Did you pre-order a Lew & Huey Phantom? If so, then you took a bit of a chance. Sure, Lew & Huey is a known quantity. I have reviewed every one of their products and have been consistently impressed. Still, you (and I for that matter) ordered the Phantom off of a spec sheet and a 3D rendering, not a photograph of an actual watch and a lot can happen between concept and reality. Well, you can rest easy. I just spent a week with all six Phantom prototypes and they are absolutely freaking awesome.
Owner/designer Chris Vail named the watch for the McDonnel-Douglas F4 fighter-bomber and drew his inspiration from vintage military timepieces as well as some modern examples of the genre. The Phantom borrows liberally from the Bell & Ross BR123 Sport Heritage, stirs in a dash of Sinn 104, and adds a Panerai style sandwich dial. It starts with a Seiko NH35 automatic inside a stainless steel case measuring 42mm wide and 50mm long, with long, steep angular lugs, which should be an easy fit on most wrists. Buyers can opt for brushed or DLC black finishes. The 3 o'clock crown is coin-edged and signed, but does not screw down. Still, water resistance is good for 100 meters, above average for a pilot's watch.
A 3mm acrylic dome towers over the dial, raising the overall height of the watch to 14mm. It looks magnificent. I like a sapphire crystal as much as the next guy, but there is just something special about an acrylic dome. I love the retro style, the crazy distortions around the edges, and fact that no matter how badly you beat it up, you can polish it out with some Polywatch. Hell, I even like the micro-scratches is inevitably accumulates. It is the perfect choice for a vintage style watch.
Three different dials are offered. The Phantom A has Arabic numbers at 12, 3, 6, and 9, with the option of a matte black or full luminous dial. The Phantom B is matte black but with stick markers instead of numbers. All have black sword hands and a red-tipped, spearhead second hand. Porthole date windows at 4 o'clock are options on all three dials. I like them all, but I kept going back to the black "A" dial. There is just something about the slim cutouts for the light weight font that draws me in, particularly as their wispy lines melt and bend at the dome's edge.
Dial text is handled in a particularly clever manner. At first glance, the dial appears devoid of any branding, bearing only the model name in red. A closer look reveals the word "Automatic" just below it, and the familiar Lew & Huey brand and "Sparky the Dog" logo rendered in the dial color. Most of the time the stealth printing disappears entirely until the light catches its raised, glossy surface. It is a very cool effect and one that I prefer to an unbranded, sterile dial. Now, I am well aware that some folks like the dog and others detest it, but on these watches, Sparky is a mere phantom himself.
The bezel is coin-edged with a black insert engraved with 12-hour markers that are handy for tracking a second time zone. It has 60 clicks and is bidirectional, as is common among pilot's watches. The numbers are filled with the same khaki lume as the dial and handset. A red triangle marks the top center. I found the action varied between samples. All had a positive feel, but some were noisier or looser than others. This is something that will be nailed down before production.
One of the key elements of the watch is it's "vintage" lume, but that can be a tricky thing. The term is used to market a broad range of colors from cream to yellow-green to dark orange. On-line photos don't always tell the story. I'll admit that this is one of the main reasons I chose not to buy the full lume dial. As it turns out, my fears were unfounded. In daylight, the khaki lume is exactly the warm tan color I had hoped for, and it casts an intense, green glow when the lights go out. The full lume effect is stunning, prompting my young son to proclaim it "the most awesomest watch ever." Bum Jr. is very picky and opinionated, so this is high praise indeed. The kid is right - it is a mighty cool effect.
All Phantoms will be shipped with a 22mm oil tanned strap. It is lightly padded with a contrasting tan stitching. The brown leather has a nice pull-up effect. Its matte surface picks up every scratch and scrape, but the blemishes rub out just as easily. It is the sort of strap that will develop an age-worn patina in no time. The warm character of the strap complements the Phantom's throwback looks and creamy lume. The prototypes all had plain polished buckles, but production hardware will be signed and will match the cases.
The case back features wild artwork courtesy of Francis del Mundo: a skull wearing a jet pilot's helmet with a bomb-dropping F4 reflected on its top and a skeleton Sparky on the side. Bizarre? Maybe. But Francis is a talented artist (just check out the case back of the Tangramatic), so the trippy death's head pilot just works. The image is cast in high relief with crisp lines and perfectly suits the Phantom's badass nature.
I got a great kick out of the Phantom series, collecting envious comments no matter which one I wore. All six were on display at the recent DC Watchtoberfest Get Together, and they were a big hit. Of course, because they are prototypes, they are not perfect. The samples had a matte surface where the production models will be brushed. The final product will also have drilled lugs, a 0.5mm broader crown, a notch in the case underneath the crown, a shade darker red printing for the lume dials, and lumed minute markers on the black dials. As mentioned above, the bezel action needs to be ironed out. Finally, the date window may be enlarged by the tiniest bit to prevent the illusion of it crowding the numbers. These are details, but important ones that will make an already great watch even better.
As I said at the beginning if you pre-ordered a Lew & Huey Phantom you took a risk but I predict you will be more than satisfied. These are lovely watches and I cannot wait to get my very own brushed, no-date, Phantom A in my hands. They are also a great deal. You lucky bastards who snagged the first lot at the absurdly cheap $250 early bird price already know that. I was stuck in a subway car and could not get an Internet signal until 15 minutes after the launch, but still managed to get one for $275. If you did not order a Phantom, it is not too late. They are currently as low as $425 on the Lew & Huey website. MSRP will be $550-570 depending on the model. This is a fair price to be sure, but you will kick yourself for not getting one while the getting was good. Head over to LewandHuey.com and check them out. You will thank me later.
Pro: They look amazing.
Con: They are not done yet.
Sum: Get one before the price goes up again. The Time Bum heartily approves.