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Glycine Airman: Story Behind The Pilot’s Wristwatch
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Glycine Airman: Story Behind The Pilot’s Wristwatch

Made for the sky, read how Glycne Airman soar through atmosphere
Dec 12, 2020


Glycine was initially founded by Eugène Meylan in 1914. Meylan that time was staying in the small watchmaking town of Bienne, Switzerland. In the 1920's, Meylan focused on manufacturing miniature watch movements for women's watches, wrapped in precious metals, and exported to the US and UK markets. The 1930's gave birth to Glycine's first automatic watch and chronometer. 1950 was a breakthrough year for the company with the release of the Vacuum and Aviation chronometer.

The Vacuum chronometer system was invented and patented by Hans-Urlich Klingenberg, which prevents air from entering the case, thus providing better water resistance, shock resistance and accuracy. However, the vacuum chronometer did not function very well because the quartz revolution redefined accuracy. In addition, the Rolex Oyster system was popular then and remains popular today.

(Photo Credit: Fliegerfriday)

The Early Days of Glycine

The history of Glycine Airman has come to prominence as a result of the popularity of the watch among collectors, the success of the company's contemporary model based on the Antique Aviator, and the hard work of Andre Stikkers. Mr. Stikkers has written his book (Glycine Airman a 24 Hour Time Line of Flight, March 2010). The Glycine Airman was popularized by the Vietnam War and used by pilots and soldiers from the United States, but its history goes back to the 50's.

Glycine was already an established watch company when it introduced its first Airman in 1953.Based on the market to the military, the first watch featured a short, luminous, pencil with a pointer, stylized hands, a 24-hour dial (usually if not always white) and an am and pm with noon written at 12:00 at the bottom. The pilot also features a 24-hour movable bezel, one for each of the 24 time zones) for the purpose of tracking time in a different time zone or for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and the date specified on the fly. This early model is highly sought after today. This watch was equipped with a Felsa 690 N / 692 N automatic movement. Most, if not all, early aviators had a white or champagne dial. They also have white numbers around the rotating bezel.

Not long after the introduction of the Airman, the minute hand acquired a long tail, similar to the long tail on the hands of today's auction watches. This tail has no obvious function.

An early brochure, appearing in Andre Stikkers' book, on pages 16 and 17, states "GLYONE-Ainnon for the man who can fly, GLYCINE-Chief of the Navy." Until recently, neither Neither Stikkers nor any other collectors know what 'The Chief' is. The Chief 'is one of those odd aviators with a long-tailed minute hand and can now be seen in the Gallery. Turler, the name of the retailer on The Chief's dial, is a Swiss watch retailer whose well-known, especially those known as Omega retailers.

In 1955, Airman began appearing in a substantial format that would be maintained through the balance of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The major changes were the introduction of a large hour hand with a tail (it now functions as a pointer on the opposite clock, useful for non-militants in expressing time in the normal 12 hour manner), the introduction of a cross-shaped crown, and the introduction of a unique hack feature.

The hack feature works by popping a small wire that is triggered by a spring at the 24 hour mark through a small hole when the crown is pulled out. The seconds hand, now extended and dotted for easy-to-follow, is forced to stop by the wire. When you hear the words' sync observer in an old war movie, this is what is happening. The usual hack feature, such as on the Rolex Explorer, stops the second hand in place as the crown is pulled out.

In the mid to late 50s, another rare Airman, perhaps only made in prototype, appeared. It's similar to aviators of their day, except that 12 is on top of the dial replacing 24. The hack function works the same way, with a stop at 12. The date function is adjustable, set to change at 24, now at the bottom of the dial, like a quick set. In particular, the morning disappeared. The primary color is black, and the word "Automatique" in French, is changed to suit the market and becomes English "Auto". An "Airman Special" is introduced with fewer gems. 

The previous aviators, with the Felsa move, had screw backs. The introduction of the A. Schild movement appeared around 1960, while the cross-door crown and rear of the EPSA Compressor were not introduced until about 1965.

