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Donald "Don" Blakeslee and the Avi-8 P-51 Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph


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New York Times portrait of Donald "Don" Blakeslee (pic from static01.nyt.com):

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Avi-8 is a British-based watch company that specializes in watches that appeal strongly to aviation enthusiasts, with designs that are peppered with allusions to famous and historical planes. The example we are looking at here is the newly launched Avi-8 P-51 Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph, and this model pays tribute not only to the Mustang itself but also to one of the great fighter aces of World War Two - the American pilot Donald Blakeslee. Given that the watch is inspired by, and named after, Donald Blakeslee, it behoves me to give a short biography of this celebrated pilot before moving on to Avi-8’s celebratory chronograph watch.

 Donald James Matthew Blakeslee (b. Fairport, Ohio, 11 September 1917; d. Miami, Florida, 3 December 2008) began his aviation career in the Royal Canadian Air Force flying Spitfires during World War 2. He then moved to the Royal Air Force Eagle Squadrons before transferring to the United States Army Air Forces in 1942. By the end of the war he was a flying ace, with 15 and a half aerial victories, and had flown more combat missions against the Luftwaffe than any other American pilot.

 

 

 

The final Mustang aircraft assigned to Donald Blakeslee in standard 4th Fighter Group livery with red spinner and post-December 1944 wide red nose band. The "WD" on the fuselage denotes 335 Squadron while the letter "C" was used for all Blakeslee's assigned aircraft; he said the C stood for "chief cook and bottle washer". On Blakeslee being rotated home in November 1944, this aircraft was reassigned after repair to Lt Kiser (Pic from americanairmuseum.com):

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The same P-51D Mustang as above to show the livery in colour. Note that this illustration shows the narrow red noseband that would have been present when Blakeslee flew the aircraft himself. Blakeslee always refused to name his aittcraft (pic from bravobravoaviation.com):

p-51d-mustang-col-don-blakeslee-4th-figh

 

 

 

Don Blakeslee became interested in flying as a young boy and later, in the mid-1930s, he and a friend purchased a Piper J-3 which his friend unfortunately crashed in 1940, leading Blakeslee to pursue his flying interests elswhere; he decided to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

 At the end of his training in Canada, Blakeslee came to England in May 1941, where he was assigned to 401 Squadron RCAF. This squadron was assigned to the Biggin Hill Wing, and it was while flying sweeps across France that Blakeslee made his first kill, on 22 November 1941, with a Bf 109 destroyed over Desvres. His next actual kills as opposed to damaging an enemy aircraft were not claimed until 28 April 1942 with two Fw 190 fighters probably destroyed. In fact, while Blakeslee was receptive to the principles behind air fighting tactics, he was not himself a particularly good shot; his strength lay in his leadership skills both on the ground and in the air. In recognition of his many sorties flown, his aerial victories, and his leadership qualities, Don Blakeslee (who had now become an acting flight lieutenant) was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 14 August 1942.

 Partly in order to avoid being designated as an instructor pilot, away from combat, Blakeslee volunteered to serve with No. 133 (Eagle) Squadron RAF as its commander. It was with this squadron that he achieved ‘ace’ status during the raid on Dieppe, France, on 18th August 1942, shooting down an Fw 190 and probably destroying another.

 Together with Nos. 71 and 121 Squadrons, No. 133 Squadron now became part of the US Army Air Force (USAAF) 4th Fighter Group (4th FG) based at a former RAF airfield at Debden. After a few months flying Spitfires, this FG was re-equipped with the new Republic P-47 Thunderbolt in which type Blakeslee had the first “P-47” kill for the Group on 15 April 1943, plus a further claimed kill of another Fw 190 - both kills being near Knocke. On 28 July 1943, Blakeslee led the Group for the first time into Germany, and towards the end of the year, he was increasingly called upon to lead the Group, developing a tactic of circling above any air battle and directing his fighters as necessary.

