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The letter that started it all

In 1953 summer, Samuel Glur, Sales manager for Glycine was on a business trip covering Southeast Asia and Indian continent. He arrived from Bangkok to Calcutta and wrote a letter on 14th of July 1953 to Charles Hertig, the owner of Glycine Watch Company. His 5 pages letter is a sales/activity report and feedback from clients. What is important for us is in the 3rd page of the letter as pictured above. It contains feedback from Captain Ched Brown who flies a DC4 at Thai Airways, whose suggestion led to the birth of Glycine Airman. 

Glur writes that the Chinese clients in Thailand want 1,500 ETA 7,3/4 size movements and that if ETA won't or can't supply, that they should find good movements after the holidays.  

Then he proceeds to write that during the flight from Bangkok to Calcutta in a DC4 type aircraft of Thai Airways he was able to travel in the cockpit. He was seated at the first officer's place next to Captain Ched Brown and was able to talk with him about watches ( Ched Brown's name is also mentioned in early Glycine Airman manual's service coupon where the Airman is illustrated in a birch-wood box, Brown's name of sender and his title is written on the box). Captain Brown tells him that there is no watch that meets the need of pilots and shares some specifications what he believes pilots from all countries would love. Samuel Glur takes note of captain's feedback:


  • Waterproof & Automatic & Calendar
  • 24 hours dial
  • Hour hand revolves 360 degrees once in 24 hours
  • Minute hand revolves 360 degrees once in 60 minutes
  • Seconds hand revolves 360 degrees once in 60 seconds
  • An external rotatable bezel that is divided in 24 hour units 


Captain Brown says that since more and more pilots are flying on GMT time that this watch would enable flying personnel to track both local time and GMT. Glur adds a note at the side of the letter that Felsa 694 with 21 jewels may be a correct movement to work on.


Client feedback was taken serious back then, he returns to Bienne and the two, Charles and Samuel start working on the design and prototypes Ched Brown suggested. They decide on the name 'Airman' since the idea came from an airman and this will be the ultimate tool watch for pilots around the world. 

They obtain their dials, case and movements, modify and assemble the first Glycine Airman to test. In the meantime they keep Ched Brown updated of their progress since he and his colleagues will be the first clients. After initial successful testing they apply for the famous Airman patent CH 314050 on 2nd Dec 1953. The patent marking CH 314050 will remain on the case-back of thousands of Glycine Airman watches manufactured since then. Glycine ships the first batch of Airman watches before Christmas 1953. The manufacture parties are varying from 25 to 1,000 pieces due to export destination. Some military units want their own insignia on dial, so do retailers. Glycine meets all their demands and gives them the joy of being part of this invention.

That's the story of this legend's birth.


Glycine Airman

  • Waterproof
  • Calendar
  • Automatic
  • 24h dial
  • 24h bezel

March 1955

Add-on Airman

Add-on Airman

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Stopping the seconds hand at any needed time to synchronize time was and is important especially in coordinated military exercise. Every second is important to start, to stop, to drop, to attack...Many companies already had patented ways to hack the seconds. When something was patented it was exclusive for the patent owners to use it. Glycine found this very unusual way of stopping seconds with a pin popping up onto the dial when crown was pulled-off. This spec has been used only by Glycine Airman and Glycine Combat watches, no other company has it, making it another unique touch-point.

Add-on Airman

Add-on Airman

Add-on Airman

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In March 1955 the patent for seconds hacking has been implemented on Glycine Airman watches and improved on Dec. 1955 with another patent.

The hacking seconds wasn't the only change: the Airman got a modification on the hands, extending a tail-end on the minute hand and a date window magnifier. New features were shared in the manuals of the watches.

Airman, becoming a real tool watch

Airman, becoming a real tool watch

Airman, becoming a real tool watch

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This model was the outcome with added features in mid-1955. It came in beige and black dial. Bezel numbers configuration was also varying and could be tailor made while ordering. You could have 2*12 hours, even and uneven numbers....These models surface very seldom in the market, but are still around. Glycine, during their manufacture from 1953 to 1972 of mechanical Airman watches have always used this seconds hacking mechanism. The only model which doesn't have this spec is the Airman with A.Schild 2163 movement which was manufactured in '70s, the movement itself had a seconds hack mechanism.   

The hacking mechanism

Airman, becoming a real tool watch

Airman, becoming a real tool watch

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If you intend to buy a vintage Glycine Airman make sure the hacking mechanism is working. The hacking pin pops onto the dial at 24 o'clock position between the digits 2 and 4 when the main crown is pulled-off. You will need to wait until the seconds hand reaches 24 o'clock position to stop at 'still marche'. At this position the watch still ticks, balance is active but seconds hand doesn't move. Once the crown is pushed back in, the pin is lowered and the seconds hand is moving again. That's how the airman synchronized their watches with the signal from the air-base. The pin is attached to a lever which is in the watch-case and operates through the main crown. A simple but efficient solution. Having something unique in your watch is wonderful but it has some down sides. Many watchmakers are not aware of this specification and therefore can't make a sense of it and damage it. Many Airman watches have damaged hack mechanisms, some have been even removed by incompetent service centers. Today we are able to re-store this mechanism. For more details and service needs check James' website: https://www.nevadawatchrepair.com/glycine-airman-service.html

Glycine Airman for Military Units

Laos French Helicopter Pilots Unit

Laos French Helicopter Pilots Unit

Laos French Helicopter Pilots Unit

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Now this is a very scarce dial mark combined with an earlier hands configuration for vintage Glycine Airman watch. I have the information that the 'million elephants' with wings is a French helicopter unit insignia which operated in Laos, Indo-China.