Some have seen screw backs with A. Schild movements, and Felsa movements within the EPSA Compressor case, but this might be a change that occurred because the watch was repaired. The cross hatch crown is replaced frequently, and occasionally, the cross hatch crown has been replaced where the crown should have a smooth top. The majority of true Aviators, and the Aviation Specials you'll see, will have a return compressor and a cross-hatched crown. This was due to the immense popularity of the watch among American servicemen during the Vietnam War. The escalation of the American armed forces occurred largely from 1965-1969, with about 495,000 troops at the end of 1968. More than 2,500,000 American troops rotated through the war with more than 58,000 killed.

Glycine began displaying an Airman image with an expandable Fixo Flex bracelet, also used on some Omegas, and later (in the 60's) featured the same bracelet with a fixing clamp marked Glycine. Genuine Fixo Flex wristbands are rare, and cost around 5,250.00. The same stylish bracelet was used until the early 70s for the SST model, but in a larger size to accommodate the larger lug openings of the SST, and with a Glycine-marked clasp.

During this period, and possibly as early as 1953, Glycine began using fitted wooden boxes and caskets with sliding tops. The boxes were of various sizes, with a different number of doves. Other shapes may additionally are used for specific presentation watches.

Glycine Airman 1953

However, Glycine's release from the Airman watch in 1953 was a success. A military or commercial pilot and international traveler can see the local region time additionally as a second zone (home time) by looking at the watch. The first Airman watches were sold to the military on a 24-hour dial with A.M. to P.M. clockwise and 12 noon indication at 6 o'clock position. This watch displays a bezel that rotates 24 hours for a second time zone and a quickly determined date. The watch is powered by a Felsa Bidyanator automatic movement (caliber 690 and 692) and has a screw rear case.

The 1960s were the most successful years for Glycine with the Airman military call-up and the 12-hour call. The Airman watch shifted to A. Child movement (caliber 1700 and later 1903) with a cross-aim crown and a compressor snap-back case. In 1967, Glycine came out with Airman SST to mark the era of Supersonic Transport. The watch has a 24-hour dial (military time) and a second time zone in a tonneau-shaped case. The orange dial of the SST is unmistakable, and is what watch enthusiasts call the "pumpkin button."

(Gemini 5 flight in 1965 and Apollo 12 in 1969. In both these missions, astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad wears a Glycine Airman. Photo Credit: NASA)

In 1978, Glycine decided to stop the production of Airman mechanical watches, and in the next year, Glycine introduced Airman quartz to join the industry trend as sales of their mechanical watches plummeted.

In 1998, Glycine began producing the Airman 2000, a modern mechanical homage watch with an ETA movement, without any special hacking features. The ETA 2893 movement has a normal hacking second hand, with no reset to zero feature.

(On the deck of the USS Guam, Gordon (left) has the Speedmaster on his right arm. Conrad (right) has the Speedmaster on his left arm and an Airman on his right arm - Gemini 11: 15 September 1966. Photo Credit: NASA)

Glycine released some interesting Airman watches in the 1990s and 2000s with multiple time zones. 2002 is the first year Airman 7 was introduced, featuring three mechanical movements that show four time zones at the same time. In 2014 Glycine launched the Airman Airfighter pilot chronograph. Although, watch enthusiasts prefer the Airman 18 (and later Airman 1) Purist models - the 39mm watch powered by the ETA 2893, with a 24-hour dial and a second time zone on the bezel. It is reminiscent of the Airman worn by the US Air Force during the Vietnam war.

In 2016, the Invita Group acquired the Glycine company and began discounting existing Airman watches, therefore, good deals can be obtained for the Airman DC4 or SST models on various internet sites, including sites such as Touch Of Modern. 

Airman 44 Horizon GMT Ref. GL0054

Since being founded by Eugène Meylan in 1914, Glycine has produced watches at his factory in Bienne, Switzerland. Meylan is an uncompromising watch engineer who strives for perfection and nothing less. He had an in-depth understanding of market demand and the possibilities offered by the technological advancements of that time.

Today, offering excellent value at a fair price is an important part of Glycine's philosophy. The company's strong foundation, combined with its emphasis on sturdy and well grounded products, have brought Glycine a respected name in nowaday’s Swiss watchmaking.

