The A-Z of Watches: F is for... Flyback

By Jessica Diamond

V ery little evolves in isolation, and the watch world is no different. Cultural shifts, changes in taste and developments in technology, have all shaped horology to the point we are at today. Advances in aviation in the early 20th century proved key in the fledgling development of the wrist watch – pilots needed instruments that were clearly visible on the wrist – and so the dials of the cockpit migrated onto straps.

IWC Schaffhausen, Pilot's Watch Le Petit Prince
IWC Schaffhausen, Pilot's Watch 'Le Petit Prince', Reference IW392202, Limited Edition 5N Gold Perpetual Calendar Flyback Chronograph Wristwatch with Moon-Phases and 4-Digit Year Indication, circa 2019. Estimate £15,000–30,000.

Timing became essential, particularly during the airborne manoeuvres of World War II – but imagine flying in an unheated, unpressurised cabin, swathed in thick sheep-skin and bulky gloves, and then try and operate a chronograph with its multiple pushers – click once to start, twice to stop, again to re-set and once more to re-start. The flyback functionality changed all that – operated from one single button the chronograph hand could be simultaneously stopped and returned to zero and started again by releasing pressure on the button.

A. Lange & Söhne, Ref 403.035 Datograph Flyback, A Platinum Flyback Chronograph Wristwatch with Date, circa 2000. Sold for $43,750.

With navigation essentially calculated on speed and time, pilots could accurately respond to radio-transmitted signals – important (crucial even) when operating so close to enemy aircraft. Split second decisions seem less important in today’s modern times, but back then? We all know the outcome…

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