U.S. Navy

Laos French Helicopter Pilots Unit

Laos French Helicopter Pilots Unit

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 Glycine Airman was given also to trainees who successfully completed their training at US Navy. The "ACC" is the Navy abbreviation for Air Traffic Controller Chief Petty Officer. 

AOPA

Laos French Helicopter Pilots Unit

AOPA

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The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association ordered some batches of Glycine Airman to be availed to their members. 

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In 1957 the tail-end has been switched to the hour hand. The tail-end is enabling the wearer to read the time in 12h format when it's PM. Until 1961 all Airman watches have triangle hour markers at 12 and 24 o'clock. Airman with 23 Jewels is retailed for USD 96,80 for AOPA members, USD 121 for non-members. (White Airman pic from Andre Stikkers Airman book ) 

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This period Glycine Airman watch crowns are plain without any patterns. 'Special' models are manufactured in this period to export to the US in order to pay less taxes due to ' the more jewels, the more tax' regulation. The 23 jewels Felsa 692N has been reduced to 17 jewels in these models. Airman Special at this time is USD 79,20 for AOPA members and USD 88 for non-members. 

Glycine Airman, Airman Special and Airman SST Manual from 1957 to 1969

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There are several changes from 1964 and onward. With Glycine and Altus merging in 1963, opening a service center in the US in 1964, Charles Hertig Sr., the owner of Glycine passing away in 1965, Glycine evolved into the situation. With the experience of Vacuum and Compressor watches in the meantime, Glycine also applies the success of compressor cases to Airman models. The way of numbering on case-back is also changing. Glycine Airman is retailing at 99 USD in 1964 and at USD 100 in 1967 with stainless steel bracelet.

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Cases have been switched to EPSA compressor cases. Ervin Piquerez SA was a casing partner for Glycine. He had his hey days in the '60s and '70s with his compressor method which gave the aviation and dive watches durability.

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The cross hatched crowns came with EPSA cases which was a kind of signature of EPSA.

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The most important change came with the movement. Glycine Airman started casing A.Schild 1700/01 movement with EPSA compressor cases.

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The hacking mechanism is still there with AS 1701 movement, will remain there with AS 1903 and AS 2063 until AS 2163 starts in 1970. Some watches were sent in the '80s and '90s to be serviced and due to the older movements not being available dial and movements have been swapped to AS 2163. Therefore it is possible to encounter case-back numbers not matching the movement and dial ( Seconds hacking photo credit: WUS member Dan S ).

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 Glycine Airman gets the crown logo in 1967 while the movements are switched to AS 1903 and AS 2063. They are all cased in EPSA compressor cases.  

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The Glycine Airman SST was introduced in 1967. Supersonic Transportation  ( SST ) became a goal for all humanity. Glycine took an orange approach as the color of future. These watches were still EPSA cased and would have the hacking mechanism at 24 o'clock. SST cases are larger than classic Airman watches while the shape has taken an aerodynamic design. The movement utilized in SST is A.Schild 1902/03. Airman SST has a different black tone for AM and PM hours. When it was introduced, it retailed for USD 82 with leather strap and USD 89 with stainless steel bracelet. 

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Future with SST was fast and sophisticated as in the video most below. Glycine as a trendsetter in aviation timepieces has introduced these bold designed Glycine Airman SST chronographs in 1969. It was a limited run and only 100 watches were manufactured. This timepiece is powered by Valjoux 724 manual wind chronograph movement. If you have one hold onto it since it's very rare to surface. While the crown and pushers at the right side of the case operate the totalizers and hour recorder, the left crown operates the rotating internal bezel.

The Supersonic Transportation stimulated future life. That's how they imagined it in 1975 ( custody of Braniff & Popular Science ):

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Glycine manufactured its first Airman Quartz timepieces in on 11th Mar 1979. These were powered by ESA/FHF 960.111 movements. The manufacture was for 3,000 pieces. Interest was high and it was sold out pretty quick. But for some reason Glycine didn't want to make another manufacture party. This led Werner Siegrist to negotiate with Glycine to produce further Airman Quartz watches under his own brand ' Falcon'. 

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On 6th Oct 1989 Glycine manufactured another quartz Airman model, this time it was called Glycine Airman World Time. 1,000 pieces were manufactured with an inner rotating bezel and a non rotating bezel for standard time zones.It was powered by ETA 955.424 movement.

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Falcon watches came also in various size and configurations. They are mainly vintage Glycine Airman models but have also a limited run Combat line. Werner's agreement with Glycine to manufacture as a sister brand continued until 2000s. 

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Manufactured on 16th Dec 1997 Airman 2000 model was 42mm and signaling larger diameter Airman watches in new millennium. It was casing an ETA 2893 movement and had no second crown to lock the bezel.

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Glycine Airman has evolved to a point that it ended up where it started. After the year 2000 many tribute models came into the market with Classic Airman and SST models. Pictured here is an Airman SST 06, manufactured 600 pieces on 1 Aug 2005.

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Within the new-er herd of Airman watches most were tribute models and differentiated in size and movements. However some had its own specs like never before Airman Double D 24, Airman 7 with three movements in watch-case and three separate dials, Airman Airfighter with an innovative sliding button are some of them. Glycine manufactured in 2013 Airman AM/PM tribute model, than in 2016 came Airman 1 in its original size 36mm. After 2017 it looks like Combat has the focus and is being diversified.