Editors Pick Guides Watches

The Best Pilot’s Watches for Embracing Your Inner Pioneer

Laco Chronograph Kiel.2 Schwarz

Since the early days of aviation when Brazilian pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont first strapped a Cartier to the outside of his flight jacket, watches have been synonymous with aviation. In WWII the formula was refined to an archetype, with oversized numerals and a stripped-back, practical look with legibility first and foremost. Over a century on, the basic concept remains the same: a watch that can be read quickly, at a glance in the cockpit.

That’s not to say that the formula’s not been mixed up here and there. From chronographs to GMT hands and slide rule bezels, the humble utilitarian timepiece has added more strings to its bow than an overcompensating harpist. Versatile barely comes into it. And at both ends of the price spectrum there are some serious contenders for your next co-pilot, whether you actually have your pilot’s license or not. Here are the best of them.

Under £1,000

Zeppelin Eurofighter Typhoon

Zeppelin Eurofighter Typhoon

Lumed indexes are a necessity for low light reading on a night flight, but the Eurofighter Typhoon takes things a step further: the entire dial is luminescent. Given the 43mm size, that’s a lot of glow, all in a watch that lives up to its name with an overtly technical look, complete with a representation of its namesake fighter jet on the nine o’clock subdial. Fitted to a classic riveted leather strap and aviation touches like a red chronograph pusher, textured crown and a take-off timer on the minute track, there’s a lot to take in and more to love.

Case/dial: 43mm stainless steel case, beige night-glow dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: ETA Valjoux calibre 7750, automatic with 48-hour power reserve
Strap: Deep navy-blue recycled NATO fabric
Price: £369

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Kienzle Pilot Timer KM 418

Kienzle Pilot Timer KM 418

A flieger in the best aviation tradition, Kienzle’s Pilot Timer has the signature fluted bezel and generous 44mm proportions we’ve come to expect from German pilots’ watches, with a slight Italian twist. What sets theirs apart however is the amount of information on the dial, despite not being a chronograph. A tachymeter around the inner bezel, a large, central power reserve indicator and a date semi-disguised as a subdial at six o’clock, it still manages to remain clean, legible and practical. At this price, it’s genuinely hard to knock. Or at any price, really.

Case/dial: 44mm stainless steel case, matte black dial with luminescent markers
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Seiko calibre NE57, automatic with 42-hour power reserve
Strap: Stainless steel bracelet
Price: €488 (approx. £430)

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Bangalore Watch Company Mach 1 Officer’s Blue

Bangalore Watch Company Mach 1 Officer’s Blue

In keeping with their cricket-inspired Cover Drive and space programme-inspired Apogee, the deeply patriotic Bangalore Watch Company’s pilots’ range, the Mach 1 is all about India – in this case, the Air Force. The Mach 1 has all the tool watch practicality you’d expect from a military timepiece, but here with a bright blue dial echoing the colour of an Indian Air Force officer’s uniform. It’s a fun, funky twist on the formula, with the kind of colour you just don’t expect to see on a pilot’s watch. Paired with a few off-kilter details like the uniquely shaped crown and the Indian flag on the dial, there’s a lot to love here even if you’re not from the country yourself. That’s doubly true when it comes to value.

Case/dial: 40mm stainless steel case, blue dial with black numerals
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre SW200-1, automatic with 38-hour power reserve
Strap: Leather with quick-release pin
Price: £725.28

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Farer Pilot Cayley Verde

Farer Pilot Cayley Verde

The match-up we never knew we needed, Farer’s take on the classic pilots’ watch is charming as all hell. Equipped with a big crown for ease of use in the cockpit, it’s actually a lot more diminutive than it looks with a 39.5mm diameter, making it one of the few watches of its silhouette that we can all wear, even in magnetic fields thanks to its in-built faraday cage. Then there’s the dial. A stunning California number in shimmering green with blue lumed numerals (both the Roman on the top half and the Arabic on the bottom half) with yellow hour and minute hands, it has flawless spring vibes. It’s relatively pared-back for the British brand colour-wise, but when legibility is this key, that’s just what you want.

Case/dial: 39.5mm stainless steel case, deep green dial
Water resistance: 50m (5 bar)
Movement: Calibre SW200-1, automatic movement with 38-hour power reserve
Strap: Granolo leather
Price: £780

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Over £1,000

Junghans Meister Pilot Automatic Blue

Junghans Meister Pilot Automatic Blue

There are no worries about readability here. Deviating from their usual Max Bill inspired Bauhaus style, Junghans take on the pilot is based on control panel instruments of what apparently is a very retro cockpit. The blue lacquered dial is interrupted by the small seconds at six o’clock and wide date window at 12. Finished with a faceted bezel designed to be operable in gloves and a cool blue leather strap with white and red stitching to match the highlights of the dial, it has all the ingredients of a classic pilots’ watch done in a distinctively unclassical way. It’s not a bad price for it, either.

