Exploring the world of watches on a budget

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical

Review and photos by Mike Razak

Rick Bell not only has a great name, but he also has great taste in watches. He bought himself a Grand Seiko for Christmas and has my undying respect for doing so. He also owns Cincinnati Watch Company, a project co-created with his business partner Mark Stegman. The proposition is simple: make great, affordable watches, sell them, and toss a bit of the proceeds to a charity, usually related to the watch in question. He’s collaborated with the Cincinnati Museum Center, the Freestore Foodbank, and now, for the handwound P-40M Mechanical, he’s giving money to the Tri-State Warbird Museum to help refurbish old World War II planes. Call me when you find a cooler perk (your enormous Omega box and that useless FOIS medallion won’t come close).

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical
If I waited for your call, we’d never get to the review, so let’s move on. The blue dial P-40M Mechanical reviewed herein is the second iteration of the watch, the first having a black dial (which is still available). It takes its name and inspiration from a fully restored 1943 Curtiss-Wright P-40M Kittyhawk at the Tri-State Warbird Museum, just outside Cincinnati. P-40s saw extensive use in World War II, being the third most-produced warplane of the time (behind the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt). While over 13,000 were produced, only about 80 remain to this day. If you find yourself situated in the cockpit of a Kittyhawk, and you glance to your lower left, just above your knee, you’ll find the AN-5743 milspec clock. The influence on the  P-40M Mechanical is clear, most notably in the indices, handset, and minute track.

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical

The P-40 is an exceedingly wearable watch. The case flies in (you can expect plenty of aviation puns in this review) at under 10.3mm thick, including the domed sapphire crystal. Everything on the watch is in perfect balance and the 40.5mm diameter is no exception. With dimensions like those, it’s not a surprise that I found the watch simply floated on the wrist. A lot of pilot-style watches are hefty, but that’s not the case here. Mixed finishing makes the case a joy to look at, too. A polished bezel surrounds the crystal and sits atop a brushed midcase, with a brushed caseback (more on that later).

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical

However, the real surprise is the split-finished, drilled 20mm lugs: they feature a step with the lower portion polished, and the upper brushed. The step itself adds a bit of art deco style to the case, while the contrast simply adds class. At 3 o’clock, the push-pull crown is a classic pilot style, though I would have preferred it a bit larger. The slimness of the case prevents a larger crown (lest it constantly dig into the wearer’s wrist), but at times the size makes it difficult to get a good grip. With the push-pull crown, you’re only getting 50M water resistance, appropriate for a pilot watch, and suitable for most non-aquatic activities.

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical

While the case is excellent, the defining feature of the P-40 is undoubtedly the dial. As mentioned above, it’s inspired by the cockpit clock of the Kittyhawk, an AN-5743 milspec. These clocks were made by a number of familiar brands—Elgin, Wakmann, Waltham, etc. One thing you won’t find in those old clocks is a dial that plays with light the way this one does. Sure it’s blue. But catch the light, and it’s a rich oceanic green or a shallow black. And the dial is split into a vertically brushed outer ring and a sunray-finished center disc, adding even more play. A minute track rings the dial, marked at 5-minute intervals with dots and numbers. Cardinal indices are baton style with polished surrounds, aside from 12 o’clock, which mirrors the triangle found on the cockpit clocks. Along with the applied numerals for the other hours (which lack surrounds, a great aesthetic choice), they are all lumed with BGW9 Super-LumiNova. A date fits snugly at 6 o’clock, between the baton marker and the step to the center disc. A simple cutout date window like this would usually bother me, but because of its placement and the abundant presence of white on the dial, it’s a non-issue. The center disc features a 24-hour track, plus branding text. Contrasting orange “Mechanical” text reminds the wearer of the handwound movement lurking underneath.

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical

Everything about this dial seems to be in perfect balance. And that includes the handset. Hollowed minute and hour hands feature lumed ends, allowing for great legibility in all situations. Great attention to detail was given with the sizing of the hands. The lumed portion of the hour hand begins at the 24-hour ring and ends right at the edge of the baton indices. Similarly, on the minute hand, it starts at the edge of the center disc and extends perfectly to the end of the minute markers. One puzzling bit is the use of a lumed counterbalance on the seconds hand, which has an orange tip to match the “Mechanical” dial text. It’s harmless, but if you’re looking at the watch in the dark, it’s the only indication of running seconds and as lumed indicates 30 seconds ahead or behind of the actual time. Further, I will mention that the lume on the hands is slightly dimmer than the rest of the dial. It remains perfectly legible under good conditions, but I always feel lume should be even across all applications. 

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical lume

Flipping the watch over, a novel approach to see-thru greets the owner. The watch features a half-circle sapphire caseback, with the rest being brushed stainless steel. Etched upon the caseback is an approximation of the attitude indicator on the Kittyhawk dash, an etching that carries from steel to sapphire. It's a great effect and allows the sapphire to suggest itself as the windshield. Around the periphery is your standard SpecText, including "RNZAF," an indication that the namesake plane was flown by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. 

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical case back

The movement powering the P-40 is a manual-wound Swiss Sellita SW215-1. It’s a far cry from the Allison V-1710 that powered the P-40 Kittyhawk, but with 19 jewels, hacking, and a 42-hour power reserve, it’s plenty to propel the hands round and round, if not achieve lift. And The Good Mr. Bell ensures that every watch is within spec, in some cases, fully disassembling and reassembling the watch. There are plenty of brands that get their assembled watches, give them a once over, and send them on to customers. That CWC is putting in the extra effort to make sure every single watch is up to snuff is encouraging, and places them in the upper echelon of microbrands.

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical

The watch comes equipped with an excellent oyster style bracelet, featuring fitted end links and a sturdy, easy-to-operate push-button clasp. Making it even better, the links are thin, a perfect match with the slim case. There are plenty of watches in this price range that grab a generic bracelet without regard for whether its proportions fit the rest of the watch; what frequently results in a slim watch with a chunky bracelet or a thiccboi watch with a skinny thang bracelet. Neither is okay, and neither is a problem with the P-40. To boot, I found the bracelet exceptionally easy to remove and install, a credit to the keen eye during design and production, ensuring proper sizing and tolerances. Also included is a super soft midnight blue single-pass NATO strap—it was a pain to size but was quite comfortable once I did. As you can tell, I had plenty of fun pairing this watch with plenty of straps—and yes, it passed the Barton Elite Silicone strap with flying colors (mostly green).

Cincinnati Watch Co. P-40M Mechanical

I like this watch. I’m right on the precipice of buying one. It’s only $439 for a Swiss movement, bracelet-included, gorgeous-dialed pilot watch. And you can get a free membership to the Tri-State Warbird Museum (I wouldn’t as it’s in Ohio, and I’m in Virginia). And! And! And Cincinnati Watch Co. has partnered with penmaker Opus Mechan to create a limited edition P40-M pen that you can add to your order for $119 (A lot for a pen? Well, most people would say spending over $100 on a watch is absurd, so…). It’s a watch package if you want it to be. As I sit here and ponder the decision to purchase or not—the lume and the crown really don’t bother me enough to not buy the watch, it’s more a matter of need and how it fits into the collection—I know I’d only buy the watch, and I know plenty of people who already have. But hurry up! It’s limited to 100 pieces. And now you're wondering why I've wasted your time without mentioning this, risking that they’ll sell out in the meantime. Why didn’t I tell you they were limited earlier? I apologize. Here’s the link so you can go buy yours (if there are any left). Cheers.
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