Pilot watches are one of the favourite and most recognisable genres in the field of men’s watches. In this blog we list our top 5 aviation watches and some history behind the timepieces.
1. Cartier Santos
In 1901, in a conversation with his friend Louis Cartier, Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont described the problems that he was having with his pocket watch, difficult to consult when he was at the controls of his aircraft. Three years later, Cartier designed a small square timepiece especially for him, mounted on a leather strap. Santos-Dumont was often featured in European newspapers and so the newly-invented wristwatch received a lot of attention from the public. The Santos is still part of the Cartier collection, a landmark piece, though completely different from most other pilot’s watches, with its white dial and Roman numerals.
2. IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Heritage
The quintessential pilot’s watch was defined by the Luftwaffe in their specifications for observation watches, Beobachtungsuhr (often abbreviated to B-Uhr), comprising a centre seconds hand, black dial, radium-coated numerals and hands, anti-magnetic protection, and a long leather strap so that it could be worn over a flying suit. The dial was distinctive for the triangular marker at 12 o’clock. They were made by A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, IWC, Laco and Stowa, and the last three brands still make watches of this type. The IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Heritage IW327006 is very wearable at 40 mm in diameter, with an evocative dial design.
3. Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special
Zenith designed a wristwatch for aviator Louis Blériot in 1909, and this piece helped establish some typical characteristics of the pilot’s watch: a black dial, bold numerals, hands coated with luminescent paint for visibility in low light levels, and a large crown so that the watch could be adjusted and wound even while wearing gauntlets. It was also large, for visibility, with a long leather strap, so it could be worn over a flying suit. The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special is still made today, in many different versions.
4. Breitling Navitimer 1 Chronograph 41
The Breitling Navitimer was introduced in 1956, after previous models that incorporated what has become the Navitimer’s distinctive feature: a circular slide rule. In those days, before electronics changed everything, pilots and navigators had to perform calculations with manual tools, and this watch, with its chronograph and slide rule, enabled the calculation of fuel consumption, average speeds and so forth.
5. Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time
It’s hard to position the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time into this chronological sequence of pilot’s watches because though Patek Philippe made pilot’s watches in the 1930s, they were complex hour-angle models used for navigation. The Calatrava Pilot Travel Time is something totally different. It was presented in 2015, and it has some characteristics of the most traditional pilot’s watches, such as Art Deco numerals, dark-coloured dial, generous luminescent paint on hands and dial markings, but the watch has a new style of GMT function with the brand’s characteristic user-friendly operation. The hour hand shows the time in a second time zone, and the local-time hour hand can be moved backwards or forwards in one-hour increments using the two pushers on the left-hand side of the case, a procedure that does not stop the balance. Whatever you do to the hour hand, the seconds and minute hands continue their course uninterrupted and so timing accuracy is retained.