Case/dial: 43.3mm deep-black DLC-coated stainless steel case, navy-blue effect lacquer dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre J880.1.6, automatic movement with 38-hour power reserve
Strap: Leather with riveting DLC-coated buckle
Price: €1,990 (approx. £1,715)

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Hanhart 417 ES Flyback Reverse Panda 42

Hanhart 417 ES Flyback Reverse Panda 42 

There’s a reason we included Hanhart in our Best German Watchmakers You Need to Know article. And that’s because they’re one of the best the of country’s hallowed horological industry. You should know them, if not for their vintage Fliegers then for their modern revival watches like the 417 ES. The Hanhart 417 ES Flyback in Reverse Panda style adds an incredible popular colourway to the chronograph model. Inside, it houses the Sellita AMT5100 M manual calibre with 58-hour power reserve.

Case/dial: 42mm stainless steel case, reverse panda black dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre 584Q/A, automatic movement with 48-hour power reserve
Strap: Black leather with white stitching and leather underlay
Price: £1,900

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Laco Chronograph Kiel.2

Laco Chronograph Kiel.2

As a watchmaker, Laco are inseparable from traditional flieger timepieces. It’s German aviation military style in the finest sense and the Kiel is one of their absolute classics. In fact, it’s such a classic that it’s now seen a bit of a revamp in the Kiel.2, a robust, readable and eminently practical pilots’ watch. Available in two variations – white and black – both offer superb contrast, though for the more authentic look the black is impeccable. Equipped with chronographs for cockpit timing all set in a generous 43mm stainless steel case, they’re workhorse watches built for action. As is the movement in fact, the Laco 500, a riff on a reliable Sellita number. It’s a good chunk of watch for under 2K.

Case/dial: 43mm stainless steel case, matte black dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Laco 500 (Sellita SW 500), automatic movement with 52-hour power reserve
Strap: Black calfskin leather
Price: €2,190 (approx. £1,930)

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Zeppelin Eurofighter Typhoon

Airain Type 20 Furtivité Limited Edition

The name Furtivité, as you may be able to gather from its similarity to the English word “furtive”, is French for stealth. And stealth is the entire theme of the Airain Type 20 Furtivité Limited Edition, presenting a darker, stealthier interpretation of the established Type 20 re-interpretation. What that means in practical terms is that the steel case has been treated with an anthracite coloured DLC coating to match the new anthracite dial and dark beige accents. The case itself is 39.5mm in diameter and houses the AM2 automatic chronograph movement from AMT, the high spec division of Sellita.

Case/dial: 39.5mm stainless steel case, grey dial with beige coloured Super-LumiNova
Water resistance: 50m (5 bar)
Movement: Calibre AM2, manual movement with 63-hour power reserve
Strap: Suede grey leather
Price: €2,900 (approx. £2,500)

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Ball Watches Roadmaster Pilot GMT

Ball Watches Roadmaster Pilot GMT

In typical Ball style, the Roadmaster Pilot’s a chunky old piece of instrument. It’s only 40mm across, but has the type of shape and dimensions you’d expect to survive better than a black box, complete with 5,000g shock resistance and anti-magnetism to match. This time though, the new version is a true GMT, meaning you can quick-set the 12-hour local time without touching the second time zone, so you can keep your home time the same while hopping across the world. Who better than a pilot to need something like that?

Case/dial: 40mm titanium case, blue dial with blue and red bezel
Water resistance: 300m (30 bar)
Movement: Ball Watch calibre RR1204-C, automatic movement with 38-hour power reserve
Strap: Deep navy-blue recycled NATO fabric
Price: £2,658, limited to 1,000 pieces

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Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage

Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage

One of the few archivally flavoured pieces in this article more inspired by a movement than a specific model, the Startimer is named for the vintage ‘bumper’ movement, a calibre that dropped the usual 360-degree rotor in favour of a quickly- oscillating version penned in by bumpers. While the actual movement in this piece is more ‘inspired by’ than a re-issue, it’s still a great calibre story, all the better when wrapped up in a handsome, streamlined pilots’ watch like this. Sure, the crown placement’s less than ideal for operation in gloves, but everything else is pretty much perfect in an elegant, vintage way – and the movement visible through the caseback is downright gorgeous.

Case/dial: 42mm stainless steel case, navy blue dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre AL-709, automatic movement with 38-hour power reserve
Strap: Brown calfskin leather with off-white stitching
Price: £2,695, limited to 188 pieces

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Brellum Pilot LE.2 GMT Chronometer

Brellum Pilot GMT LE.1 Chronometer

The second limited edition take on Brellum’s jet-setting pilots’ watch, the Brellum Pilot GMT LE.2 Chronometer, takes the exact sample blueprint as the original – a tricompax chronograph register and peripheral 24-hour counter – but swaps the dial from white to blue. It turns a classical aviation piece into something more modern and, better yet, offers a second opportunity to get your hands on a very well built and very limited timepiece. Backed by a COSC-certified movement (a modified Valjoux at that), it’s a serious bit of cockpit flavoured horology.

