When regular international flights first joined continents and created a new class of travelers, pilot watches were right there along for the high-flying ride. Today, they’re worn from casual to dressy occasions and the wide variety is only unified by form-fitting function and practical good looks. And yes, you have to pay for that level of heritage and design history. But do you have to go over a grand? There are a number of nice options to buy into the pilot-watch club without paying first-class prices.
1: Archimede Pilot
If you want to go classic (and we mean really classic) without topping over the thousand-dollar limit, check out the Archimede Pilot 42 A. This one catches the eye and backs up its fine looks with precision ETA 2824-2 automatic movement. Archimede grew up near a-century-old family business in Germany. Archimede has been creating solid timepieces at prices that can raise some eyebrows in delight. A brushed stainless steel case, bold, luminous hands and throwback dial make this Flieger-style watch a bold choice, especially so in the striking bronze and black combo.
2: Citizen Eco-Drive
We have two favorites in the solar-powered Eco-Drive line from Citizen. First, there’s the Nighthawk which you can pick up in the $600 range. It’s a solid, understated (if leaning bulky) choice with a chronograph, tachymeter and good water resistance. If you want all of those features and then some with sleeker packaging, you might want to go into the $800 range for the Satellite Wave GPS. No matter where you are on the planet, this world-class navigation tool finds out the local time and adjusts accordingly.
3: Longines Avigation
For a watch that really draws you into the once cutting-edge world of classic aviation, look to the Avigation line from Longines. A black alligator strap exudes a sense of refined style, as do a black-matte dial and Arabic numerals. What takes this beauty out of tuxedo territory is its dedicated commitment to the pilot-watch credo of bold and straightforward function that never betrays its jet-set inspired design.
4: Alpina Startimer Automatic
While some of the offerings from Alpina go over our price limit, they have an assortment in the Startimer Automatic line that comes in at under $1,000. They have over a century of experience making timepieces for the aviation sector. With a case that is large, enjoy the bulk of a true aviator’s trusted companion that has Swiss quartz AL-525 automatic movement and traditional dial finishing that is as elegant as it is timeless.
5: Damasko DS30
Classic, vintage, throwback — however you want to label it, the adherence to retro roots in pilot watches is ubiquitous across a wide spectrum of watchmakers. Not so fast decries Damasko! The German watchmakers add an unusual swirl of sophistication and style to the classic pilot-watch concept. The result is the Damasko DS30. With a 39mm case and 10mm thickness, the DS30 takes a sleeker form than most of the watchmakers’ military-inspired creations. And sleek it is with a solid black-and-white dial that evokes an Art Deco vibe. Worn equally well by both men and women, dressed up with calfskin or down with a nylon strap, the shockproof pilot piece comes in at just under the $1,000 line.
6: MKII Cruxible
Another creation that also assimilates modern aesthetics into classic pilot-watch contours, MKII Cruxible celebrates aviation history with vintage flair. MKII has built up a reputation for fine American-made tool watches under the helm of master watchmaker Bill Yao. It has a simple design featuring big numerals and a large crown, this wonderful timepiece looks by all measures to compare to watches that carry higher price tags.
7: AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane
For value and reliability, it’s hard to compete with the AVI-8 Hawker. And the watch face is sure to grab your attention. With multiple hues of white offset by bits of color, the bold-lettered dial evokes a sense that stays true to the British roots of the watchmakers. A soft calfskin strap ups the refinement on this otherwise built-to-function timepiece. But can you rely on a $200 watch? Yes! The Hawker Hurricane is powered by Japanese quartz movement with a scratch-resistant mineral dial window. It’s also water resistant up to 165 feet, making this a sturdy favorite in the lower-end of the price range.
With dreams of adventures in far-off lands and flights that whisk us there in upscale style, we ponder the world of pilot watches. For less than $1,000 you can have one of these steady companions of aviators past, present and future.