Pilot’s watches represent one of the most distinctive genres, ranging from the simple, functional B-Uhr Type A and Type B watches recalling those supplied to the Luftwaffe in the 1930s and ‘40s, to Breitling’s more recent watches with circular slide rule, Bell & Ross’s square watches based on cockpit instruments, and Oris’s Altimeter Rega, one of the very few timepieces to have a mechanical altimeter on the dial. Here is a selection of 15 iconic pilot’s watches in boutiques now, in order of price, highest to lowest.
1. Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, reference 5524
The Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time adds a second time zone to the classic pilot’s watch layout. The self-winding calibre 324 S C FUS enables the local hour hand to be moved forwards or back in one-hour increments using the two pushers, and this action has no effect on the going train. This ensures precision because whatever you do to the hour hand, the balance, driving the second and minute hands, continues running. When you don’t need a second time zone, you can simply adjust the hour hands so that the skeletonized home time hand is exactly below the local time hour hand. There are two day/night indicators in the form of circular windows, one for local time on the left, one for home time on the right. The subdial at 6 o’clock shows the date. The dial is in dark blue lacquer, with white gold applied numerals with luminescent paint. Price 42,000 Swiss francs. Visit the Patek Philippe website.
2. Breguet Type XXI 3817
Breguet’s Type XX was originally commissioned by the French Air Force in 1955, and it has been in production ever since. This flyback chronograph version has a beautiful dial with a vintage look, and an unusual layout. Chronograph seconds and chronograph minutes are shown by the two centre-sweep seconds hands, while the three subdials are for continuous seconds (9 o’clock), chronograph hours (6 o’clock) and a 24-hour display at 3 o’clock. The watch has a sapphire caseback revealing the movement, in a case with a commendable 10 bar/100 metre water resistance. The bi-directional rotating bezel enables extra measurements of elapsed times, or countdowns. Price €13,700. Visit the Breguet website.
3. Breitling Navitimer
One of the most famous aviation watches, the Navitimer has been in production since 1952. This version, Navitimer 01, is 43 mm in diameter. Its principal visual feature is the circular slide rule that enables calculations regarding fuel consumption, drift angle, distance conversions and so forth. This version of the watch is powered by the Calibre 01 chronograph movement, designed and built by Breitling. It has a column wheel and vertical clutch, with a power reserve of 70 hours. Price €7,150. Visit the Breitling website.
4. Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special
The Pilot Type 20 Extra Special watch is based on a piece that Zenith made in 1909 for pioneering aviator Louis Blériot, and his aeroplane appears in the engraving on the solid caseback. It has a fantastic vintage look, though the technology has been updated, with a bronze case 47 mm in diameter, a titanium caseback, and a rubber-lined leather strap. The contemporary version has a centre-pivoted seconds hand instead of the subdial at 6 o’clock in the 1909 original. A plate with the serial number is attached to the caseband. The self-winding Zenith Elite calibre 679 movement provides a 50-hour power reserve. Price €6,900. Visit the Zenith website.
5. Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King
Rolex presented its Air-King in 2016, though the name dates back to World War II years. The new version has some classic pilot’s watch features such as the black dial, bold numerals and white reference triangle in the 12 o’clock position, but Rolex have introduced some unusual features such as the combination of hour and minute numerals, and the touches of colour provided by the green second hand and the green and yellow logo. Inside, the Calibre 3131 movement is COSC chronometer-certified and then tested further by Rolex, providing a precision of -2/+2 seconds per day. Waterproof to 100 metres with screw-in caseback and screw-down crown. Price €5,800. Visit the Rolex website.
6. Longines Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch 90th Anniversary
On 20 May 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field near New York, and flew for over 33 hours across the Atlantic, landing at La Bourget airport near Paris. Longines officially timed the flight, the first solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. A few weeks after his achievement, Lindbergh sketched a design for a watch that a pilot could use to determine longitude during long distance flights, and Longines created it, the Hour Angle watch. In 2017, 90th anniversary of the trans-Atlantic flight, Longines have produced an exact replica of that watch, the same size as the original, 47.5 mm in diameter. The complex dial indications enable the pilot to compensate for the equation of time, while the seconds hand can be synchronized to an external reference, not by the usual stop-second function, but by rotating the inner part of the dial. It’s a beautiful, authentic piece, with an automatic movement. Limited edition of 90 pieces, price €5,130. Visit the Longines website.
7. IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII
IWC Schaffhausen made pilot’s watches in the 1940s, and the Mark XVIII is the brand’s contemporary pilot’s watch closest to those historical precedents, with black dial, white numerals and generous SuperLuminova. Unlike the original, the new watches presented in 2016 have a date window. The IWC calibre 30110 movement is based on the self-winding ETA 2892-A2. The version shown is reference IW327001, something of an entry-level IWC at price €4,600. Visit the IWC website.
