When considering affordable watches, pilot watches often aren’t the first timepieces that might come to mind. Pilot watches came to fame in the Jet Set Age. A golden era of air travel when a small but glamorous subset of the population enjoyed globetrotting in luxurious style. The first pilot watches were precise tools used by aviators for navigation, with price tags to match their much-needed precision.
But things have changed since the first glory days of accessible air travel. The prices of many pilot watches have dropped to put them within reach of the average consumer. Let’s look at some of the top affordable options.
Deals for Less Than $200
Orient goes for a classic look with its Flight, keeping the dial straightforward yet still sleek feeling with large Arabic numerals contrasting slim minute markers on the outer perimeter of the face. The contrast continues with a black-and-white color scheme for easy visibility, aided by luminescent hands and markers. Probably not the watch you want to wear to the office, the Flight is more suited to your dressed-down times.
Stührling Original Aviator
Developed by the German Air Force, Flieger style is instantly recognizable, with large steel cases, oversized crowns, sword-shaped hands, and a signature triangle at the 12-o’clock position. The Stührling Original Aviator stays true to that classic design. This traditional watch feels elegant enough for dressier times when fitted with a fine leather strap, yet it can also skew quite casual. That’s in part because at 41mm in diameter it’s smaller than many Flieger (which means “airman” in German) watches that go as high as 55mm in case diameters.
Quite the opposite of Stührling’s strict adherence to traditional pilot-watch design, Seiko heaps its dial and bezel with a massive helping of information to create an analog “flight computer.” Whether it’s visually impressive or a frenetic eyesore depends on the beholder. But none can deny the Flightmaster’s functionality, a sheer marvel for anyone who wants to geek out with calculations. The bezel recreates a conventional slide rule, capable of an almost incalculable number of computations, in conjunction with three chronograph subdials. And all of that is packed into a 42mm watch, which makes it wear smaller than the first-glance overload might lead you to believe.
Pilot Picks Under $500
Hamilton Khaki King Pilot Watches
Hamilton doesn’t diverge much from the Flieger formula, and again we see the classic round case, large crown, black-and-white scheme, sword-shaped hands, and even the 12 o’clock triangle. But, as Hamilton is known to do, there are features that take things up a few pegs. The day-date window on the dial is a nice subtle touch. A sapphire crystal is anti-reflective and scratch-resistant, while the watch is water-resistant up to 200 meters. Its crisp, clean design gives it almost a regal air, especially when paired with a black leather strap.
Laco 42mm Pilot Watches
While Laco may not be a household name, the brand is well known among watch lovers, especially those with penchants for pilots. That’s because Laco was actually involved in creating watches for the German Air Force in the 1940s. Rhose that serve as the design inspiration for pilot watches to this day. So it’s not surprising we find all of the hallmarks of a Flieger watch here — case, hands, and indices all according to time-honored tradition. But Laco throws in some nice new touches. Such as a riveted leather band, sapphire crystal, and numbers coated with Superluminova C3. Simple in the best possible sense of the word, the Laco pilot is about as classic as you can get.
Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph
We think of pilot watches as made for the folks who fly aircraft, but Bulova reminds us that they’ve made watches for pilots of spacecraft as well. A Bulova chronograph was used to make critical calculations on the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. It was one of the dozens of NASA launches that the watchmakers have joined. So, as you might expect, we see something of a departure from terrestrial style with the Lunar Pilot. It features a silver-toned tonneau-shaped case instead of round and polished stainless steel and a floating second hand. Dress this one up on a textured black leather strap, or down on a black nylon band.
Pilot Watches Conclusion
So what are you waiting for? If you can afford $100 (or even less!) you can pick up a really nice pilot watch. And if you’re willing to go a little higher, then slipping a fine aviation timepiece that performs well beyond its price tag is well within your reach.