 

 

 

Stirring image of Don  Blakeslee in his allotted Mustang P-51D leading the 4th FG on a bomber escort mission on 24 August 1944 (pic from starduststudios.com):

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 Don Blakeslee flew the P-51 Mustang for the first time in December 1943 and subsequently pushed hard to have the 4th FG re-equipped with the new plane, more effectively when he became commanding officer on 4 January 1944. The 8th Air Force Command eventually agreed to the request but stipulated that the pilots must be operational on the P-51 within 24 hours of receiving the aircraft. Blakeslee agreed to the terms and instructed his pilots to “learn how to fly them on the way to the target”. On 6 March 1944, Blakeslee flew the first Mustang over Berlin while defending Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24s. In the role of escorting the massed daylight raids of the 8th Air Force over occupied territory under the leadership of Don Blakeslee, the 4th FG became one of the highest scoring groups of VIII Fighter Command, utilizing an effective aggressive style. At the end of April 1944, the 4th FG passed the 500-kill mark and when the War ended, the Group had amassed a tally of 1020 German planes destroyed (550 in flight and 470 on the ground). Blakeslee himself also led the first “shuttle” mission to Russia on 21 June 1944, flying 1,470 miles in a mission lasting over 7 hours.

 Don Blakeslee was finally grounded in September 1944, having himself amassed a total of 15.5 kills in the air and 2 more on the ground. According to Barrett Tillman of the American Fighter Aces Association, Blakeslee had more missions and hours “than any other American fighter pilot of World War II” and he was held in high standing among Allied pilots. Blakeslee finally retired from the United States Air Force in 1965 with the rank of colonel, and he has been credited with being the most decorated USAAF pilot of World War 2. He not only received medals and awards for his service during World War 2, but also for his years serving during the Korean War.

For those who would like a more extensive biography of Donald Blakeslee, a good start is the article about him from the American Air Museum In Britain which can be found online at: americanairmuseum.com/person/44924

 Clearly, Don Blakeslee is a worthy contendor for a watch named after him, and Avi-8 has duly complied with its new P-51 Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph. The typography of the Blakeslee Chronograph is inspired by the writing on the body of Blakeslee’s P-51 Mustang; the crown-guard details reference the Mustang’s engine exhausts while the registers resemble the pressure gauge, and the hands apparently look like those on the Mustang’s altimeter. The most arrestingly novel element in the watch is the shape and form of the chronograph pushers which, according to Avi-8, “are custom built and shaped within the line of wings and fuselage”; I am not sure how foolproof these low-level pushers are in practice. Also as a means of reinforcing the relationship with flight instrument displays, the dial of the watch is multilayered.

 The new Avi-8 Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph is powered by a Seiko caliber VK68-TMI, one of Seiko’s Meca Quartz chronograph movements measuring down to a fifth of a second and including a 24 hour register as well as a date window; the idea behind these movements is to provide quartz accuracy with the feel of a mechanical chronograph when the chronograph is actuated.

 

 

 

YouTube review of the Avi-8 P-51 Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph by MAVERICK WATCH REVIEWS at youtu.be/MsprXQFIJWM

 

 

The Bronze Oak colourway of the Blakeslee Chronograph (pics from i0.wp.com/watchreview.com and i2.wp.com/watchreview.com):Avi-81.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1

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The Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph has a 43 mm stainless steel case and is 13 mm thick; the steel bezel has a tachymeter scale. The crystal is anti-reflective mineral glass and water resistance is a stated 5 ATM. The hands and indices are lumed with Superluminova and the H-link stainless steel bracelet has a folding clasp with push buttons. In addition to the steel bracelet, the watch can be bought

 The Mustang Blakeslee Chronograph comes in five different colourways each of which has been named after one of Blakeslee’s awards, including the Silver Oak and Bronze Oak. The current price of the watch is somewhat in flux, due no doubt to the market problems caused by the Covid 19 pandemic, but I would suggest that the watch - with either the leather strap or steel bracelet - can be had in the various colourways for between £200 and £250. As to whether I would recommend the watch, this is difficult because I am generally somewhat dubious about watches designed to commemorate historical people or events where there is no real connection between the watch/watch company and the person/event being celebrated, especially if an excessive premium has to be paid for the watch. Nevertheless, Avi-8 has cottoned on to a trend that should keep it going into the future, and the company seems pretty competent within that field, with (I am sure) many devoted fans.  

 

 

 

The five different colourways of the Avi-8 Blakeslee Chronograph (pic from cdn.watchcharts.com):

image-1.png

 

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Thanks for introducing me to another British brand that I had not heard of. It is notable how many of these brands have, or purport to have, military links in their watches. It leaves me a little bit cold. I don’t have any military connections myself, and I am not sure I want something that celebrates or commemorates this strapped to my wrist. 

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Sadly Honour, it's not a British brand. When I researched it some time ago, it's only presence in the UK was an accountants office in Andover, if I remember correctly. One of the Directors is bassed in Hong Kong and the parent company is in China.

 

Edited by Caller.
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Dear Caller, please note that I was careful in my topic to state that Avi-8 is a British-based company and not specifically "British". 