Case/dial: 41.8mm stainless steel case, blue opalin dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Brellum BR-754 automatic movement with 46-hour power reserve
Strap: Blue nubuck leather with stainless steel deployment buckle and additional stainless steel bracelet
Price: £3,090, limited to 23 pieces

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Zero West DB-1 Blackout Lancaster

Zero West DB-1 Blackout Lancaster

An homage to the Lancaster bombers that flew the legendary Operation Chastise – the Dambusters -the DB-1 takes cues from the aircrafts’ instrument panel, particularly the altimeter, across the dial, set in a distinctively machined case with the British brand’s signature screwed lugs. This being Zero West, the DB-1 does more than take inspiration from the aircraft; the caseback is set with material from one of the bombers that flew the raid, namely Lancaster ED825. Fit on a custom rubber strap, it’s a piece of history nestled in a distinctly modern package.

Case/dial: 44mm black PVD stainless steel case, black enamel dial with vintage overprinted numerals
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Sellita calibre SW200-1, automatic movement with 41-hour power reserve
Strap: Black rubber with brushed polished silver stainless steel buckle with engraved ZW logo
Price: £3,600, limited to 100 pieces

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Bell and Ross BR 03-93 GMT Blue

Bell & Ross BR 03-93 GMT Blue

There’s no more obvious allusion to the cockpit than a Bell & Ross watch. Others draw inspiration from instrument panels; the watchmaker’s square design looks like it would slot right in. Here that signature industrial silhouette has been given a jet-set overhaul with a handsome GMT bezel in blue and grey (for day and night respectively), matched with a lovely blue dial. It’s not a subtle watch – thanks to its square shape it covers a good chunk of the wrist – but it’s one of the most individual aviation pieces out there, even if it is a bit love-it-or- hate-it. We love it, by the way.

Case/dial: 42mm satin-finished and polished stainless steel case, blue sunray dial with bi-directional rotating blue and grey bezel with 24-hour scale
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre BR-CAL.303. automatic movement with 40-hour power reserve
Strap: Blue calfskin leather with additional ultra-resilient black synthetic fabric strap
Price: £3,800

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Longines Spirit Flyback

Longines Spirit Flyback

After the GMT addition to Longines’ incredibly successful, vintage-flavoured (but distinctly non-archival) Spirit collection, it was only a matter of time before the winged hourglass expanded to a chronograph. It’s the next logical step. What we weren’t expecting was a flyback however, a cut above your usual stopwatch complication. Not only is it as elegantly handsome as the rest of the collection, with a smart black dial and bezel combination with gold-edged indexes, but it’s one of the most affordable flybacks around. It also has an impressive 68-hour power reserve. Seriously, with a fair few recent Longines edging up in prices, this brings the brand back to a serious value proposition.

Case/dial: 42mm stainless steel case, sunray black dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre L791, automatic movement with 68-hour power reserve
Strap: Brown leather
Price: £4,100

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Oris ProPilot Altimeter

Oris ProPilot Altimeter

One of the few aviation-specific complications, Altimeters are few and far between, in good part because they’re bloody hard to make. Oris are one of the few watchmakers to bother and their latest is their best yet. It uses air pressure to indicate altitudes of up to 6,000m, a third higher than the previous 2014 model. At 47mm, it’s massive, but that’s necessary to get all the information on the dial without feeling crowded. Throw in the blacked-out, PVD look and you have an imposingly technical timepiece that’s deceptively light thanks to its combination of carbon fibre case and titanium crowns, bezel and caseback. It’s a lot of watch.

Case/dial: 47mm carbon fibre case, black dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre 793, automatic movement with 56-hour power reserve
Strap: Black textile fabric
Price: £5,250

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Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph Boeing 747

Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Boeing 747

One of the most iconic pilots’ watches ever made meets one of the most iconic planes ever made in this handsome tribute. Like the modern Navitimers it has a notched rather than beaded bezel, but don’t hold that against it. The retro palette of red and off-white, lifted directly from the early aircraft, is a fun twist on the layout and highlights that signature slide rule bezel. The black chronograph subdials are perfectly readable against the cream backdrop and the entire ensemble makes for a slight but welcome version of 2022’s Naitimer redesign. The limited edition number? 747 of course.

