A Moment in Time: Graham Chronofighter Nose Art Anna

Graham Chronofighter Anna dial prop 1.JPG

The Graham Chronofighter Nose Art Limited Edition is a delightful, anachronistic chronograph

How I got this watch: I contacted Graham watches to request a review of a watch and was sent a prototype Chronofighter Nose Art. This prototype was a functioning timepiece but the chronograph function was disabled. As this was not a 100% fully functional watch, I have chosen to put this review in the A Moment in Time category rather than Inside & Out. I wore it for two weeks. This is not a paid review.

As I spoke about on Wednesday, the current trend in watchmaking is what is old is new again, and that usually means a mid-century release. So when I heard of a watch inspired by World War II nose-art, I was curious. More so when I learnt that despite the tagline of Watchmakers since 1695, Graham Watches is only 19 years old.  

 An etching of George Graham. Hudson, T., & Faber, J. (1751). Engraving of George Graham, clock maker

An etching of George Graham. Hudson, T., & Faber, J. (1751). Engraving of George Graham, clock maker

Created in 1998, Graham Watches was the culmination of a decade long mission of Eric Loth and Pierre-Andrew Finazzi. In the early 1990s, Eric had worked at Rado, Gianni Bulgari and consulted many watch brands but he wanted to start his own business. A self-described Anglophile, Eric has watched 1969s The Battle of Britain over thirty times and has long been fascinated by British watchmaker, George Graham.

George Graham was born to a poor Quaker family in 1673 and at 15 entered into indentured servitude under a London Clockmaker. Graham's talent caught the eye of Thomas Tompion, 'the father of British watchmaking', and in 1695, Graham began working with Tompion. The two men remained close throughout life and remained close after death as both are interred in the same grave in Westminster Abbey, London. For two men of humble origins to lay next to the monarchs of England is an example of how reverred they and their work was at the time.

 Graham co-founder Eric Loth. Photo courtesy of Graham Watches.

Graham co-founder Eric Loth. Photo courtesy of Graham Watches.

Several hundred years later, Eric Loth was able to secure the rights to use Graham's name and in 1998, Graham Watches was launched. Graham's tagline, Watchmakers since 1695, refers to the year that George Graham began working with Tompion and when he became a Freeman in the Clockmaker's Company. There is no direct lineage between Graham the watchmaker and Graham the brand. I'm sure there are those who bemoan the use of an old name by a modern brand but I don't care. For all intents and purposes, Graham was a dead name and I'm glad to see the dust blown off it by being used in a modern watch.

Except for three references, every Graham watch is some kind of a chronograph. This honors the work that George Graham did in pioneering the first chronograph as we know it today. If there is another brand that has committed this much to (what I'll call) a complication motif across their entire range, I can't think of them.

Announced at SIHH 2017, the Chronofighter Vintage Nose Art is a limited edition watch with four variants of the design, each with a different color scheme and their own pin-up girl on the dial; Sally, Lilly, Anna and Nina. I spent two weeks in June with Anna, a bubbly red-head who kept smiling no matter how much I complained at how hot it was getting. Anna sat half-in, half-out of the watch with her upper body leaning out of the subsidiary seconds dial, her legs kicked through the 30 minute chronograph register and a hand propped against an hour hour marker for balance. Her positioning adds some depth to the watch and I like the effect it creates, more so than if she were all visible on the dial.

 
 

Anna, and her fellow pin-up girls, are lovingly crafted replicas of the famous nose art girls seen on military planes during World War II.

The practice of painting the nose and fuselage of military planes began in World War I when German and Italian pilots painted symbols on their planes to terrorize the allied pilots fighting them. One of the most famous of these fuselage emblems was that of Italian Flying Ace Francesco Baracca who used his family's coat of arms, a prancing horse. Years laters, Francesco's mother would show this emblem to a man named Enzo Ferrari who used it as the logo for his race cars. You might have heard of them, they go rather fast.

As the air combat became more prevalent in World War II, more and more military planes were sporting nose art. The motive for the designs changed from terrorizing the enemy to boosting morale of friendly troops. The USAAF brass begrudgingly permitted the practice of nose art but the US Navy and the British RAF did not allow it. The styles and sizes of nose art varied from squadron to squadron, as did the quality and tastefulness of the art itself. There were many explicit pin-up girls but it was the images that teased more than they revealed that stayed with the public consciousness.

What we have is an English watchmaker's name, used by a Swiss engineer to make Swiss made watches that use a design motif found on American planes.

Graham's Anna is wearing a green military uniform, cap at a jauntish angle with matching red hair and lip stick. The art captures the look and feel of period pin-ups and the decision to include an anachronistic African-American pin-up girl, Nina, was the right decision. One of the benefits of being inspired by period art is that you can add or remove aspects to make it a better representation of modern culture. On the question of whether these watches are sexist or not, I say they are not. Some of the original art was crude and did objectify women but I believe all four limited edition watches have been tastefully drawn. Much more so than many" erotic" watches.

The dial of the Graham isn't your typical pilot's style watch and that's without mentioning the buxom redhead saluting you. The large white Cathedral style hands are instantly noticeable and contrast well against the matte black dial. At 9 o'clock, you have the date and day registers that sit below Anna's cursive name and above the limited edition X/100 number. The day and date are very readable, despite the smaller, curved apertures used and I'm amazed that they don't throw the dial off balance like some many day/dates do.

Inside the watch is the Graham Caliber G1747, a modified Valjoux-ETA 7750.

This self-winding chronograph is visible through the sapphire crystal back, along with the Graham customized rotor. It beats at 28,800 per hour and has a 48 hour power reserve. The watch has a moderate amount of decoration with some vertical Geneve stripes on the rotor and bridges of the movement, along with some circular Cotes de Genve on the rotor. For $5450, the decoration is serviceable but what you're paying for here is the dial design and unique chronograph layout.

The most noticeable part of the watch (other than Anna herself) is the left-sided chronograph pusher and trigger. The trigger is inspired by World War II chronographs which had a trigger activation for ease of use and the design still works 70 years later. When worn on the left wrist, it's easy to use your thumb to reach over and squeeze the trigger to start the chronograph. Activating the chronograph on the left wrist was smooth and far easier than using a standard right-side layout; yet if you're like me and you wear watches on the right wrist, then you don't get the benefit of the trigger. The ergonomic trigger is facing the wrong way and a left handed person would need the trigger at 4 o'clock, rather than 8 o'clock to get the full benefit.

The trigger and reset button does add 10 or so millimeters onto the case, which was already large at 44mm, yet the Chronofighter wore very well on the wrist for a large watch with a unique crown guard/trigger system. Even on my right wrist, I never felt the crown or trigger pushing into my arm or hand and the curved lugs are make the wrist footprint surprisingly small. The Chronofighter does sit tall on the wrist at 16mm but I can't fault that. This was never meant to fly under the radar, it's a Lancaster bomber of a watch strapped to your wrist.

 
 

The Graham Chronofighter Nose-Art Limited Edition might be a mouthful, but it's one damn interesting watch. Like the Bremont Airco Mach 2 and the Monta Oceanking, the Chronofighter shows that you can be inspired by the past without repeating the same old designs. The unique chronograph layout may not be for everyone (I'm sorry fellow lefties, maybe next time), but for those who actually use their chronographs on a regular basis, it will be a life saver. With each watch limited to 100 pieces, you best act fast before the Chronofighter flies off into the sunset without you.

The Graham Chronofighter Nose-art Limited Edition Anna is $5450. Please visit www.graham1695.com for more information.