Glycine Airman Purist 36mm

Review: Glycine Airman No.1 Purist

I’m not sure when I first heard about the Glycine Airman.

I’ve been thinking of one that would be as close to the original as possible for a long time. And now it’s here!

Meet the Glycine Airman No.1 Purist – a reissue of one of the most distinctive purpose-built tool watches ever made.

“It came out of the sky…”

The story of the Airman begins in 1953, during the golden era of air travel.

Samuel Glur, a representative of the Altus-Glycine company, was on a Thai Airways’ Douglas DC-4 from Bangkok, bound for Calcutta. It so happened, that in conversation with him the captain mentioned that at that time, there was no watch that would exactly fit the needs of pilots – one displaying 24h time, and with the ability to track a second time zone.

Glur wrote down the wishes of the pilots on that flight, and brought that to Glycine in Bienne – and just a few months later, a new purpose-built tool watch, the Airman, hit the market.

Fortunate Son

The Airman immediately became the favorite of civilian pilots – the Airman Special, for example, was available with the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) logo just like the Breitling Navitimer, and with a discount for AOPA members.

However, it was most popular among US Navy pilots. Especially during the Vietnam War, scores of Naval Aviators purchased the Airman privately at Post Exchanges (PX).

The reason is obvious – it allowed both local and Zulu time to be tracked. Standard issue US military watches by Benrus, Hamilton, Bulova, and others only provided 24h markings by every numeral, and the only convenience for pilots was the hack function allowing for synchronizing the watch to the reference time. However, they still left them with the burden of local-to-Zulu conversion. Featuring a waterproof Piquerez (EPSA) case and the hack feature of standard issue watches, the Airman was just what they needed.

In other words, the Airman provided more than standard issue milwatches, while being even better equipped to withstand the hell of the Vietnam conflict.

A US pilot in the cockpit of his F4 Phantom, wearing a Glycine Airman, 1960s.
A US pilot in the cockpit of his F4 Phantom, wearing a Glycine Airman, 1960s. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Space Oddity

A little-known fact is that the Glycine Airman went to space. And it did so twice.

Both times, it was worn by its private owner, Capt. Charles “Pete” Conrad, a NASA astronaut, former US Navy pilot, and flight instructor.

During the Gemini 5 and Gemini 11 missions in 1965 and 1966, Conrad wore it alongside his NASA-issued Omega Speedmaster. It was a perfectly reasonable choice for the task in all respects – for the very same reasons it was the watch of choice for so many other Naval Aviators.

The Speedmaster would have allowed for independent timing, while the Airman would fill in for the functions that the Speedmaster lacked – tracking two time zones in 24h format, hacking seconds, and date.

Charles "Pete" Conrad and Richard F. Gordon aboard the USS Guam upon returning from the Gemini 11 mission in 1966
Charles “Pete” Conrad and Richard F. Gordon aboard the USS Guam upon returning from the Gemini 11 mission in 1966. Photo credit: NASA

Gimme Shelter…from conversions

The time zones that matter most in aviation are – first of all – Zulu time, and local time. And all times are provided in the 24h system.

On a side note – as a Pole, I’m accustomed to using the 24h system on a daily basis. If someone asks me what time it is, and I reply, “It’s 17:15,” there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. It’s perfectly normal here for the 7 o’clock news to begin with “It’s 1900 hours, time for news.” However, I can see how it might be inconvenient in other places.

The Anglophone world distinguishes between AM and PM – ante meridiem and post meridiem. In German, the distinction is “am Morgen” and “um Abend.” De la mañana, de la tarde and de la noche in Spanish. And on and on it goes with other languages.

However, it’s the Zulu time that makes 24h watches with second time zones so practical.

UTC – Universal Time Coordinated, also known as Zulu time – is the basic time in aviation and the military. UTC/Zulu is the time at the Prime Meridian, but unlike local times, including time at Greenwich, it does not observe Daylight Saving Time (DST). It’s a constant.

It takes some mental legwork to convert local time to Zulu – and it’s different during summer and winter DST. During my brief experience working in airport ground service, I had to convert local to Zulu every day – that’s because all take-off slots had to be in Zulu. 

In retrospect, I wish that back then I had a watch that’d have spared me the need to convert local time to Zulu, especially in the heat of preparing a plane for departure. 