Since the early 60's, Glycine has served the market with this rugged and charming line of watches, built for the most severe conditions of use and use. The automatic movement and precision chronograph are housed in a high-grade steel case with rugged construction, offering excellent value for money.

Whenever the topic of aviation comes up, Glycine's name is touted as one of the pioneers of watchmaking for pilots and frequent travelers. Starting in 1953, Glycine started production of the Airman, a watch that became legendary for introducing several time zone watches to the market. Since then, Glycine has developed an unbroken chain of aviation watches, ranging from more complex consecutive world timers to unique collector's items. Examples in their archives include those during the Gemini 5 and Apollo 12 flights in 1965 and 1969. On both missions, astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad wore the Glycine Airman on his wrists.

The Glycine Airman 44 Horizon GMT Ref. The GL0054 is based on their original and famous watch from 1953. Equipped with an attractive gradient blue dial, the unique handset reads through domed sapphire crystal, doing things the Glycine way.

The Airman 44 Horizon GMT brings a lot of nostalgia along with a distinctive vintage aesthetic. The classic aviator case model measures 44mm and 12mm thin for unmatched comfort across all wrist sizes. Slim lugs with 51mm long lugs to lugs, help the watch to wrap around the wrist like a pair of gloves while shining around one's wrist.

The Glycine's Airman collection all support the history of their 1950s tool watch. For this particular model, traditionally styled onto the first Airman  (even it's reference name), first edition 1950's. This is a faithful reproduction.

Completely handcrafted and Made in Switzerland, this watch is satin to a very high standard, once again synonymous with Glycine. Bronze is patented naturally when oxidized, so each watch will have a unique finish over time. The transition between brushed and polished parts is very clear.

The bezels match the Airman designs of the 50s; featuring a 24-hour bezel typical of the original Airman. Further, the only way to turn it around is to manipulate the locking feature that is retained on the screw crown at the 4 o'clock position on the case. Once the latch is unlocked, the friction bezel swivels in both directions with ease - 1950s technology that is simply gorgeous. The crown on the 3 o'clock displays all necessary GMT time, date and adjustments.

What's good looking without appearing? The Airman 44 Horizon GMT features an upgraded domed sapphire crystal that covers nearly the entire surface, with a three-layer anti-reflective coating on the bottom for added clarity under different lighting conditions for excellent durability and legibility.

Airman's highlight continues to the "horizon" cross-hair dial. It looks like Glycine has brought everything from the Airman 50s with some incredible aviation touches included. As of now, the blue dial features a tilt gradient, from dark blue to lighter colors, creating views of our mesosphere, and of our current view of the plane as it is in the air.

Further, it features the original 24 hours on an outer track flanking a faded white lume plot. With the dual 24 hour mark of its bezel and dial, it allows one to track up to three different time zones. The hour marker and bold syringe-style handset is filled with just the right amount of C1 SuperLuminova for incredible light in the dark.

Formerly powered by the vintage Felsa Bidyanator automatic move, Airman got its upgrade by having the Glycine GL293 move which is basically an ETA2893-2 / SW330, operating at 28,800 bph (4 Hertz) with hacking and hand winding capabilities. It has 25/26 gems with a 38 hour power reserve.

With this movement, the Airman follows a more recent style of reading time by driving the main hour hand approximately twice per day, with the sleek GMT hand performing 24-hour tasks.

The Airman comes in matching blue leather with full stitching and ends with a signed Glycine buckle.

Overall, the Airman 44 Horizon GMT Ref.GL0054 represents extremely high value considering the history and manufacture of the watch. The original Airman treatment on the bronze case provides a rugged look, while conforming to Airman No. 1 original, just a sense of nostalgia on many wrists. The unique glycine looks completely custom made and exudes its origin in the cockpits of many airlines of the day, making it an incredible and hard to beat offer. The flier conforms to the Glycine philosophy established by Mr.Eugène Meylan in 1953.

Feel the modern touch on your wrist. Get your own Airman 44 Horizon GMT Ref. GL0054 on Gnomon store now!

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