My fascination with modern looking (albeit traditionally mechanical) sport watches leads me to take interest in a healthy range of timepiece specimens. The Waltham AeroNaval XA Pure watch is one of them. Some of these watches are authentically able to rough and tumble in the wilderness, and some have all the off-road presence of a luxury SUV – with the accompanying likelihood that they will actually see unpaved road at some point in their lives. In short, while most people don’t actually include their luxury sport watches in… well sports, there is something to be said about wearing something “macho” on your wrist.
I recently had a conversation with Jean-Claude Biver about the original Hublot Big Bang. When it was released in 2005, the point was to take the basic shape of “pre-Biver” Hublot watches, and make them a bit more modern looking and aggressive. Biver said that he actually instructed the designers to make it “macho.” Is such a brazen design instruction a good idea? Are men so easily persuaded by being drawn to “macho” stuff, especially in the refined sphere of luxury goods? It turns out we are. Of course, I can’t speak for all men’s taste out there, but an otherwise utilitarian watch served up with a healthy dollop of testosterone and some extra muscle does help get a lot of watches on people’s wrists.
Whether you like your watches macho or more elegant, the reality is that no one wears a watch simply because it indicates the time. Rather, the decision to wear a watch is based on its personality, which in my opinion is typically a function of the character in the design. Waltham isn’t trying to be Hublot, but at the same time the modern version of the once-American brand is trying to take pieces from their own history, and make them more macho. Waltham is by no means alone, as many luxury men’s watches out there seek to find that right mixture of functionality, familiarity, comfort, masculinity, and of course visual distinctiveness.
I, therefore, can’t pinpoint any one area where the Waltham AeroNaval XA Pure separates itself from the pack, but will rather include it as one possible “macho guy’s watch” flavor within a market where choice is a good thing. The guy who will likely choose a Waltham over a brand with more contemporary name notoriety is going to be someone who likes a focus on legibility and “big watch design” values, but who also enjoys the attention of having something that many people don’t have. This isn’t a Hublot, Audemars Piguet, Rolex, TAG Heuer, or Omega. It is somewhere outside of these mainstream brands – closer to the world of the small independent watchmakers. With that said, the quality of the watch itself, mixed with its interesting looks makes the watch feel a lot more comfortable in its skin than you might expect from smaller, independent watch brands.
I feel that so much discussion about the brand and product positioning is important because a lot of watch lovers see products like this and aren’t quite sure how to think of them within the context of similar products. While I can’t compare Waltham to any other specific brand, I can simply say that it exists among those brands that are no doubt boutique (which also implies more exclusive), and tend to have more of a focus on product over brand image, while thriving exclusively because their watches stand out – versus blending in.
Waltham is no longer an American company, but these watches are inspired by vintage military clocks Waltham made for the US military. There is also a less than subtle attempt to give the Waltham XA collection a “Texas-sized” feel. Waltham also produces the slightly smaller-sized AeroNaval AN-01, but the XA (with the XA Pure as reviewed included) has a 47mm wide titanium case – that is even larger feeling because of its blockier case design. The sharp geometric lines of the case and integrated lugs are interesting and fun to look at. The grade 5 titanium case is nicely machined, and around the bezel is a thick piece of black ceramic which is brushed on the top and given a knurled texture on the sides. If the XA collection is lacking anything, it certainly isn’t interesting case detailing.
On the wrist, the watch is secured on a custom, high-quality rubber strap with a matching titanium fold-over deployant buckle. Given the size the watch, it is a bit top heavy, but on the strap it is remarkably comfortable. Part of this is because the strap is designed to make an oval shape (which is the shape of most wrists) as opposed to a round shape. Thus, this focus on ergonomics helps an otherwise unwieldy watch wear surprisingly well.
An homage to its military instrument history, on the rear of the 300m water resistant case is a rectangular caseback with text that mimics the look of government owned military equipment. It is a fun and appreciated touch that helps the avant-garde look of this “military video game style” high-end sport watch feel more complete. Over the dial is a flat, AR-coated sapphire crystal. I am happy to report that unlike most watches I review, I didn’t have cause to complain about dial glare on the Waltham AeroNaval XA Pure.
For me, it is hard not to love the dial of the XA Pure. Waltham makes the AeroNaval XA Pure watch in a few color versions including the XA S, XA R, XA B, XA Black Matter, and XA Eclipse. For me the XA Pure has the most “military clock” style look, which is why I prefer it. Though, all the versions are nice. Note however, that the “Black Matter” models are all black – meaning they are a bit more on the trendy side (not as practical being all black in color), but given the different finishes and textures on the dial are still rather legible. For comparison, you can see my previous review on the Waltham AeroNaval CDI Black Matter watch – which was an all-black and interesting to use GMT model in the AeroNaval collection.
The XA Pure doesn’t have the fancy second time zone system the CDI has, but it does have a less than common position for its subsidiary seconds dial. This design element is once again borrowed from vintage Waltham military cockpit clocks. It certainly looks cool, and I find it interesting that so few watch brands position the subsidiary seconds hand in this particular position. The dial design itself is a high point in the XA Pure given the mixture of legibility and high-end design elements. Quality is very good, and I love the rich sense of depth and texture in the dial. I would argue that the minutes hand doesn’t need to be skeletonized, and the dial isn’t without its quirks, but I think it looks inspired, original, and certainly doesn’t fail where it counts in offering an indication of the time.
Powering the watch is an automatic Swiss Dubois-Depraz caliber W.DB-001. It is a basic Swiss ETA with a Dubois-Depraz 14060 module for the specific position of the subsidiary seconds dial. That also means an operating frequency of 4Hz (28,800bph) as well as a power reserve of about 42 hours. The dial indicates just the time, and maintains symmetry by not even having a date window. The hands and hour markers are painted in Super-LumiNova for pretty decent darkness legibility.
Above, I spoke a lot about sporty-looking luxury watches that were not really sport watches when it came to tech specs. I didn’t mean to characterize the Waltham AeroNaval as not actually being durable or among those more fragile “lifestyle” products. Instead, my point was that expensive timepieces rarely get put into situations where they can be easily abused, but many of them are built to withstand abuse. The combination of a 300m water resistant case (with screw down crown), thick sapphire crystal, ceramic bezel, and tough titanium construction means that the AeroNaval can be taken on any adventure you are likely to go on. Then again, for a retail price $5,500 USD, the Waltham AeroNaval XA Pure is likely precious enough for owners to (mostly) baby it. waltham.ch
>Model: AeroNaval XA Pure
>Price: $5,500 USD
>Size: 47mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Lover of modern-looking, large sport watches with a soft spot for the Waltham name, and who likes something cool yet uncommon.
>Best characteristic of watch: Compelling, macho, modern, and yet functional design that aims to please. Good case and dial detailing. Appreciated level of overall durability to match the sporty looks.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Size of case is too large for some wearers. Arguably some sharp edges on the case are a sacrifice for the particular design. Brand is smaller, and as such distinguishing itself in the market is always a challenge.