To be honest, I am not particularly fussed that Avi-8 watches come from China and I notice that the Avi-8 website makes no claim to "Britishness" apart from their contact address and, perhaps, the fact that many of their models are/have been commemorative/celebratory of British military aviation history.  As a watch collector who is limited in funds, my range of options for new watches would be drastically curtailed if I was churlish enough to reject Chinese-designed and made items, and look askance at British companies that source parts or watches from China. I hold no brief for China politically or for its appalling human rights record, but the Watch Forum would be a very restrictive place if we ignored and slated all Chinese products, and I have had to come to terms with what may seem to some to be a certain degree of hypocrisy.

When it comes to Avi-8 specifically, if a Chinese watch company wishes to offer us well-made and attractive watches that celebrate British aviation achievements, and sell them to us for a reasonable or affordable price, then why should I stand in the way and look down upon those who decide that they would like to have one or more of these watches to enjoy and remind them of our aviation heritage?

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I am not even sure that they can be characterised as British-based. On their web site they mention warehouses in the US, UK and Hong Kong from where they ship orders. But they do not make any claims at all, that I could see, about any design or manufacturing presence in the UK, or any British heritage. 

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10 hours ago, Always"watching" said:

Dear Caller, please note that I was careful in my topic to state that Avi-8 is a British-based company and not specifically "British". 

Sadly Honour, they are not British based, as @polyfun points out above. They only have an accountants here, that's it. You're right in everything else, but they could at least be honest in their marketing and openly state they are a Chinese company, which they went to great lengths to disguise.

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7 hours ago, Caller. said:

Sadly Honour, they are not British based, as @polyfun points out above. They only have an accountants here, that's it. You're right in everything else, but they could at least be honest in their marketing and openly state they are a Chinese company, which they went to great lengths to disguise.

Yeah, they are part of the Dartmouth Brands Ltd, which is just a company set up, by Notan Tolani, Solar Time (Hong Kong) to distribute the brands in the UK. Solar Time also own & manufacture the likes of Nubeo, CCCP, Swiss Eagle and I think Swiss Legend.

Agree with both yourself and @Always"watching", they make some good watches, I have the Spinnaker Spence and AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane and very happy with both, but wish like a lot of brands out there, they would be just a bit more honest as to who is behind and where the watches are made. It's not like buying a Chinese watch is a bad thing these days, their reputation & popularity is growing all the time.

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I bought an AVI-8 a few months ago, It wasn't running when I bought it, just needed the battery replacing but works fine now!

It's a Hurricane version rather than the Mustang one, Can't complain about the quality of it though as it's quite good!

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EDIT- Sorry, I clicked the submit button again in mistake for the add image one!! :blush:

 

John :thumbsup:

Edited by johnbaz
Pressed wrong button!!
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There is quite a lot of apparent subterfuge in the watch industry. The difference between a watch assembler and maker being one. I recently looked at a watch "made" in the shores, and I don't think one component of it was. It is certainly beyond all doubt was assembled here, but the "made in" title certainly involves a bit of poetic licence. From years of reading watch forums, I tend to believe "we" are on the whole a cynical bunch, that "can't be fooled".

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3 minutes ago, WRENCH said:

There is quite a lot of apparent subterfuge in the watch industry. The difference between a watch assembler and maker being one. I recently looked at a watch "made" in the shores, and I don't think one component of it was. It certainly beyond all doubt was assembled here, but the "made in" title certainly involves a bit of poetic licence. From years of reading watch forums, I tend to believe "we" are on the whole a cynical bunch, that "can't be fooled".

The depth ratings are another!!

30m means no deeper than the shower head!! :laughing2dw:

 

John :thumbsup:

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I note that my topic and this thread has brought up some interesting opinions and facts. I will therefore try and deal with some of them.

The question of Avi-8's "Britishness" and whether customers are being deceived into thinking that Avi-8 is a British company opens up a murky can of worms that goes far beyond that individual firm and affects many watch brands, including some that many members like and enjoy; note for example the history in relatively recent years of the Dreyfuss Group and the Rotary watch brand. Interestingly, dear @Caller., some time after your 2018 post quoted by you above, UK distribution of Avi-8 watches was taken over by the Dreyfuss Group working together with Dartmouth Brands. At the time, in 2019, Duncan Harris, Rotary UK sales director reported that, "We are thrilled to be partnering with Dartmouth Brands to distribute the Avi-8 brand in the UK and Ireland. The brand's iconic aviation design cues make it a perfect addition to the growing Dreyfuss Group portfolio of brands and we look forward to building the brand and distribution network with our key retail partners." 