Case/dial: 43mm stainless steel case, cream dial with black subdials and red inner slide-rule scale
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Breitling calibre B04, in-house automatic movement with 70-hour power reserve
Strap: Black calfskin leather or stainless steel bracelet
Price: £7,550 (leather strap) or £7,800 (steel bracelet)

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Breitling Super AVI B04 Chronograph GMT 46 Mosquito Night Fighter

Breitling Super AVI B04 Chronograph GMT 46 Mosquito Night Fighter

There are big watches and then there are BIG watches and with its 46mm case the Breitling Super AVI B04 Chronograph GMT 46 Mosquito Night Fighter is BIG. Thankfully it’s made from black ceramic, meaning it’s incredibly lightweight and durable, which makes it surprisingly wearable. Aesthetically, the AVI is Breitling’s mil-spec collection inspired by the iconic fighter planes of eras past, such as the Mosquito Night Fighter that this Super AVI is named after.

Case/dial: 46mm black ceramic case with titanium pushers, crown, caseback and buckle, black dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Breitling calibre B04, automatic movement with 70-hour power reserve
Strap: Black calfskin leather with titanium folding clasp buckle
Price: £9,950

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Over £10,000

Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback

Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback

After years of aeronautical silence, Zenith is back in the air with its new (currently small) pilots’ collection. With only four watches at the moment there’s not much to choose from, but don’t let that take away from the highlight that is the Big Date Flyback in plain steel. The ridged black dial is highlighted with an unmissable red chronograph hand front and centre, and a multi-coloured 30-minute chronograph counter at nine o’clock. The titular Big Date sits at six o’clock, working with the bi-compax layout for a symmetrical layout that tickles that OCD itch. Throw in the oversized crown and you have a welcome return to cockpit form. It’s no Type 20, but it’s the next best thing.

Case/dial: 42mm stainless steel case, black dial with horizontal grooves
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre 584Q/A, automatic movement with 48-hour power reserve
Strap: Interchangeable black cordura-effect rubber with additional brown calfskin leather strap
Price: £10,100

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IWC Pilots’ Watch Chronograph 41 Top Gun Oceana

IWC Pilots’ Watch Chronograph 41 Top Gun Oceana

2023 is the year of the Ingenieur SL for IWC, but it’s impossible not to link them with their pilots’ watches, no matter how much they talk about Genta. Part of that is the legacy of the Mark series of mil-spec pieces, revamped last year with the Mark XX, but a bigger part is the modern Top Gun. And there’s good reason. The association with the legendary flight school is always appealing, but here the sporty flight chronograph has been given a colourful overhaul with the Oceana, in full blue ceramic. It’s less stealthy but a whole lot better looking, especially on the hybrid strap.

Case/dial: 41.9mm blue stainless steel case, blue dial
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre 69380, automatic movement with 46-hour power reserve
Strap: Blue rubber with textile inlay
Price: £10,500

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Breguet Type XXI Flyback

Breguet Type XXI Flyback

One of the most legendary pilots’ watches ever built. The Type XXI may seem a step away from the type of watchmaking Breguet’s usually preoccupied with – classical, guilloche-covered beauties – but here that same haute horology swagger has been leveraged into a heritage aviation design that more than holds up today. In its latest incarnation, the military-slanted Type XXI is equipped with a flyback chronograph, made all the more readable by eye-catching green lumed numerals. It’s also available in an orange version, but honestly, it’s all about the green.

Case/dial: 42mm titanium case, black dial with green luminescent hands, numerals and hour-markers
Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Movement: Calibre 584Q/A, automatic movement with 48-hour power reserve
Strap: Leather
Price: £14,300, limited to 250 pieces

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Cartier Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-Rotor

Cartier Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-Rotor

The Cartier Santos has a unique position in the pilot’s watch game. It was the first watch in history to be purpose built for the purposes of aviation, built by Cartier for the legendary pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont. It has an unrivalled heritage as a pilot’s watch and has remained true to its original design in multiple styles despite the dominant pilot’s watch aesthetic becoming more militaristic. The Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-rotor epitomises this with an elegant skeleton display featuring a rotor engraved to look like Mr Santos-Dumont’s plane.

Case/dial: 43.5mm x 31.4mm 18k yellow gold case, skeletonised dial with blue lacquered bridges
Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)
Movement: Cartier calibre 9629 MC, automatic movement with 44-hour power reserve
Strap: Blue alligator leather
Price: TBC, limited edition of 150 individually numbered pieces

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2 Comments

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    • Stowa make some of the best German made watches so don’t know why you have left them out because I would love one but cannot afford one

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About the author

Sam Kessler

Legend has it that Sam’s first word was ‘escapement’ and, while he might have started that legend himself, he’s been in the watch world long enough that it makes little difference. As the editor of Oracle Time, he’s our leading man for all things horological – even if he does love yellow dials to a worrying degree. Owns a Pogue; doesn’t own an Oyster Perpetual. Yet.