Looking to upgrade your style with a classic pilot watch? Today, we’re covering 8 outstanding aviator watch models for your consideration, ranging from high-dollar pieces of mechanical art to more practical timepieces for daily wear.
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The pilot watch has come a long way since the early days. Their initial use was to aid pilots, acting as an early form of in-flight computer. Back then, pocket watches were the order of the day. However, they were not enough for early aviators. Pilot watches offered pilots extra assistance to navigate the largely uncharted airspace. Now, watch enthusiasts worldwide clamor to build their own timeless pilot watch collections.
Whether you are a new collector or long-time watch enthusiast, this post will guide you through some of the best pilot watches on the market today. We bring you a range of selections from top-tier heirloom pieces to more affordable daily drivers, each with solid mechanical movements and classic stylings.
ALSO READ: Best EDC Watches
Short on time before your next flight? Here’s a quick overview of the best pilot watches we review below:
Things to Consider Before Buying a Pilot Watch
If you are thinking about investing in a pilot watch or starting a collection, here are a few considerations to consider, as even today, an authentic pilot watch differs from your everyday wristwatch.
- They have a large screen and numerals for easier visibility. Unfortunately, early pilots only had time for a quick glance.
- Pilot watches are simple in their design, allowing aviators to change time zones quickly.
- They may feature a tachymeter – a scale that helps the pilot calculate time traveled, speed or distance.
- Most pilot watches are water-resistant… just in case.
8 of the Best Pilot Watches Models
So, without further pomp of necessary fluff or waffle, let’s take a look at the best pilot watch options to ensure the next time you need the time, you can check it in style.
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Swiss manufacturer International Watch Company (IWC) has been in the game for far too long to disappoint. IWC has crafted watches since 1868, when the American engineer and watchmaker Florentine Ariosto set shop in Schaffhausen, Switzerland.
Of particular note are their civilian pilot watches, which date back to 1936. One of the latest and most desirable iterations is the ICW Pilot Mark XVIII, launched in 2019. It takes all the styling of the Mark XI, but strips it down to the most elegant essentials.
Beneath the 40mm stainless steel casing is a highly legible dial that eschews myriad complications in favor of simplicity.
Of special mention is the “Petit Prince” limited edition. It’s served with a calfskin strap and distinguished by the lovely dark blue color around the dial.
The stainless steel casing takes up an angular design towards the edges as they close down to the lugs, giving this extraordinary watch everyday wearability.
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The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Chronograph is a boldly styled timepiece that does nothing if not catch the eye.
It comes with a broad case measuring 45mm, matched by an oversized crown. While it’s fixed at the ordinary 3 o’clock position, it curves outwards in an onion shape and design, making it really stand out.
Moreover, the Zenith Pilot 20 opts for longer straight lugs that give it a combination of both rectangular and round shapes.
The handsome bronze case of this splendid watch houses the historically significant El Primero 4069 movement. Featuring a razor-sharp 1/10 second resolution, you’ll enjoy the same premium positional accuracy as found on high-end Rolexes.
With a power reserve of up to 50 hours, this automatic pilot watch is as much a reliable precision instrument as a work of art.
The Startimer Heritage pilot watch is among the newer innovations by the Swiss company Alpina, which has been in existence since 1883. This watch was introduced in late 2018, remaining a popular item since then.
The first attention-grabbing feature of this Alpina is its vintage curvy barrel case design. It measures 42mm from side to side, and about 45mm from lug-to-lug. Its GMT variety is available in a wide range of colors, making it a suitable fit for globetrotters.
The Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage features twin crowns: one at 4 o’clock which handles time setting and winding; and the other fixed at 2 o’clock, purposed to rotate the internal GMT bezel.
Alpina initially offered the Startimer Pilot with dark green, black and blue colors. However, this pilot watch is now also available in light blue, navy blue, rose gold, and dark grey dial choices. Whichever model you chose ships with a full-grain leather strap that wears comfortable and ages with grace.
The Astron nameplate first appeared on a Seiko watch on Christmas Day, 1969. It was, by all standards, revolutionary. It changed time-telling, promising that “someday, all watches will be made this way.” With the Seiko Astron GPS pilot watch, the company believes it has equally pioneered another timekeeping standard.
Under the Astron’s clear coating glass Zara case, this pilot watch continues the artistry of architectural creativity. The markers seem to be floating above a three-dimensional dial display. A handy multi-function indicator indicates the charge level, whether the timepiece is in airplane mode, and also determines whether daylight saving mode is activated.
When looking at the Astron’s dial in low light, it comes out as a thoroughly polished black surface. However, under sunlight, it will take up a bluish hue, which is amazingly beautiful. Measuring 47-mm in diameter and 16.5 mm from lug to lug, this 146g gem is an unmissable adornment about your wrist.
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The GMT-Master is an old name in Rolex’s legendary lineup, dating back to 1955. The GMT-Master II launched on the series’ 50th anniversary in 2005, bringing with it a ceramic bezel and increased durability vs scratches and fading.
Sadly, it was discontinued in 2019, sending prices of this prized timepiece skyrocketing on the secondary market. It’s a rare catch, but definitely a white whale worth pursuing.
