Those familiar with the watch market know that there are many well-established brands in the watchmaking industry that offer their own interpretations of timepieces which are either dedicated to or inspired by aviation. This is because a lot of watch manufacturers have some sort of history or involvement with the aviation world. Moreover, accurate and reliable timepieces are absolutely necessary for pilots and other professionals in said field. With such a readymade and defined market, it is no wonder why aviation models continue to be staple pieces for a lot of watch companies. With that being said, read on to find out just which timepieces made it to our specially-curated list of top aviator watches.
Pilot Watch History in a Flash
We trace the aviator watch to Paris, at the start of the 20th century, when French watchmaker Louis Cartier came across Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian-born aviation enthusiast. Alberto complained that his pocket watch was too clumsy for flights. Louis, in turn, added a strap to one of his Cartier watches, and history was made. Today, the square case of Cartier Santos makes it one of the most recognizable aviator watches in the world.
During World War 2 the German military worked with watchmakers such as A. Lange & Söhne to churn out watches for its bomber crews. Using Swiss movement, the B-Uhr was big with a 58mm case, augmented by a double-rivet leather strap. It’s eye-catching with a stark black dial and Arabic numerals that are crossed by sharp sword hands.
Elements of an Aviator Watch
Note: These are just some elements that are more commonly present in flight-inspired timepieces. They are by no means fixed features in aviator watches.
This quality is super important because pilots, especially those in military units, are exposed to all sorts of different environments. A durable watch that can withstand these changes, regardless of whether harsh or not, is necessary.
A multi-functional watch is not essential, but it is definitely helpful, especially at times when technology fails. There is always a possibility of accidents or malfunctions during flights and a reliable, multi-functional timepiece can serve as a tool to aid the pilot in that specific situation.
- GMT Function.
Not all, but many aviator watches, especially in the modern era, have time zone functions. Many of us have flown through different time zones before, and understand the importance of a pilot’s ability to track multiple locations. So, a fine aviation watch is apt to have a GMT hand that makes a rotation every 24 hours, in contrast to the hour hand that rotates every twelve hours, allowing wearers to track multiple time zones.
Aviation watches were designed to withstand the rigors of air battles, where split-second decisions are literally a matter of life and death. As such, aviator watches have to be legible enough that, when you look down at your pilot’s watch, you can immediately read what you are seeing.
25 Aviator Watches: Top Picks
Now that we have gone through some of the most important features a pilot watch typically has, let us take a look at some of the best aviator watches out there.
1. Cartier Santos-Dumont Ref. W2SA0012
First up, we have a watch from the iconic Santos-Dumont collection. Even though this particular piece does not really fit the image of a pilot’s watch today, I still chose to start the list with it because of its heritage. Long story short, the first-ever model in this range was brought into existence because Louis Cartier designed it specifically for aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. Rather than being a practical option, this Cartier Santos-Dumont piece has served as a symbol of the close relations between the watchmaking industry and the aviation field since then.
The Santos-Dumont Ref. W2SA0012 comes in a stainless steel case with an exquisite 18K rose gold bezel and an alligator leather strap in black. With a distinct square shape, it has quite the unassuming dial, with simply two hands and Roman numerals for the hour markers. Moreover, it is powered by a quartz movement and has a water resistance rating of around 30 meters. Finally, this symbolic aviator watch retails at around $5,500 USD.
2. Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 Ref. AB0119131C1A1
Breitling is a brand that is widely known for manufacturing superior quality aviation watches. Some of their most iconic timepieces, such as the Navitimer and the Chronomat, have made huge impacts on pilots and other professionals. This is the reason why this Swiss brand is considered the go-to source for excellent, flight-centric watches.
The Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph is presented in a sturdy case and bracelet both made of stainless steel. It features a clean blue dial with a chronograph display, luminescent hands, Arabic numerals, and a date window between 4 and 5 o’clock. Furthermore, it is equipped with an automatic Breitling 01 caliber and boasts an impressive power reserve of around 70 hours. Priced at approximately $8,000 USD, this aviator watch would make for an excellent investment piece.
3. Hamilton Khaki Aviation X-Wind Auto Ref. H77775960
Hamilton is yet another watch company that has a long and interesting history with the armed forces. They are perceived as one of the best manufacturers of military-inspired timepieces, which is reflected in the different collections they offer. Hamilton’s catalog boasts three watch lines that are dedicated to each branch of the military: the Khaki Field (army), the Khaki Navy, and the Khaki Aviation (air force).
