagine this has a lot to do with a very strict quality control protocol, which likely results in many dials that just don’t make the cut. And this has an understandable effect on pricing. So it’s within reason to expect that the quality of the dial will drop significantly from a $1200 watch to a $400 watch. That’s where I was wrong, apparently.
The dial on the Augsburg is exactly as impressive as that of the Münster. I have no idea how they’ve managed to do this, but they have. The fundamentally Type A styled dial has numerals from 1 to 11 and a similar triangle element at the 12 o’clock, as on the Münster.
The difference here is that the outer dial ring is absent on the Augsburg, and it has the brand’s logo elegantly printed below the 12 o’clock, along with ‘Made in Germany‘ at the 6 o’clock position.
I think both these elements look great and make it feel less like a serious flieger watch, while retaining the benefits of the easily legible Type A dial layout. The quality of printing and the finishing of the blue dial base is indistinguishable from the $1200 Münster. The elements are lumed with the same C3 Super-LumiNova, but appear to be slightly more beige compared to the bright white on the Münster.
Unlike the thermally blued hands on the Münster, the Augsburg has matte black painted hands that are also filled with the same off-white C3 Super-LumiNova. The thermal blueing process is a difficult one, so this trade-off to keep the price down is more than reasonable.
The hands have a similar sword-style design and the seconds hands are almost identical. The finishing on the hands is very good and I couldn’t find any poorly finished or poorly painted surfaces.
Overall, the dial has been the most impressive aspect of this watch and I’m stunned at their ability to produce this for the price. Hats off to you Laco, and I hope you continue to maintain these high standards!
As I mentioned above, each printed element (except the logo and the 6 o’clock text) is painted with C3 Super-LumiNova. This appears to be identical to that of the Münster and they both have very good night time visibility.
The lumed elements are bright and don’t fade away too quickly. Funnily enough I actually think the lume on the Augsburg is a tad better than the Münster, but since they’re so similar it’s very hard to tell, so I’ll just leave you with these pictures.
So far I’ve painted a rosy picture, and made this watch sound like the best watch you could buy with your $400. It still is one of the best you can get for $400, but there’s a small caveat – the movement. This watch houses a Miyota 821A (Laco 21) with hacking seconds. This is the latest offering of this movement, and comes reasonably well decorated (considering the price). Unfortunately the time keeping abilities cannot be compared with the Münster’s elaboré grade ETA2824-2.
I logged the accuracy of this watch over two periods, the first being a 3 day period and the next run being a 2 day period. In the first 3 day sequence, I observed an average accuracy of -18 spd. In the second 2 day sequence, I observed -8 spd.
So this is a magnitude off from the Münster’s +2.2 spd. But Laco had to bring down the price to 1/3rd that of the Münster, and the movement appears to be the only notable area where they did so. For the $400 price range, this is in Seiko NH35 territory and has similar performance, but I personally believe that the NH35 is more stable (the 821A had quite a bit of variance) and can be regulated to much tighter bounds. Additionally, as with many Miyota movements, there’s a lot of rotor spinning noise. This doesn’t bother me though.
On The Wrist
The 45.8mm lug-to-lug width makes this 39mm diameter watch wear much smaller than you would typically expect, so those with small wrists under 6″ can rejoice. On my 6.25″ wrist I found the dimensions to be very comfortable.
But after spending about two weeks with both watches, I think I prefer the 42mm Münster, even though some might argue that it is a bit large for my wrist. I like the somewhat oversized and open dial on the Münster. The Augsburg is a sleeker watch overall and may even be a bit more versatile.
The Augsburg ships with a NATO strap that isn’t the best in terms of fabric quality. But it does have signed hardware and is finished to match the case, which is a nice touch. The case is 12mm tall but on the NATO strap sits higher on the wrist because of the two layers of fabric underneath.
I’m not a big fan of NATO so I would definitely swap this out for a 2-piece nylon strap like on the Münster or switch to a leather strap. The lug width is 18mm, so keep that in mind while strap shopping, because you’ll most likely want to change this strap.
To wrap things up, I think the Augsburg is an incredible watch for the money. Wherever possible, Laco has tried to deliver the exact same quality and finishing that they offer in their Original series and I can’t imagine that this is cheap or easy to do. The only real detractor is the Miyota movement, but this too is within reason for a $400 watch, specially considering how much this watch offers in terms of build quality and finishing. If all you are after is an accurate pilots watch, this isn’t the watch for you. In my opinion, this is a flieger-inspired pilot watch that delivers a more generalized aesthetic and caters to a more modern taste palate.
The dial really steals the show, from the color to the finishing, and any fans of blue dials will absolutely love this watch. This is a watch that can be a great affordable addition to a more experienced collection, as well as an excellent first watch for someone new to the hobby. It rarely gets better than this for the price. Of course there are many other micro-brand watches in the price category and I have reviewed some of them here (the Mitch Mason Chronicle comes to mind), but I think the quality and finishing is a step above any sub $500 micro-brand I’ve reviewed so far.
In terms of presentation, the Augsburg ships in a wonderful faux-leather box, with the same manual and warranty card like with the Münster.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed these Laco reviews. If I have my way, these will definitely not be the last Laco related reviews on this channel!