CJR Airspeed Pilot and Vintage

"Hey, check this out." I said to Sam. "I think you're going to get a kick out of these." Sam is my go-to watchmaker at Afram Jewelers in Washington, DC. In addition to the usual parade of battery changes and bracelet adjustments, he also services Rolex, TAG, and a host of other high-end brands. On this day, I had brought in an old Omega for a tune up. Now Sam knows my blog and while I suspect he finds my fascination with independents and micro brand watches to be a bit odd, he is always curious about the watches I review. "This guy has done something really different," I said as I withdrew a pair of CJR Airspeeds from my briefcase: a matte black Pilot, and a beige and polished Vintage. 
CJR Airspeed
This was not my first CJR watch. I reviewed the Velocita bullhead chronograph last year, and coincidently, I had those on hand when dropping off a different watch for repair, so Sam got to play with that one too. I didn't love the Velocita, but I did appreciate the creativity and ambition behind it and was curious about what CJR would do next. The Airspeed is next, and it is amazing.

I could see Sam's gears turning as he handled the watch. "Look at that crystal!" He exclaimed. 

Indeed, it is hard not to because the Airspeed is all crystal. A 43mm wide, 5mm thick dome encompasses the entire upper surface of the watch. There is no bezel to contain it, just an uninterrupted arc that seems to drop off the edge like an infinity pool. The back section is another slick dome. Other watches may have a display window case back; the Airspeed's case back is the window. Sandwiched between the two crystals is a stainless steel case just thick enough for the crown and wire lugs. I've never seen anything quite like it. The arrangement only permits 30m water resistance, but as you may have already guessed, the Airspeed is not a tool watch.
CJR Airspeed
The crystals were mineral glass on the review samples, but will be Hesalite acrylic for production. I think this is a good call as the high dome and exposed edges will invariably take some knocks, and acrylic is more forgiving than mineral or sapphire, both of which will chip or shatter with sufficient impact. True, plastic will scratch, but it also polishes easily. I have been amazed at what you can rub out of acrylic. Bet of all, it has that warm vintage look The Time Bum loves. 
CJR Airspeed
The dial is as unorthodox as the case. It is a regulator, so each hand occupies its own register. A 24-hour dial is on the left at 9 o'clock, with a pilot's triangle marker at 0. Seconds are offset in the lower right quadrant in a sub dial marked in increments of five and banded with color, an arrangement that is more for decoration than accuracy. The large minute hand operates from the center of the dial and while only the first 15 minutes are clearly delineated on the dial, there is a minute track on the bezel (I use the term loosely since it appears to be separate from the dial but it is under the outermost part of the crystal) that serves this purpose. There is a porthole date window at 3 o'clock, encircled in the same color as the seconds dial. The two sub dials are further accented by channels cut through the surface, ringing the dials and looping around two decorative screw heads. If you squint, you might glimpse the mechanism beneath, but they are there for added depth, not a skeleton peep show. 
CJR Airspeed
If you want a good look at the movement, you need only flip the watch over and check out the unhindered view of the Miyota 8215. The 21 jewel, hand winding automatic is a solid performer with a 21.6k bph vibration rate and a 42-hour power reserve. It is finished, but not particularly decorated. You get some Geneva stripes, and a skeletonized rotor with a frosted edge, and that's about it. I know many of my fellow watch nerds are put off when a watch displays a pedestrian movement, but I don't mind, particularly in this case with the wide-open views the Airspeed's rear crystal affords. If it really bothers you, take comfort in the fact that it will spend most of its life mashed against your wrist.
CJR Airspeed
On both sides of the watch, a brightly colored ring encircles the dial. It is green on the Pilot and red on the Vintage. CJR calls them fluorescent but note that this merely describes the intensity of the color. They do not actually fluoresce; however, they do look particularly cool as they bend and distort under the crystal. They also play another important role, as I discovered shortly after Sam asked, "How do you open this?"

That was the sort of question I might have expected from a man who fixes watches all day, but it hadn't occurred to me. I had absolutely no idea. He pored over the Airspeed and discovered a notch at the top of the case, just below the rear crystal. "There," he said. "Slip a case knife in there and you'll pop it that crystal right off," he said. "Then pull the movement and you should be able to push out the other one. It's a pressure fit, which means..." he trailed off, and his eyes lit up, "that's a gasket!" He rummaged through his bench, pulled out a tray of red and green rings in little plastic bags, and pointed to the fluorescent color ring inside the Airspeed. "See, they're the same color," he said. And so they were. CJR has not only constructed a lovely all-dome watch; they turned a utilitarian component into a signature design feature. It's brilliant.
CJR Airspeed
Now that I had mastered its secrets, it was time to take the Airspeed out for a test drive. You might think a 43mm watch would be a bit large but is in fact, remarkably compact. The pure disk shape is one factor, as it has no shoulders to add bulk, and both front and rear surfaces get thinner at the edge. Slender wire lugs that are angled downwards are another factor. They barely register in your vision. On my 6.5" wrist, the Airspeed is remarkably discrete, occupying little space and easily tucking under my shirt cuff. I found it a bit challenging to wind the watch with that smooth round crown, but it was not impossible. Perhaps a bit more grip would be nice, but fluting or other texture on the crown would have destroyed the watch's streamlined aesthetic.
CJR Airspeed wrist
Telling time on a regulator takes some practice. I kept double-checking the hours and being totally unaccustomed to military time did not help matters. All the elements are laid out for you, but it requires an adjustment to the way you view them. No doubt some will find this maddening, but it is also a key part of what makes the watch special. For me, the greatest difficulty came not in reading the novel layout, but seeing the hands on the Vintage model. Matte silver over a beige background offers no contrast, and there is no luminous material at all, so there is nothing to help you pick out the hands in low light. I have to say, the hands are the most disappointing aspect of these watches. They are flat, featureless, and bland. 
CJR Airspeed
The black Pilot model addresses the visibility problem with high contrast white-on-black printing and bright green SuperLuminova at night. The glow looks particularly impressive through the expansive crystal and its crazy edge distortion, although the minute markers on the bezel appeared weak to me. My UV light did not light them up them the way I would have expected, so I was unsure if the faint glow came from the markers themselves or if it was just the light from the dial bouncing off of the bezel. In either case, it is a missed opportunity. A brightly lumed bezel markers would have been stunning. I hope this is something that can be addressed in production.
CJR Airspeed
In both style and function, the Airspeed is an appealing mix of retro and modern design cues. The disk shape and off beat layout offer a sci-fi vibe, while the wire lugs and mechanical movement seem almost quaint. The strap options present the same dichotomy. A nylon NATO would give it a more contemporary style, while the minimally stitched, 20mm Italian leather straps on the samples were more of a throwback, particularly the crackle finish on the Vintage. It's like a 1950's vision of the "watch of the future." I love that. 

More than anything else, it reminds me of an old-fashioned incarnation of the jaw-dropping, high concept Ressence watches. Granted, it does not have traveling registers or an oil-filled case, but it doesn't cost $20k either. The Airspeed will retail for $600-650 USD depending on strap options, and the earliest of Kickstarter birds can snag on for as little as $329 on a NATO. I'd call that a hell of a deal for such a creative piece. For more information or to order your own, check out the CJR Airspeed Kickstarter page. 

Pro: Dreamy crystals, ingenious case design.
Con: Ho-hum hands.
Sum: A risky design, a quality result, and a bargain price. This is what micro brands do best.

CJR Airspeed Pilot lume

CJR Airspeed Pilot strap

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