Today I’d like to introduce you to another maker of fine aviation watches that we think you’ll like: Fortis. Meaning “strong” in Latin, Fortis was founded in 1912 by Walter Vogt in Switzerland, and has made a strong resurgence since 1987. Specializing in flight and space watches, Fortis is the official supplier to the Russian space program and the International Space Station. They have a strong design aesthetic of clear faces, instrument-themed hands, and high-contrast dials. Very functional, and with their ETA/Valjoux movements, quite reliable as well. I’d like to pick a few out of their lineup to go over in detail.
The Fortis Flieger
Probably the most iconic Fortis is their classic Flieger watch. Built around the well-known ETA 2824-2 automatic movement, it’s 40mm wide (also available in a 34mm wide case) and features a screw-down crown and caseback that combine for an unusual (for an aviation watch) 200m (660ft) water resistance. The super-hard sapphire crystal is anti-reflective coated on both sides, and the hands and indices are superluminova-coated for legibility under any conditions. I’ve actually opened one of these and regulated it; it’s well-made and quite sturdy. I was impressed, and enjoyed wearing it for a day. The orange second hand is wonderful, and I really like the uncluttered face and dramatic hour & minute hands. With a street price of around $600, it’s a good price for a solid Swiss watch of high function and durability.
The Fortis Square
Most Fortis watches look a lot like the Flieger, but they’ve recently branched out a bit and introduced the simply-named “Fortis Square”. It has the ETA 2836-2 automatic movement, and looks quite a bit like the Flieger, but changes to a dressier 38mm square case and leather band. I personally prefer watches with day and date, so I like how this looks. Features include a stainless steel case, AR-coated sapphire, screw-down crown, screwed caseback, and water resistant to 100m (330 ft). The Fortis Square is an unusually legible and functional dress watch that easily doubles for rough duty.
The Fortis B-42 Diver
Next up is the B-42 Diver GMT, this time with a white face for a little change of pace. Using the ETA 2893 movement, it adds a fourth hand for 24-hour time, often used for travel or UTC time (when you fly, UTC, or GMT, is used for weather, flight plans, instrument flight, ground control, and much more). The bi-directional bezel is marked with the 24-hour scale, so you can rotate it to track a third time zone. As with most Fortis watches, you get a stainless steel case, AR-coated sapphire crystal, screw-down crown and caseback, and superluminova hands and indices. This model has a glass caseback to view the movement, but still manages to be water resistant to 200m (660 ft) which I consider an impressive feat. At 42mm by 12.5mm, it’s reasonably sized and slim enough to wear with cuffs.
The Fortis B-42 Official Cosmonauts
Last up is the B-42 Official Cosmonauts, in titanium. Based on the ETA 2836-2 automatic movement, it has the nicely contrasting second hand, day and date, a timing bezel, 200m (660ft) water resistance, and an AR-coated sapphire crystal. The case is 42mm by 13mm, but due to the titanium, feels very light. I really like the rubber-coated black crown, and the face is legible and uncluttered. The cosmonaut rating adds a nice story to the watch, and lets you enjoy a little bit of the Walter Mitty that all watch geeks seem to have. (Wait till I get my Omega X-33 review posted!)
There are a couple of nits I do have to pick with Fortis. Like some other old-guard companies, they won’t sell over the net, so you can’t find official prices or click-to-buy from an authorized dealer over the internet. I hope they see the light on this one, as this is annoying and a tad bit off-putting in my opinion. Secondly, the ETA movements they use are available in five grades, and from what I’ve seen, they’re using the base grades. Still very good, but unspectacular as far as quality goes. That said, given their reasonable prices, this is something I can accept for workhorses like these. It’s an honest watch that doesn’t pretend to be fancy, and they survive abuse and wear very well.
By Paul Hubbard