Oh, and let’s not forget the distinctive tail of the hour hand – its purpose is to point at the 24h or 12h counterpart of the hour indicated. In view of the fact that the 12h system prevails in daily use, this might still be useful to some.

Reissue level: 100/100

On to the watch itself.

When I first took the Airman No.1 in my hands, it was a solid blast from the past. Glycine did their very best to make this watch feel exactly like that.

If not for the tactile feel of the box sapphire crystal, it definitely wouldn’t feel like a modern watch. There aren’t that many reissues that genuinely have that effect, and this is one of them.

There’s no sensation to compare with this, suspended animation, a state of bliss…” – Pink Floyd, “Learning To Fly”

The GL0371 replicates the most common variation of the original Airman – with 12 lume plots (one every 2 hours), and the date window cutting away the index at 6. In case you wondered if that cut numeral is a matter of the reissue – no, it was exactly this way on plenty of original Airman variants back in the day.

What’s very different from the original is the crown of the Weems-style bezel lock. On the originals, it had the EPSA signature “cross-hatch” pattern. In the reissue, it’s smooth. Frankly, I don’t really miss it – certainly feels more consistent with the smooth top of the main crown.

Of course, the crown and case back’s inner workings are modern – however, the bezel has been replicated 1:1 from the original.

Like almost 70 years ago, it’s a snap-on design, held in place by a screw-locked clamp designed by Longines for their Weems watches. In 1953, ratcheted bezels were only starting to appear on the market, and the Longines patent for the screw and clamp bezel lock has already expired by then.

The feel of the bezel

As with all past Airman models except the Airman SST with its crown-operated internal rotating rehaut, the bezel has a lot of play when unlocked. It needs some slack to be fit into place during assembly, and there’s no friction spring there, which allows it to stay flat and compact.

With the Weems lock engaged, the bezel stays firmly in place, with no play at all in my specimen.

And you know what? I’m glad that Glycine chose to preserve the feel of the original over modern perfection.

The case

The first Airman No.1 reissue from about 8 years ago (2014, I believe) had an all-polished case and bezel.

I’m very happy to see that after several years’ break, this return of the Airman No.1 has once again the finishing pattern of the originals – brushed top surface and bezel, polished sides, engraved bezel markings filled with black lacquer/enamel.

The edges between the brushed and polished surfaces have a vintage hue to them – they’re sharp, but not modern crazy-sharp. It has the same quality brushing as the Combat Sub 39 – it’s absolutely stunning.

Old Time Rock’N’Roll – The dial and hands

It’s the dial of the No.1 that makes it such a faithful reissue.

The crisp white print on a grained matte black background doesn’t feel as sterile and squeaky-consistent as in modern watches. I mean, there’s this certain warmth to the micro-inconsistencies between seemingly identical specimens of the same vintage watch, and this very warmth is present here, in what looks exactly like pad-printed dials of days past. Bravo!

The date window doesn’t have any decorative frame – the 1950s and 1960s Airman either had it or not, that varied between different executions of the model all across its production period since 1953.

Frame, no frame, magnifier, no magnifier… Here, the window is a simple cut-out, but its edges are sharp. In that respect, it reminds me of the date window on my personal favorite among all the watches I own – the Longines Spirit.

I also love that Glycine kept the red print on the date disk, as it was in the original. The splash of color really makes the whole package pop.

The brushed finishing on the hands is just like in the Combat Sub 39. That definitely contributes to legibility – polished hands tend to disappear into black dials at certain angles.

Of course, it’s not like the arrow hour hand and the syringe minute hand would be illegible if they had a polished finish, they’re just so much more legible with the brushing. Due to their color, at some angles, they do become less visible.

While the watch definitely oozes the charm of the original Airman, I’d change the luminescent material used for the lume plots. The lume isn’t one of its strong points.

When fully charged, it glows brightly, but it fades very quickly, and the base glow is quite weak. Compared to the Combat Sub, it’s considerably weaker.

It doesn’t bother me at all, I’m just nitpicking. In reissues, lume usually isn’t that good, especially when the lume is tinted to resemble aged tritium or radium.

The white print and the hands against the matte black dial compensate for it well, but BGW9 or X1 grade Super-LumiNova would be an improvement. Especially since this watch has no “fauxtina.” The lume wouldn’t have to be thicker, allowing the vintage appearance of the lume plot to be preserved.