I have to say that if Avi-8 have been hiding their true origins, they have been doing so in plain sight; it doesn't take more than a couple of google clicks to discover that the firm is essentially a Chinese operation. Also, as @Polyfun goes on to indicate in his above post, Avi-8 make no claims to be a British company or have any British heritage. My feelings on the general subject of what goes on in the watch industry match those of @WRENCH above in his thoughts about the "apparent subterfuge in the watch industry", with myself adding that this sort of subterfuge has been an element in the watch industry probably since the beginning of watchmaking, and it is not just a modern Far Eastern matter. WRENCH is quite correct in stressing the "who made what?" problem of sorting out true manufacturers from assemblers, and assemblers from sellers/marketers of watches - a problem that quite often has researchers into the history of watches banging their heads on the table with frustration; And don't get me started on country of origin designations on watches.

I think I am content to go with @Graham60 in his compromise approach to what Caller and myself have said in this thread.  For me personally, Avi-8 have not committed some cardinal sin, and I am happy to allow them to celebrate interesting aviation stories from around the world in decently made and priced Chinese-made watches; nevertheless, perhaps they could have been more upfront about their Far Eastern connections. If only the world of business and industry was a simple place where we, as consumers, did not need to constantly be calling foul whenever we think a cynical business practice has been committed. 

As a final note, I wish to thank everyone who has contributed to this thread. The sort of discussion we have had here will not go away any time soon and always seems to be relevant, whatever period of history one looks at. 

:thumbsup:

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8 minutes ago, Always"watching" said:

I note that my topic and this thread has brought up some interesting opinions and facts. I will therefore try and deal with some of them.

The question of Avi-8's "Britishness" and whether customers are being deceived into thinking that Avi-8 is a British company opens up a deep and murky can of worms that goes far beyond that individual firm and affects many watch brands, including some that many members like and enjoy; note for example the history in relatively recent years of the Dreyfuss Group and the Rotary watch brand. Interestingly, dear @Caller., some time after your 2018 post quoted by you above, UK distribution of Avi-8 watches was taken over by the Dreyfuss Group working together with Dartmouth Brands. At the time, in 2019, Duncan Harris, Rotary UK sales director reported that, "We are thrilled to be partnering with Dartmouth Brands to distribute the Avi-8 brand in the UK and Ireland. The brand's iconic aviation design cues make it a perfect addition to the growing Dreyfuss Group portfolio of brands and we look forward to building the brand and distribution network with our key retail partners." 

I have to say that if Avi-8 have been hiding their true origins, they have been doing so in plain sight; it doesn't take more than a couple of google clicks to discover that the firm is essentially a Chinese operation. Also, as @Polyfun goes on to indicate in his above post, Avi-8 make no claims to be a British company or have any British heritage. My feelings on the general subject of what goes on in the watch industry match those of @WRENCH above in his thoughts about the "apparent subterfuge in the watch industry", with myself adding that this sort of subterfuge has been rife in the watch industry probably since the beginning of watchmaking, and it is not just a modern Far Eastern matter. WRENCH is quite correct in stressing the problem of sorting out true manufacturers from assemblers, and assemblers from sellers/marketers of watches - a problem that quite often has researchers into the history of watches banging their heads on the table with frustration; And don't get me started on country of origin designations on watches.

I think I am content to go with @Graham60 in his compromise approach to what Caller and myself have said in this thread.  For me personally, Avi-8 have not committed some cardinal sin, and I am happy to allow them to celebrate interesting aviation stories from around the world in decently made and priced Chinese-made watches; nevertheless, perhaps they could have been more upfront about their Far Eastern connections. If only the world of business and industry was a simple place where we, as consumers, did not need to constantly be calling foul whenever we think a cynical business practice has been committed. 

As a final note, I wish to thank everyone who has contributed to this thread. The sort of discussion we have had here will not go away any time soon and always seems to be relevant, whatever period of history one looks at. 

