Today, I would like to present a watch with a lot of personality. Moreover, for this review, I have been fortunate to be able to rely on the direct views of its creator, Dmitry Buyalov. You will likely recall that we had the pleasure of interviewing him a few months ago about his new projects, some of which have been unfortunately delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
I am talking about the “Buyalov Type B Bronze Airship Italia”, a watch inspired by classic aviator pieces from the beginning of the 2Oth century, alongside the aesthetics of the first watches manufactured by Vostok (Восток in Cyrillic) and which we already covered in this extensive article. As suggested by its name, it is made in bronze.
The watch is named after the “Airship Italia”, an Italian Air Force blimp which undertook an Arctic odyssey under Commander Umberto Nobile. The mission successfully reached the North Pole, but had a tragic return trip, crashing on 25th May, 1928. There was an international effort to rescue the airship crew, plagued by various controversies, many centred on the rather unfortunate Umberto Nobile, among others, as is related in the included links. In the end, the remains of the airship and part of its crew were rescued by the Soviet ice-breaker Krasin, on 12th July, 1928.
We asked Mr. Buyalov why he had named it so. I extract below part of the interview reproduced in full at the end of this article.
“I didn’t just want to make a homage watch. I wanted a legend behind it. Fortunately, I came across the Airship Italia odyssey. There was also a connection to an old story that I had heard from my grandfather. He had told me how an airship flying over Chistopol had dropped Soviet propaganda when he was a child, although it was not the Italia, obviously.”
On the watch case-back we can see an engraving that refers to this important event, even though it also allows a fair glimpse of the movement.
As mentioned earlier, the Airship Italia is also clearly inspired by the first watches made at the Chistopol factory, later better known as the Vostok factory. In the creator’s own words:
“I have a personal connection with the old Kirovskie. My grandfather, who was a watchmaker at the Vostok Factory, presented it to me as a gift when I was headed to school at age six.”
“The idea was to make a new watch that copied original features but also added something more. So, we made the case out of trendy bronze, but used the same case shape and size, crown etc.”
In fact, when we compare the Airship with those old watches, we can ascertain that they are indeed identical in shape and proportions.
Let’s examine the characteristics of this fabulous re-edition/interpretation, mostly lifted straight from the web page.
The Airship is presented in a phosphor bronze (CuSn8) case; in my view, an excellent option, as it makes a clear reference to old air or sea navigation instruments. In the images below, we can appreciate more case details.
It has a diameter of 43 mm and is 50 mm from lug-to-lug, giving it heft and presence on the wrist without ever being uncomfortable due to its size. It has 18 mm between lugs, but you will be able to observe that the strap, once the lugs are cleared, broadens out to almost fully span the lugs. It has a domed sapphire crystal with A/R coating on the interior. The case back is made in stainless steel and includes an exhibition sapphire, as noted earlier.
The watch offers 50 m of water resistance and is presented in two variations. One has a degraded blue dial and the other is black, although depending on the light, turns towards a degraded brown. Below we show both so that they might be compared, yet in order to appreciate their excellent finishing and beauty they must be held in the hand.
I enclose a couple of videos published by meranon.com which may aid visualising these dials.
In truth, I have been positively surprised by this watch, mostly the high-quality finishing and the careful attention to detail, evident from the signed buckle or the impressive lumen on the hands and number markers.
Having said this, I am not alone in having been impressed, as the watch was chosen as the best watch out of Russia in 2019 in a survey carried out among the rather demanding crowd at the watchru forum.
The watch uses the well-known and reliable ST3620, i.e. a Chinese clone of the revered Unitas 6498. It is the decorated version with “Côtes de Genève” and blued screws. The calibers are individually revised, adjusted and regulated. In the interview section at the end of this post, Mr. Buyalov tells us that these calibers are very accurate after this intervention.
In my view, the result is really good. It achieves an excellent vintage aesthetic yet it is made from great materias and with detailed finishing, at what I consider a very reasonable price, which is approximately €240, before any shipping and customs charges.
If any of you wish to purchase one of these pieces, Mr. Buyalov has kindly arranged a discount code (sgc5) for our readers, which you can use at checkout. Moreover, if you access via our affiliate links you will be helping the safonagastrocrono project: Airship Italia Blue or Airship Italia Black Brown.
Below is the transcript of the full interview with Mr. Buyalov, carried out by @timebehindtheironcurtain for this post.
Dmitry, you are known for your involvement in the Russian watch industry. Recently, you appear to be moving away from this path and you have presented exquisite watches like the Buyalov RR01, albeit still with a Russian touch. What made you create a watch like the Airship Italia?
I wouldn’t say that I am moving away, but rather, expanding my interests.
About the Airship Italy, I wanted to make a homage to the famous Kirovskie watch, but in my own way.
I have a personal connection with the old Kirovskie. My grandfather, who was a watchmaker at the Vostok Factory, presented it to me as a gift when I was headed to school at age six. That was my first watch. You can imagine the enormous 43 mm watch on a tiny boy’s wrist.
The idea was to make a new watch that copied original features but also added something more. So, we made the case out of trendy bronze, but used the same case shape and size, crown etc. The crystal on the old watch was a domed mineral whereas here it is sapphire with anti-glare treatment. We also made the case back with sapphire, not to show the beautifully decorated movement, but rather to show that the movement is very close to the original.
The movement that we used is the Seagull 3620. We find it surprisingly accurate. After adjusting, it runs +2 to +5 second per day.
This is the same sized movement, also from a pocket watch, as was used in the original.
We even redrew the numerals on the dial after creating a digital number font. And they are applied with aged Super-LumiNova. The dial surface is rock patterned. It adds a strong feeling to the look.
How long does it take between you developing an idea and seeing a finished watch? How is the creative process?
It takes around one year. We started to work with our engineer to create the case in 3D, refining all the parts, and then we made the blueprint drawings for the case manufacturer, the dial design for the dial supplier, selected different hands, etc. We also focused on the case back design with an artistic airship picture that I liked very much. We also came up with the strap and buckle design and checked a few types of leather. Manufacturing took about half of year. In between, we made the packaging and printed the passports.
What were the feelings you wanted to associate between the watch and the odyssey of the airship?
I didn’t just want to make a homage watch. I wanted a legend behind it. Fortunately, I came across the Airship Italia odyssey. There was also a connection to an old story that I had heard from my grandfather. He had told me how an airship flying over Chistopol had dropped Soviet propaganda when he was a child, although it was not the Italia, obviously. All this clicked. I really liked the concept. Since meranom.com is a worldwide watch seller, albeit known for its Russia watch offering, I wanted to make a watch that connected Russia with other countries. And I believe that this odyssey was a great example of this.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered with the watch?
The biggest challenge was the decision to start the manufacturing of this atypical watch, and offer it to our customers, who are used to buying the Vostok Amphibia and Komandirskie product lines.