The movement

Airman’s original movement was the Felsa 692N, a 24-hour and date version of the 690 Bidynator, the first mass-produced movement with bidirectional winding. Later on, it was replaced with the AS 1700/1701 modified for 24h main hour display.

Both were excellent movements.

In order to compensate for the lack of a balance-stop hack feature, Glycine came up with an ingenious solution – a spring system coupled with the stem. There was a tiny wire connected to it, which popped out at 2400hrs/60, stopping the seconds hand.

This is one of the most unique takes on seconds hacking that I’ve ever seen.

It also saved the user from having to pull out the crown at just the right time. All it took was pulling out the crown and waiting for the seconds hand to reach the top of the scale.

With the Airman No.1 GL0371, Glycine has stepped up the game. The GL293 movement is still called the GL293, but it has been upgraded.

The ETA 2893 and then the Sellita SW330-1 of the previous No.1 reissues were replaced with the SW330-2. The SW330 features an upgraded 24h module as well as a new mainspring and mainspring barrel. This, in turn, soups up its power reserve from 42 hours to a respectable 56 hours without sacrificing its frequency of 28800 A/h.

Other than that, it’s still the tried and tested 2892/2893 architecture, a solid performer. Of course, the movement has the modern convenience of a date quickset and balance-stop hack function.

While the SW330-2 isn’t as smooth to hand-wind as the 2892-based Longines L888 – well, show me any 2892 derivative that is – it definitely feels smoother than the SW200. And that’s even though the No.1’s small-ish crown isn’t the most comfortable – but comfortable enough for me – to hand-wind with.

When I checked the accuracy against the clock on my laptop, the result was amazing.

The Airman only gained about 1-2 seconds in 24 hours, which is very impressive. Pretty much in the center of COSC-spec, and it’s not a certified chronometer.

Another thing I really appreciate is that the movement has been slightly modified.

The standard SW330 and SW330-2 have a forward-only quickset for the 24h hand. This has been removed here so that there’s no “ghost” feature on the first position of the crown – which here is simply for the date quickset.

It’s especially useful if you accidentally turn the crown the wrong way while setting the date. So, setting it works just like on the original, only with the benefit of a quickset date.

How does it wear?

While measuring the original’s 36mm in diameter and 44mm lug to lug, the No.1 has substantial wrist presence thanks to maintaining the visual proportions of the original and its “fat lug” design.

The lug width of the Airman No.1 is 20mm, which combined with the 36mm diameter means that the lug spacing is substantial, giving the No.1 a relatively broad stance for its dimensions.

It also means that the watch – with its neutral color scheme – is a regular “strap monster.”

The strap

The Airman No.1 comes on a black calfskin leather strap. The original Airman would probably have been supplied with something similar. After a few days, it’ll fit your wrist perfectly.

The keepers feel sturdy, and the free keeper doesn’t tend to float away up the strap. That’s all I’m looking for, and it delivers it.

The buckle’s good as well – a brushed finish, sits flush with the strap.

On a side note, I’d prefer the Glycine text on the buckle to be the vintage one, as on the dial, instead of modern. However, I’ll still be keeping that buckle for future strap changes.

For what it’s worth, while the Airman No.1, like the 1950s and 1960s originals, doesn’t have drilled lugs, Glycine thought of us strap-swappers.

The stock strap has a quick-release spring bar system, so whether you’d prefer a different look for yours for a day or more, you don’t have to worry about potentially scratching your watch with a spring bar tool.

The packaging

Airman No.1’s packaging impressed me in the same way as that of the Combat Sub…if not more.

I love the fact that Glycine chose to replicate the 1960s box as well – a wooden case stylized as an airmail parcel, with a small hole for a wire seal. Compact, yet elegant. In addition, it enhances the old-timey vibe of this beautiful reissue.

With the No.1, you’re also getting a keychain in the style of those used on landing gear pins in aviation.

If you haven’t seen one of these bright red “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT” tags before: Aircraft – civilian and military – often have a nose gear steering disengaging lever secured by a safety pin.

The steering in the nose gear has to be disengaged by inserting the pin before the push/tow vehicle can be attached so that it doesn’t affect the steering works of the plane. Once the push/tow is decoupled from the plane, these tags remind the ground crew to remove the pin.

The results of not removing that one little pin could be tragic.