8. Oris Altimeter Rega Limited Edition
Around a classic pilot’s watch dial, the Oris Altimeter Rega has a mechanical altimeter based on an aneroid barometer. It is controlled by the crown at 4 o’clock, used to adjust the altimetric scale to a known reference height. There are scales for pressure and altitude: the crown simply rotates the two scales so that you can calibrate them. The watch is a limited edition dedicated to Swiss rescue service Rega. Large at 47 mm in diameter. Price €3,950.
9. Bell & Ross BR 01-92 Heritage
Bell & Ross’s iconic pilot’s watches are based on cockpit instruments, with their square case and a screw at each corner. The dial layout recalls an altimeter, and in this piece, the beige SuperLuminova matches the natural leather strap. This version is 46 mm across; smaller versions are available. Price €3,800. Visit the Bell & Ross website.
10. Montblanc 1858 Automatic
The Montblanc 1858 Automatic looks like a vintage pilot’s watch, with its aged leather strap with exposed stitching, beige SuperLuminova and cathedral-type hands. The case is in steel with a bronze bezel and crown. It is based on a military chronograph by Minerva, a brand acquired by Richemont Group in 2007 and assigned to Montblanc. Watches in the 1858 collection have a vintage version of the brand logo. It’s an attractive piece at an interesting price, €3,490. Visit the Montblanc website.
11. Bremont Solo 43
British brand Bremont has specialized in pilot’s watches from the start of its history, and founders Nick and Giles English have been involved with aircraft all their lives. The Solo 43 is in scratch-resistant steel with attractive curving lugs and a leather strap. The sapphire caseback reveals the Swiss-made ETA 2836-2 movement, chronometer-certified as for all Bremont watches. It is self-winding, with a power reserve of 38 hours. The watch costs £2,895, or about €3,175. Visit the Bremont website.
12. Laco Replica 861929
Laco’s Replica 861929 looks very much the same as the brand’s World War II Model-A observation watch, with the black, unbranded dial, and the triangular reference mark at 12 o’clock. Like the original, it is very large at 55 mm diameter, with a long riveted brown calf strap. The hand-wound movement is based on the ETA 6497.1. Price €2,998. Visit the Laco website.
13. Alpina Startimer Pilot Automatic Chronograph
The Startimer Pilot Automatic Chronograph is available in three versions: the piece shown here is of the black pilot’s watch type, the other two have dark green and navy blue dials. It is 44 mm in diameter, with a 10 bar/100 metre water resistance. The chronograph layout is unusual, with a centre-sweep chronograph seconds hand, a subdial for chronograph minutes at 12 o’clock, and a subdial for chronograph hours at 6 o’clock. No continuous seconds. As a result, the dial is spacious and uncluttered. The movement is the classic Valjoux 7750, with some modifications. Price €2,150. Visit the Alpina website.
14. Sinn 857 UTC VFR
The Sinn 857 UTC VFR is certified according to the recently-created German standard DIN 8330. The dial markings and the bi-directional rotating bezel enable events to be timed to the nearest minute. The short orange hand provides a reading of a second time zone. The watch is tough, in specially-treated anti-scratch stainless steel, and it has a 20 atm, 200-metre water resistance. Sinn makes practical mechanical watches, with no unnecessary decoration. It has a solid caseback. Price €1,990 with leather strap. Visit the Sinn website.
15. Stowa Flieger Klassik 40 Automatic Baumuster B Limited
Stowa is a historic German brand that has been making pilot’s watches since 1937. For their 90th anniversary, they have created some pieces very similar to 1940s, models, such as this very authentic Type B pilot’s watch. The original was massive at 55 mm, designed to be worn over a flying jacket sleeve. This 2017 version is more conventional at 40 mm, on a brown leather strap with the classic rivet fixing. The dial is based on a Luftwaffe specification, with separate scales for hours and minutes. The period look is enhanced by the “old radium” SuperLuminova. The date window at 6 o’clock is a subtle addition, a compromise with contemporary requirements. The watch is powered by the ETA 2824-2 self-winding calibre. €1,120. Visit the Stowa website.
16. Hamilton Khaki Air Race
The Hamilton Khaki Air Race celebrates the brand’s sponsorship of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, starting in 2017. The numerals are hollowed and filled with SuperLuminova. Inside, the self-winding Powermatic 80 movement made by ETA provides 80 hours power reserve. The 42 mm version of the Khaki Air Race costs €695 with leather strap. Visit the Hamilton website.
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