This Hamilton Khaki Aviation X-Wind Auto is a fan-favorite among patrons. It comes in a stainless steel case along with a textile bracelet in green, a rotating bezel, and three crowns. The dial, which features a camouflage pattern, consists of a 24-hour layout, luminous hands, Arabic numerals, a date-day window at 9 o’clock, and a scale on the outline to measure cross winds. Lastly, it is driven by an H-30 caliber that possesses a whopping 80-hour power reserve.
With a price tag of around $1,300 USD, this is a great choice for those who want an aviator watch with combat aesthetics.
4. IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL Ref. IW357201
For those already familiar with this brand, or with aviation timepieces in general, you are probably not surprised to find IWC on this list. This Schaffhausen-based brand has played a big role in the way aviation watches are designed today. They were the first brand to showcase a watch that took inspiration from cockpit instruments, a design that remains a classic blueprint for aviation pieces in the modern era.
The IWC Big Pilot Shock Absorber XPL features quite a distinct and elegant overall exterior. It comes in a ceratanium case that is paired with a rubber strap in black. The black dial follows a straightforward, almost minimalist layout with Arabic numerals and luminescent hands. In addition, it also resembles the altitude indicator found in a cockpit panel. In terms of its technical specifications, this watch is equipped with a 32111 automatic caliber with an outstanding power reserve of 120 hours.
Priced at a whopping $83,000 USD, this beautiful, avant-garde timepiece is perfect for all the luxury aviation enthusiasts out there.
5. Citizen Promaster Skyhawk A-T Ref. JY8075-51E
Next up, we have a watch from a Japanese brand which is best known for manufacturing high-technology timepieces. While they do not really have direct military or aviation roots, Citizen is driven by their goal of providing quality sports and professional watches. This mindset of theirs is very much apparent in their Promaster collection, where you will find a wide selection of excellent timepieces for either air, land, or sea.
The Citizen Promaster Skyhawk is all about multi-functionality, which makes it look quite intimidating at first glance. It is presented in a black stainless steel case along with a bracelet of the same material and color. Aside from the typical luminous hands and hour markers, the Promaster Skyhawk’s watch face also includes the following features: a perpetual calendar, dual time, countdown timer, pilot’s rotating slide rule bezel, and so much more. Lastly, just like most Citizen watches, it is equipped with their Eco-Drive technology, which means it has no battery as it is powered by any form of light.
With a price tag of around $700 USD, this Citizen Skyhawk is for those who want multi-functional aviation watches of utmost quality.
6. Orient Pilot’s Sport Watch RA-AC0H04Y10A
Orient is a Japanese watch company that is popular for producing good quality timepieces with affordable price ranges. They offer a couple of pilot watches as a part of their sports collection. While these models are not as well known as some others, those who have tried and tested Orient’s aviation watches believe that they are on par with many flight-centric watch brands in the market.
The Orient RA-AC0H04Y10A has the aesthetic of a classic pilot watch. It comes in a stainless steel case with a classy leather strap in light brown. The yellow/beige dial features Arabic numerals, luminescent hands, an inner circle with the hour markers, an outer circle with the minute markers, and a small date window at 3 o’clock Iit is driven by an automatic F6722 caliber with a power reserve of approximately 40 hours.
Retailing at around $300 USD, give or take, this flight-inspired timepiece from Orient is perfect for those who enjoy quintessential, vintage-style aviation watches.
7. Seiko Prospex SSG011P1
Seiko, being one of the most well-known watch brands out there, has a rather extensive selection of timepieces in their portfolio. While they are not popular for producing pilot watches, they still offer models that have the qualities of a good aviation piece. Seiko’s Prospex line, in particular, is recognized as an excellent source of professional watches.
The Seiko Prospex SSG011P1 is both multi-functional and unique, as far as pilot timepieces go. It comes in a hardy stainless steel case along with a bracelet of the same material. The main watch face features a very busy dial with Arabic numerals, large luminous hands, a date window, and a chronograph display. It also includes the following functions: a full auto calendar, radio signal reception, world time, overcharge prevention, and lots more. Lastly, this timepiece follows a radio sync solar movement with a power save duration of approximately 2 years.
Priced at around $500 USD, this model is for those who want a multi-functional watch that comes at a reasonable price.
8. Junghans Meister Pilot
Junghans is a well-established German brand that offers a beautiful selection of Bauhaus-inspired timepieces. However, back in the early 1900s, they also made cockpit instruments for different kinds of aircrafts. Come the 1950s, and Junghans involvement in the aviation field is what eventually inspired them to create their own pilot chronograph for the German military. Today, Junghans continues to pay homage to their heritage through a few flight-inspired models.