I’ll be blunt, I hated my ground service job. But the process of pushing the plane out was the one thing I really liked about it and this tag-keychain reminds me of the beautiful moments of a 787 Dreamliner’s Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines springing to life with a tarmac-shaking roar.

Okay, that’s it for my journey down memory lane.

Practicality

It’s not that easy to adapt to a 24h watch with a lifetime of being used to a standard 12h dial layout. However, I’m pleased to say that I’ve just about gotten used to it.

It seems to become more and more instinctive every day. I do have a use for the 24h bezel – since I’m often chatting with a friend from across the pond, I keep it set to Louisiana, USA, which is 7 hours behind Warsaw.

Once you get the hang of it, the Airman is a really solid all-rounder. Both casual and elegant, it fits my style perfectly – be it a blazer or a leather jacket.

With 30m of WR, you’re better off not taking it for a swim – then again, neither the original nor the reissue has been designed for that.

The EPSA case of the original Airman protected it from the harsh conditions of Vietnam and two space flights, and I’m sure this one is more than adequate to protect it from the elements on a daily basis.

Who’s it for?

Just about any vintage tool/pilot watch fan who would like the style paired with the durability and convenience of a modern watch.

Glycine markets the No.1 as unisex, and seeing a lot of female collectors wearing vintage tool watches, I could easily see it on their wrists just as on mine.

Or, if your work requires you to keep track of time in the 24h format, this could be a really cool way of giving a nice, vintage twist to your daily routine.

Other versions

The Airman No.1 comes with either a black or off-white/eggshell dial.

For what it’s worth, that’s also an exact reissue, since the 1950s/1960s originals did have a white dial version as well. It’s not as common as the standard black version, but it exists.

With these two possible dial colors and a choice of Purist and GMT configuration for each, the No.1 is available in a total of 4 versions – the GL0370 (black dial with GMT), GL0371 (black dial), GL0372 (off-white dial with GMT), and GL0373 (off-white dial).

Yes, there’s a four-hand version for all those who just can’t see themselves adapting to a 24h main hour display, but still love the looks of the watch. And which gives you the ability to track a third time zone, should you need it.

If going full vintage in 36mm isn’t your thing, there’s also plenty to choose from with the 40mm version, The Chief. Purist, GMT, and a variety of dial colors.

“This is the end…”

“beautiful friend…” Somehow, this classic by The Doors comes to mind.

And beautiful this watch definitely is. It might not be the king of tech specs, but it certainly is a strong contender to the title of the king among reissues. Lots of watches look the part, but few feel the part.

When it comes to the general feel of a vintage watch made today, I’d place it in the same league as the Longines Heritage Conquest and the Certina DS Ph200M.

There are quite a few travel-time watches – GMTs for the most part – under the 1000 euro mark. However, I don’t think any of them is as distinctive and original as the Airman.

Both the Purist and GMT versions are priced identically.

At Glycine Store Europe, it’s priced at 845 euros, which is at the lower end of the general ballpark for watches powered by the SW330-2.

The result is very competitive pricing for an iconic watch. Particularly one as beautifully finished as the No.1.

There’s no doubt that the Airman is an icon. An icon with class. It has a strong track record, and its mission continues.

  • It was designed in the golden age of air travel, for pilots, with the help of pilots.
  • US pilots during the Vietnam War relied on it. It survived the hostile environment of the jungle and proved itself reliable in the heat of dogfights and Wild Weasel missions.
  • It also accompanied mankind in its exploration of space, the last frontier.

I use it only at home, at work, and in the car. In other words, it’s my steadfast companion to – quoting Pink Floyd – “just an earthbound misfit, I” in all that my daily life can throw at it.

It does the job perfectly, and it does so in style. And I simply love it.

Availability & Price

The Glycine Airman No.1 Purist is available for orders and is priced at EUR 845.

Specs

  • Diameter – 36mm
  • Lug-to-lug – 44mm
  • Lug width – 20mm
  • Thickness – 11mm (crystal included)
  • Water resistance – 30m
  • Crystal – Box sapphire
  • Movement – GL293 (Sellita SW330-2) – power reserve 56 hours, 25 jewels, hack feature, quickset date
  • Case features – 316L stainless steel, steel bezel with engraved and lacquer-filled markings, Weems-style bezel lock, push-pull crown

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