It is easy to see the appeal of a military watch. They tend to be practical and tough with clean, functional designs. Finding an affordable "military style" watch is easy, but finding one with actual military pedigree is a bit harder. Enter, the Gavox Squadron. In 2013, the Belgian Air Force commissioned 115 of these chronographs for fighter and transport pilots. Gavox produced 500 units for civilian sale: the brushed stainless GA350.0 reviewed here (350€), and the slightly more expensive (380€) PVD GA350.1.
Gavox was a natural choice for this project. The Belgian brand has produced other pilot's watches and founder, Michael Happé, is the grandson of one of the famed Flying Tigers of World War Two. The Squadron is unmistakably mil-spec in appearance, with a stout stainless steel case, clean white-on-black three-register dial, and matte black timing bezel. It reminds me of several far more expensive German military chronos but does not mimic any of them. It the right specs for military maneuvers too: sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating, SuperLuminova, and 100 meters water resistance.
This is a mid-sized watch case by contemporary standards and I found the proportions to be perfect. The 41mm diameter body makes it very wearable, and although the dial is densely packed with information, it did not feel in any way undersized or crowded. Its relatively long lugs are thick, drilled through with exposed screw heads, and only slightly tapered. They create an overall length of just about 51mm (still comfortably within the confines of my wrist) increasing presence without adding unnecessary bulk. They also allow the watch to swallow a wide variety of straps – something I have found lacking on some larger watches. The watch is 12mm thick, which is just low enough to fit under most shirt cuffs, but the vertical sides, brushed finish, thick lugs, and exposed fasteners give it a sturdy, industrial look.
The unidirectional timing bezel has ample grip and smooth, easy action as it rotates through 120 clearly defined detents. The markers align precisely without any slop or play. Its matte insert is engraved and painted, but is not luminescent. A single lume pip would have gone a long way to increase its utility. The signed, screw-down crown is coin edged, slightly recessed, and easy to operate. The chrono buttons are unadorned plungers. Flipping the watch over, you are treated to an engraved case back, decorated with the Gavox "Flying V" logo and a Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion scale. This last detail is uncommon, and while I am far more likely to ask Siri for such a calculation, it looks mighty cool.
The dial displays the three registers of the Swiss Ronda Startech 5130.D quartz movement: a 30 minute/12 hour counter on the right, active seconds on the left, and a 12 hour alarm dial below. There is a ton of data on display here, yet it is all legible. Primary time is marked by white, lumed syringe hands that are mirrored in all the sub dial hands, except for the small seconds. The 2, 6, 9, and 11 are cut off by the sub dials, which is a well established chronograph design element, but one I have never really understood. If you are obliterating numbers, why print them at all? This is just one of my personal hang ups. Viewed as a whole, the dial looks properly balanced – with one tiny exception. "Ronda Movement" is printed at the very bottom of the dial, and "Movement" outweighs "Ronda." It is hardly a deal breaker, but the text adds nothing, so its asymmetry bugs me.
The 30 minute dial functions just as any other chronograph save for the small orange hour hand traveling a smaller 12 hour track within (is that a sub-sub dial?). The 60 second dial is the most open of the three, made more so by its slim stick hand. Chronograph operation is straightforward: start/stop with the upper pusher, reset with the lower. The large, arrow shaped sweep hand runs with the chrono. It has add and split functions. The alarm feature is an unusual complication, but easy enough to use. Pull the crown to position one, and advance the alarm using the lower pusher. It sounds with an electronic chirp. I have never used an alarm function on a wristwatch before (again, I leave that duty to my phone) but I can see its utility, and it adds considerably to the Squadron's character.
Gavox provides a 20mm stainless steel bracelet with the watch. I am a bit of a strap junkie, but I appreciate it when get a bracelet as part of the package as it makes the watch that much more versatile. It has solid links, solid fitted end links, and a brushed finish. a signed, flip lock clasp closes it up and screw bars secure it to the case. Ah, screw bars... How I love your solid attachment; how I hate fiddling with two screwdrivers. Given the nature of the watch, they make sense, and certainly look the business, but be prepared with a steady hand and a sharp eye.
I like the way the watch looks on the bracelet, but could not resist trying it on a pair of NATOs: a matte brown leather "Bootstrap" from The NATO Strap Company, and a Bond nylon Zulu from Victor & Wells. Both fit the Squadron's martial nature, and would be a great weekend choice. This is certainly a tool watch, but it is nicely sized and sufficiently handsome to wear to the office on the bracelet or a black padded and tapered strap.
Gavox has hit all the right notes with the Squadron. It is attractive, functional, versatile, and best of all, reasonably priced. The 350€ list price includes 19 percent VAT that U.S. buyers do not pay. This means we Yanks can get ours for the decidedly Bum-friendly price of $339 at current exchange rates. I think this is a heck of a deal for a legitimate military chronograph that you can easily wear every day.
Pro: Perfect proportions, cool alarm function,
Con: Anal retentives might obsess over text.
Sum: A real jet fighter's watch for an excellent price. The Time Bum approves.