The Junghans Meister Pilot is the perfect Bauhaus interpretation of a pilot’s watch. It comes in a DLC-coated stainless steel case paired with a leather strap in brown. The easily legible dial features Arabic numerals, luminous hands, and a chronograph display with two counters. Moreover, it is powered by an automatic caliber J880.4 with a power reserve of 38 hours.
Retailing at around $2,500 USD, this is the ideal aviator watch for those who favor minimalist Bauhaus designs.
9. Zenith Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Rescue
Zenith is another Swiss luxury brand with a range dedicated to aviation watches. The vintage-influenced timepieces in Zenith’s Pilot collection are heavily inspired by their long-standing relations with the aviation industry.
The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Rescue comes in a steel case paired with a rugged-looking leather strap. It has a straightforward and legible dial with Super-LumiNova hands and Arabic numerals, a minute track on the rim of the dial, and a chronograph display with 2 counters. This timepiece is powered by Zenith’s iconic El Primo movement which boasts a minimum power reserve of 50 hours.
With a price tag of approximately $60,00 USD, this Zenith Pilot watch is ideal for all the vintage enthusiasts out there.
10. Tissot T-Touch Connect Solar Jungfraubahn Swiss Edition
Tissot is the go-to brand for premium quality timepieces that boast excellent Swiss craftsmanship. They offer a wide range of watches, from formal dress pieces to sportier models, so it is really not surprising that they have timepieces which can also pass as great aviation watches.
While the Tissot T-Touch Connect Solar is not really a pilot watch, it does have qualities that make it rather appealing for those in the aviation field. This model comes in a sturdy titanium case paired with a synthetic rubber strap. Its dial features a luminescent hand, indices, and the usual Hour, Minute, Second, Day and Date [HMSDD] display. Some of its additional functions include an alarm, altimeter, compass, distance travelled indicator, perpetual calendar, multiple time zones, temperature/weather indicator, and many more. Finally, this timepiece stands out as it utilizes solar energy to power its quartz movement.
Priced at around $1,000 USD, the Tissot T-Touch Connect Solar makes for a great aviation tool with its multi-functionality and digital display.
11. Panerai Luminor Due GMT Power Reserve PAM00964
Panerai is a watch company whose main heritage lies with the sea. This is why many of their timepieces are somehow related to or inspired by marine elements. Right off the bat, let me say that this particular piece is not a straightforward pilot watch. It simply has a few qualities, specifically its GMT feature, that make it suitable for those in the aviation industry.
The Panerai Luminor Due GMT Power Reserve PAM00964 boasts a titanium case paired with a blue alligator leather strap. Meanwhile, its sun-brushed dial comes with luminescent hands, Arabic numerals, indices, a small seconds counter, and a power reserve indicator. This watch is also powered by a self-winding P.4002 caliber with a solid power reserve of around 72 hours.
Retailing at around $12,200 USD, this Panerai watch is perfect for those in the aviation industry who prefer casual luxury pieces with an added GMT function.
12. Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage Automatic
Just like some other brands mentioned on this list, Alpina also has three different collections that are each dedicated to land, air, and sea-based timepieces. The Alpina Startimer line is the collection focused on aviation watches, and it pays homage to the brand’s longstanding involvement with said industry, which started in the 1920s.
This Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage Automatic follows the quintessential pilot watch design. It comes in a stainless steel case along with a calf leather strap in brown. The dial features luminescent Arabic numerals, a 24-hour layout, a minute track on the rim, and a date window. Lastly, it is equipped with the automatic AL-525 caliber which boasts a 38-hour power reserve.
Priced at a little under $1,500 USD, this aviator timepiece serves as another classic and retro option for pilot watch enthusiasts.
13. Rolex GMT Master II
The Rolex GMT Master II is not officially dubbed a pilot’s watch, but I think it deserves a spot on this list simply because of its iconic GMT function. While the Swiss luxury brand does have a model that pays tribute to aeronautics, known as the Rolex Air-King, the GMT Master II is such an iconic timepiece that is definitely a favorite among those in the aviation industry as well.
The Rolex GMT Master II comes in an exquisite white gold case and bracelet with a ceramic GMT bezel. Its dial features luminescent hands, hour markers in different shapes, and a date window at 3 o’clock. This famous timepiece is driven by a self-winding 3285 caliber that boasts a 70-hour power reserve.
With a price tag of around $40,000 USD, this ever-so-popular aviator watch is a must-have for jetsetters who enjoy luxury.
