The Hemel Air Wing is truly lovely. It’s beautifully styled, wonderfully built, and features a wonderfully simple and performant movement. And guess what? It only costs $499.
Superlatives aside, let’s take a closer look at this watch. Based on the Seagull ST19 manual wind bi-compax movement, the watch has pushers to control elapsed seconds and minutes. A running seconds hand is at 9 o’clock.
The ST19 is a bi-compax movement which means it has two registers. A traditional chronograph would have a tri-compax display with elapsed hours in another register.
Hemel has added an exposition back to the watch so you can see the movement do its thing. The whole thing is inside a 13.4 mm thick 40 mm case. There is a unidirectional bezel that allows you to measure elapsed hours if you drag the top pip to the current hour.
The watch is well-lumed and features lume on the bezel numbers and all the hands.
The whole package is very well designed. A “military” brand like Hemel offers watches that looked as if they would be at home on a destroyer in the mid-Atlantic during particularly rough seas. This watch has interesting “tropical” lume which looks brown or tan, a design addition that makes the piece look well-worn and loved. Further, the leather strap that comes with the Air Wing features easy-off pins for quick swaps and I’m sure this would look great on a NATO as well. You’ll want to keep in mind that the lugs are 20 mm so you’ll want to purchase your upgrade accordingly.
As for performance I had no complaints. Although I’d love this watch to have a “real” chronograph movement I love what the Hemel team has done with the ST19. They worked around the movement’s limitations and created a watch that looks like a harmonious whole. The watch is also available in tan and olive drab, if that’s your thing.
Finally, this thing is surprisingly inexpensive. At less thant $500 you’re getting a nicely-made chrono with great design and a nice movement. I was honestly pleasantly surprised when I tried on this watch and I’m very impressed with Hemel’s dedication to the military/aviator look without going the traditional big crown and bold numbers route.
My only complaint with the Air Wing is its size. At 40 mm it should be “big enough” but it simply isn’t. I believe it’s a trick of the styling – the face and bezel don’t stand out as separate parts and so it feels like the bezel is part of the face. Further, the movement is snug inside the case which means there isn’t much extra room to make the watch “feel” bigger. If you’re looking for a smaller, classic watch with a tropical flair and great movement, however, Hemel has you covered.
The watch is rated for 10 ATM but it doesn’t have a screw-down crown and the stock strap is leather so I’d keep this thing out of the pool. To that end, I’d also like to see this watch on a Hemel steel band or a canvas strap. That said, the available strap is fine and its very easy to swap out so there’s no complaint there.
The Bottom Line
Hemel makes a nice watch. While I’d prefer a slightly bigger piece, the Air Wing looks and feels great and feels more expensive than its $499 price tag. I’d love to see where the brand goes with these bi- and tri-compax movements but if you’re looking for a nice aviator chrono you could do a lot worse.
You can check the watch out here. Let us know your favorite design in comments.