:thumbsup:

Personally I also think the sellers of the Brands often don't help with the confusion, the brands themselves have a vague our story on their web sites, but certain seller often add their take on the story and embelish. If we take the recent thread on Ideal World, they sell quite a few of the Dartmouth brands and a few others from the parent company Solar time and the guest experts for the brands, a couple of them are ex Dreyfuss and Rotary folk, never give any indication of the true origins of the watches, if we take say Earnshaw watches, the whole sales pitch is about Thomas Earnshaw & British watchmaking, just from the sales pitch you are left with the distinct impression that this brand is British and reviving British watchmaking. They also recently started selling Duxot, and again, although they did mention Duxot had trouble during the quartz crisis and was having a renaissance, they left the viewer with the impression that they were still a Swiss brand with watches which were still being made in Switzerland, The Presenter Peter Simon even said the Duxot family had been involved in bringing the brand to Ideal World :laughing2dw:, when in reality the original Duxot went bust in the 70s and the new Duxot is just an old brand name revived by Solar Time, with the watches made in China.

Of course if we really want to confuse matters, The guy behind Solar Time/AVI-8 is actually Indian, who fled to Hong Kong (when Indian was partitioned to form Pakistan) but he has also acquired British Nationality, although his main residence is still in Hong Kong, or something along that lines. :laughing2dw:

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Its not a question of using a few google clicks to find what has been going on. It's the fact the company clearly set out to hide their true origins. You shouldn't have to follow a trail of deceit. Not just in company records and ownership, but also in the booklets I saw in Bangkok that made no reference to who or what the company were, or their origins. It would be interesting to hear from recent buyers whether they are now more up front about their 'parentage'. 

Schofield have brought out a new watch. Here's what they have to say about it's origin and assembly, which is pretty clear:

A little on provenance of parts, manufacture and assembly. The Strange Lights is 100% designed, administered and assembled in England. The crystal, crown, dial, hands and movement are Swiss, The case, movement holder, case back and all finishing is also English. The straps are both German and English made. The buckles are said to be Swiss but I suspect China. While these details are no longer the hot potato they were 6 years ago, they are still relevant and important because they show where our priorities lie. We like offering watches as British as can be within the confines of our business.

Edited by Caller.
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I've stumbled across a few Chinese watch brands masquerading as European, including one where the portrait of their invented founder was blatantly Gustav Eiffel. What they seem to have learned from Western marketing is that the story is way more important than the the truth.

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Now marketing has been mentioned, their web site is excellent for a “British” brand, even down to British English spelling - “colour” etc.  They now have a Help for Heroes limited edition, this being a UK charity. A minimum of 5% of the sale price (£265) of each watch goes to the charity, so £13, at least, will be donated for each watch sold. 

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I promise I will leave this thread alone after making just a couple of observations; I am beginning to regret writing the topic at the head of this thread, which was meant to focus as much on the Donald Blakeslee story as on the Blakeslee Chronograph.:biggrin:

With regard to your last post, dear Caller, I do feel that it is unrealistic and somewhat unfair to compare Schofield with Avi-8 in the matter of "full disclosure" of where every watch component comers from. Schofield watches are luxury items costing thousands of pounds, and the market structure is very different to that served by Avi-8, whose watches are generally priced between about two and four hundred pounds. 

Both companies have to survive in their different market sectors and in fact, when you look through the Schofield website, there is just as much hyperbole and marketing flannel as there is with Avi-8.  I am all for basic honesty in the watch industry and have agreed that Avi-8 could have been amore open with regard to its origins, but I refuse to take a "holier than thou" approach to watch marketing.  

Finally, I must just correct you, Polyfun, with regard to the question of Avi-8 using the British English spelling of "colour." Both British English and American English are used in China (both in terms of written English and the spoken language), with the majority of official textbooks  still apparently being written in British English; Respect for and use of British English is particularly strong in Hong Kong. It cannot therefore be concluded that the British English spelling on the Avi-8 website is an affectation designed to deceive the unwary into thinking that Avi-8 is a British brand. :)

 

 

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10 hours ago, Always"watching" said:

I promise I will leave this thread alone after making just a couple of observations; I am beginning to regret writing the topic at the head of this thread, which was meant to focus as much on the Donald Blakeslee story as on the Blakeslee Chronograph.:biggrin:

Please don't regret it because of anything I said. I thought your article was very interesting and it is always good to read about little known brands and their latest offerings. I would not hesitate to buy an AVI-8 if I liked any of their current watches and if I had not already spent too much recently on other brands, none of which are British. To do otherwise would be hypocritical. Of the Blakeslee Chronograph, the Command Pilot is probably my favourite.

Of their other watches, the Hawker Hurricane White probably appeals the most, as I have recently been in the market for a Chronograph with a "clean" design. This is a steal at £165.00, however at that price I assume it is a pure quartz movement and not mecha-quartz, which I think I would prefer.

AV-4011-01-Q_e76e3ae7-e592-49bd-94d4-88b

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