14. Bell and Ross BR V2-93 GMT Blue
This particular Bell and Ross piece is similar to the previous model, in that its potential as a pilot’s watch lies in its GMT function. The Bell and Ross BR V2-93 GMT Blue belongs to a selection of timepieces that caters to those who frequently travel from one time zone to another.
This watch comes in a satin-polished steel case with an elastic canvas bracelet in grey and a 24-hour bezel. Its blue dial features Arabic numerals, thin indices, luminous hands, and a date display between 4 and 5 o’clock. Moreover, it is equipped with a caliber BR-CAL.30 and has a 100-meter water resistance capacity.
Retailing at around $3,400 USD, this timepiece serves as a classy option that gets the job done for all the travel enthusiasts out there.
15. Luminox F-117 Nighthawk GMT
Luminox is widely recognized as an excellent source of outdoor timepieces. In fact, their collections can be categorized into three main series: air, land, and sea. This just shows that most, if not all, of their timepieces are actually designed to withstand the conditions of the great outdoors.
This particular Luminox Nighthawk watch, which falls under the brand’s air series, has a very robust and rugged exterior. It comes in a CARBONOX case, and has a bi-directional bezel and a Kevlar strap in black. Its dial boasts chunky Arabic numerals, luminous hands, a 24-hour display, and a date window. In addition, the numbers on the bezel and the hour markers are actually based on the display found in an F-117 Nighthawk cockpit. This timepiece is powered by a quartz movement with a GMT function.
Priced at approximately $875 USD, the Luminox F-117 Nighthawk GMT is a great aviation-inspired watch for those who enjoy tough-looking timepieces.
16. Oris Big Crown Pro Pilot Timer GMT
Oris offers two collections dedicated to aviator watches: the ProPilot and the ProPilotX. These watches were designed specifically with pilots in mind, which is why they are equipped with high-levels of functionality.
The Oris Big Crown Pro Pilot Timer GMT, for example, boasts quite a powerful exterior right off the bat. It comes in a robust stainless steel case along with a textile strap in green and a rotating bezel. Aside from the Arabic numeral markers and luminous hands, the dial also features a date window and a small seconds counter. Lastly, this watch is powered by an automatic GMT movement with a power reserve of around 38 hours.
Retailing at a little under $3,000 USD, this aviator watch is a straightforward and well-crafted option, especially for professionals in the industry.
17. Longines Avigation BigEye
Longines is known to have released their fair share of aviation watches and instruments, especially in the 1900s. This involvement with the aviation industry has pushed them to create a selection of flight-inspired timepieces today, and the Longines Avigation BigEye is a testament to this.
This watch comes in a stainless steel case paired with a leather strap in brown. Following a chronograph layout, its black dial features Arabic numerals, luminous hands, and three sub-counters. Moreover, it is powered by an automatic L688 caliber which boasts a 66-hour power reserve.
Priced at around $2,700 USD, you really cannot go wrong with this classic aviation timepiece.
18. Breitling Aviator 8 Automatic Day & Date 41
Next up, we have another piece from Breitling, which, as we know, is a reliable source of high-quality aviator watches. This timepiece, in particular, boasts a very distinct yet sleek overall exterior.
This Breitling Aviator 8 timepiece comes in a stainless steel case and a calfskin leather strap in black. The dial, which has a very straightforward layout, features Arabic numerals, luminescent hands, a date window at 6 o’clock, and a day display at 12 o’clock. Lastly, this model is equipped with an automatic Breitling 45 caliber which has a power reserve of 38 hours.
With a price tag of approximately $4,100 USD, this aviator watch is a must-have for those who like well-crafted timepieces which are easily readable with a glance.
19. Laco Pilot Watch Original Paderborn
Laco is a German brand primarily known for producing aviation watches. Their products were a staple in many aircrafts back in the 1940s, which explains their reputation today. They are the go-to place for traditional, classic aviation timepieces.
The Laco Pilot Original Paderborn is presented in a sandblasted stainless steel case with a calf leather strap in brown. The dial follows the quintessential cockpit-inspired layout with luminous hands, Arabic numerals, an outer circle for the minute markers, and an inner circle for the hour markers. This timepiece is driven by an automatic Laco 24 movement which is based on an ETA 2824.2 caliber.
For just $1,190 USD, you can get your hands on one of the most renowned pilot watches out there.
20. Tudor Black Bay GMT
Much like the Rolex watch mentioned earlier, this Tudor timepiece is on this list because of its GMT function, more than anything else. In fact, this model belongs to the Black Bay collection, which is better known for its dive watches.