The bi-color aluminum bezel on the Rolex GMT-Master is traditionally the hallmark of this timepiece. It’s an endowment that dates back to 1950 and is part of its distinguished heritage. The bi-color feature helps you keep tabs on two time zones at a go. In addition, for the easier establishment of the time, the 24-hour scale is divided into two halves: red for daylight and blue for nighttime. This iconic color scheme gave the GM-Master II its Pepsi GMT-Master II reference.
Atop the dial of the GMT-Master II are the visibly thicker hour and minute hands and large round markers. They make this pilot watch easy to read, clean and uncrowded. Manufacturers like Rolex knows what keeps the public attracted to their products and endeavor to keep getting better. As a result, the Rolex GMT-II is a luxurious, well-crafted masterpiece.
The Reactor Valkyrie Classic pilot watch is a big deal in more ways than one. Weighing in at a substantial 215g and sporting a massive 50mm face, it’s an ideal match for big hands and bold styles. What’s more, the extra real estate affords pristine clarity over its numerous complications. We also particularly like the plus sized date displayed at 12 o’clock.
The bezel of the Reactor Valkyrie Classic is quite a dominant feature here. It can turn in either direction while maintaining optimum mathematical accuracy. At the same time, contrasting textures make a good case for visibility and legibility.
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Hamilton is no stranger to aviation-focused watches. The company was a supplier of pilot watches to the Royal Air Force in the 1970s, lending watches like their Kakhi Pioneer an air of legitimacy.
The Kakhi Pioneer features an aluminum build for lightness, corrosion resistance, and durability. Moreover, it echoes the widespread use of aluminum in airframes with which pilots would be intimately familiar.
The dial is kept clean, in homage to the fact that a pilot would need a quick glance at several feet in the skies. Similarly, the material and design of this watch combine simplicity and sophistication in equal measure.
Its automatic mechanism boats a superior power reserve of up to 80 hours, maintaining accurate time even through extended periods of downtime.
Hamilton offers this watch in several color choices: green, navy blue, black, and sand. Additionally, the NATO strap on this watch gives it a classic look and ultimate comfort around your wrist.
Flying on a budget is something of a contradiction. However, the Citizen Avion makes a part of the classic aviation experience affordable to the masses.
Packed in a 45mm wide case that measures 52mm lug-to-lug, this watch suits bigger hands. In addition, the 12mm thickness gives it an unmistakable look and feel around your wrist.
The dial of Citizen Avion Eco-drive is crafted to look enticing while maintaining high functionality. Several colors have been nicely coordinated to denote each element on the dial without overrunning each other. The case makes a circular cave towards the dial, giving the top a round-bowl shape.
Citizen gave the Citizen Avion an eco-drive movement known as the J810, stated to provide a monthly accuracy of +/- 15 seconds. In addition, the battery can be charged from a light source, making it a highly dependable tool in any environment, characteristics that are very alluring to any pilot.
What to Look for in a Great Pilot Watch
Besides the elegance and the striking look of a pilot watch, the key elements you should look out for are cost, functionality, and dependability.
- Cost: Many brands price their pilot watches at a premium. This depends on the features and, of course, how the brand has built its name over the years. However, you don’t have to break the bank to get an excellent pilot watch; you can still get a good, inexpensive piece that will work well and look fancy.
- Functionality: Cut off the flashy fuzz about pilot watches and concentrate on functionality. First and foremost, it should be easy to read, interpret and adjust. Whether for use in the skies or everyday strapping, the pilot watch should be as simple as any other ordinary watch.
- Dependability: Dependability is about working the way you expect at any given time. Changing time zones, remaining accurate, and feeling comfortable around your wrist are just some of the few traits to look out for. Any pilot will tell you just how vital these elements are to their trade.
Looking for a little more flash and bang? Check out our top futuristic watch recommendations.
The Pilot Watch – A Brief History of Timepieces
When pictures of the highly-acclaimed and befittingly famous Brazilian pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont wearing a wristwatch hit the newspapers in the early 20th Century, the public marveled and couldn’t help but ask, “What is that strapped to his wrist?” It was a watch! It was the first of its kind, specially crafted for a man who had made such a dazzling, illustrious career in the aviation industry.
He deserved a good watch, a timeless tool that reminded him of his globe-trotting escapades around the world while keeping sight of the promises of a bright future. The very future he now found strapped around his wrist.
Santos-Dumont helped to popularize the wristwatch as we know it today and, most importantly, raised the standards from a practical pocket watch to a tool of prestige.
Best Pilot Watches: Conclusion
There you have it. Eight elegant examples of the pilot watch in all its glory.
As this list highlights, watches and budget are two things that can go hand in hand. If you have the money to spare, then there are some fantastic watches out there. Watches that do still act as a status symbol. However, there are also plenty of pilot watch options for those less affluent people who still want an elegant timepiece.
In creating this list, we hope that you have been able to find some inspiration for your next purchase.
What is your favorite pilot watch, whether top-tier or more affordable? Do you have an heirloom timepiece you want to show off? Leave us a comment below!