The Tudor Black Bay GMT comes in a sleek steel case with a Terra di Siena leather bracelet and a GMT bezel. The dial features hour markers in various shapes, luminescent hands, and a date window at 3 o’clock. This watch is powered by an automatic MT5652 caliber which is COSC-certified and has a 70-hour power reserve.
Priced at a little under $4,000 USD, this piece makes for a versatile watch that can be utilized to great effect by those in the aviation field.
21. Victorinox Airboss Mach 9
Victorinox is an established company known for their quality products. They also offer their own range of aviation watches, which falls under their Pilot Watches category. The Victorinox Airboss Mach 9 is simply one out of many flight-centric timepieces they have in their arsenal.
This watch comes in a steel case paired with an eco-leather strap in brown. The black dial, which features a layout clearly inspired by aeronautic mechanisms, consists of Arabic numerals, luminous hands, and a chronograph display. Lastly, it is equipped with an automatic ETA VALJOUX 7750 movement with a power reserve of around 48 hours.
Retailing at approximately $2,100 USD, this watch is a must-have for all the adventurers out there who appreciate engineering inspired by aeronautics.
22. Vacheron Constantin Overseas World Time
Vacheron Constantin is one of the most well-established brands in Haute Horlogerie. They offer a beautiful selection of watches that boast unparalleled quality and aesthetics. This particular watch, which makes for a lavish option for those in the aviation world, is no exception.
Presented in a stainless steel case and bracelet, the Overseas World Time is a luxury piece for constant travelers. Its dial features the world map, famous cities, a 24-hour dial feature, and luminescent hands. Moreover, it is powered by an automatic movement that provides the watch with 37 time zones, a day-night indicator, and a power reserve of 40 hours.
Priced at around $37,000 USD, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas World Time is the ultimate luxury statement timepiece for all the casual and professional jetsetters out there.
23. Yema Flygraf Pilot M1
Yema is another brand that has multiple collections dedicated to different branches of the military. They offer two different ranges for aviation watches, which are the Flygraf and the Superman French Air Force. The Flygraf focuses on timepieces for both flight professionals and enthusiasts while the Superman French Air Force series serves as a tribute to the brand’s relationship with said military unit.
The Yema Flygraf Pilot M1 was actually designed in collaboration with professional pilot Sammy Mason. It comes in a stainless steel case and a bracelet which can be swapped out for a different strap. The dial, which follows a 24-hour layout, consists of Arabic numerals and slightly oversized hands, both of which are treated with Super-LumiNova pigments. Lastly, it is equipped with an in-house YEMA2000 caliber which has a 42-hour power reserve.
With a price tag of around $749 USD, this is a great option for those who want a quintessential aviator watch at an affordable cost.
24. Bulova 96A225
While this Bulova model is more space-inspired than anything else, it still features excellent qualities that are great for aviation watches as well.
The Bulova 96A225 comes in a stainless steel case paired with a NATO strap in black. Following a chronograph display, the dial includes luminescent hands and hour markers, a tachymeter scale, and three sub-counters. It also runs on an excellent chronograph movement which boasts top-tier quartz technology and accuracy.
For around $575 USD, you can get this high-technology timepiece which can pass for a good aviator watch.
25. Bremont MBII-WH/BLUE
Last but certainly not least, we have a timepiece from Bremont, a brand that is known for taking things to the next level. In crafting their pilot watches, Bremont made sure to get in touch with experienced figures in the aviation industry in order to come up with superior flight-centric timepieces.
The Bremont MBII is a classic example of Bremont’s outstanding watchmaking process, because it went through numerous endurance tests before officially being sold. While it may look rather unassuming, this watch packs quite a punch. It comes in a hardened stainless steel case paired with a rubber, leather, or metal strap of your choice. The white dial features Arabic numerals, indices, luminescent hands, a minute track on the rim, and a date window. This watch is powered by an automatic BE-36AE chronometer with shock-resistant properties and a 38-hour power reserve.
Retailing at around $5,500 USD, this aviator watch is definitely a recommended investment for serious pilots and professionals.
Ultimately, these are just 25 models, out of hundreds and thousands, that are either proven to be great aviator watches or have the potential to be excellent companions by professionals. Regardless, the curated list above does include some of the best pieces that the industry has to offer. Given the diversity in terms of specifications, designs, and prices, you are bound to find the right aviator watch just for you!
If you want a more in depth look at pilot watches, check out our article on the Sinn 356 Pilot Chronograph.
Photo Credits: Official Watch Websites