To The Skies – For over a century, pilot’s watches have traced their origins, evolving in tandem with the aircraft for which they were initially created. Making its debut around 1904, the watch widely acknowledged as the pioneering pilot’s timepiece was crafted by Cartier for his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont, a close companion of the company’s founder, Louis Cartier, who wore it every time he took to the skies. What is a pilot watch? At its core, a pilot’s watch should possess several fundamental features, including a generously sized and highly legible dial, equipped with distinct hands and indices, facilitating swift and effortless readings during aircraft maneuvers. In other words, if you have an affinity for a vintage charm, abundant practicality, and unwavering accuracy, then you’ll find any of the finest pilot watches selected by our editors below to be perfectly suited to your taste.
1. Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sky-Dweller – CHF 15,100 (approx. $17,266)
Celebrated for its modernistic design and traveler-oriented attributes, Rolex has introduced a revamped version of its iconic Oyster Perpetual Sky-Dweller model for the year 2023. The unveiling took place at the prestigious Watches & Wonders trade show in Geneva, the industry’s most significant event. Encased within a 42mm diameter x 13.8mm case, the interior of this timepiece features the caliber 9002, a Rolex in-house mechanical movement boasting bidirectional self-winding functionality through a Perpetual rotor. The watch also encompasses central hour, minute, and seconds hands, accompanied by a power reserve of approximately 72 hours.
2. Longines Pilot Majetek – $3,750
Longines maintains a steadfast and enduring bond with the realm of aviation, marked by a rich history of crafting a significant array of pilot’s watches, chronographs, onboard apparatus, and various navigation tools. These contributions played a pivotal role in advancing both civilian and military aviation throughout the initial decades of the 20th century. Longines manufactured the Majetek model from 1935 to 1948, both as military equipment and for civilian use. The new Majetek measures 43mm instead of 41mm of the original, and features a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, with several layers of anti-reflective coating on both sides. Beneath the watch’s caseback resides the Longines-exclusive L893.6 movement, an automatic caliber equipped with antimagnetic shielding (capable of withstanding up to 600 gauss), boasting an impressive 72-hour power reserve and operating at a frequency of 3.5 Hz.
3. Cartier Santos – $7,050
When Cartier brought back the Santos, they truly struck the perfect chord during the 2018 installment of the SIHH. The new Santos is instantly recognizable, exuding masculinity and contemporary flair, all the while retaining that unmistakable touch of Cartier’s timeless elegance. The generously sized stainless steel case measures 39.8mm in width, 47.5mm in height, and 9.08mm in thickness. It houses the calibre 1847 MC, an in-house developed and produced movement characterized by its fundamental attributes (4 Hz frequency, 3-hand display, 42-hour power reserve, with or without a date complication). However, this gracefully contoured exemplar of French watchmaking has profound origins entrenched in aviation.
4. Zenith DEFY El Primero 21 Land Rover Edition – 13,900 CHF (approx. $14,358)
In 2020, Zenith introduced this elegant watch, this time in partnership with Land Rover, commemorating the debut of the next-generation Land Rover Defender. The DEFY 21 Land Rover Edition showcases a microblasted titanium case measuring 45mm in diameter, accompanied by a domed sapphire crystal treated with anti-reflective coating on both sides. Nestled within is the El Primero 9004 automatic movement, pulsating at a frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour (5 Hz), offering a power reserve of 50 hours and a remarkable 1/100th of a second chronograph capability.
5. IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team – $ 8,350
IWC marked its triumphant comeback to the Miami Grand Prix with a distinctively Floridian touch – an exclusive Miami Pink iteration of its titanium chronograph. Encased within a 41mm diameter x 14.6mm height grade 5 titanium case, this special edition of the ultimate tool watch, created in collaboration with the AMG Petronas F1 team, boasts a dynamic fusion of a strikingly pink strap and refreshing mint-hued dial elements. Inside is the Calibre manufacture IWC 69385, , a proprietary movement made by Richemont’s Valfleurier facilities, an automatic column-wheel chronograph with 33 jewels – 28,800 vibrations/hour – 46h power reserve .
6. Bremont ALT1-C Griffon – $6,295
This specific model serves as a homage to the Spitfire aircraft that was once piloted by the father of the brand’s Co-Founders, Nick and Giles English, and is currently under the ownership of Rolls-Royce. Encased within a robust 43mm hardened stainless steel case, the ALT1-C Griffon powered by a an impeccably modified, chronometer-certified Valjoux 7750-SO BI AC movement beating at 28,800bph with 42 hour power reserve. This timepiece seamlessly marries the craftsmanship of horology with cutting-edge technical innovation, ensuring unrivaled precision and longevity. It is elegantly finished with a vintage brown leather strap.
7. Omega Speedmaster X-33 Marstimer – $6,400
The European Space Agency (ESA) approached Omega, inquiring whether the brand could design a watch featuring specialized functions for time measurement on Mars. Meet the Omega Speedmaster X-33 Marstimer, a timepiece meticulously crafted to gauge each passing instant both on Earth and the distant terrain of Mars! As you might know, one day on Mars is 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than one day on Earth. Based on the X-33 Skywalker, tt has the same 45mm × 14.7mm titanium case and the same bracelet with multiple, well-integrated pushers, however, a distinctive feature sets it apart—the bezel is adorned with a unique red hematite hue, evoking the memory of the Mars dust. Inside the timepiece is the calibre 5622, a quartz-powered mechanism that retains all the previously incorporated functions. Notably, it offers a battery life of 24 months.
8. Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter – $6,500
Introducing the remarkable Oris ProPilot Altimeter, the world’s sole timepiece seamlessly integrating a mechanical altimeter with an automatic mechanical movement. Crafted from a multi-part composition of carbon fiber and titanium, the case measures 47mm in diameter. It boasts a sapphire top glass with a double-domed shape, featuring an anti-reflective coating on its inner surface. Inside is the Oris 793 movement, derived from the base SW 300-1, an automatic, self-winding caliber developed by Oris. This movement is equipped with center hands for hours, minutes, and seconds, accompanied by a date window that provides instantaneous date changes. Additionally, the movement includes a date corrector, fine timing adjustments, and a stop-second feature. It is accompanied by a black textile strap that fastens with a folding clasp crafted from titanium and coated in a sleek grey PVD finish.
9. Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Boeing 747 – $11,140
With Boeing’s final delivery of the iconic 747, Breitling pays tribute to both aviation legends through a limited-edition Navitimer, exclusively available in a quantity of 747 pieces. Housed in a 43mm stainless steel case, the Boeing 747 Limited Edition features a dial reminiscent of the original 747’s color palette: a welcoming cream hue for the main dial, complemented by black subdials, and adorned with a red inner slide rule scale, accompanied by delicate light blue accents. Inside is the Breitling’s COSC-certified caliber 01 that features a column-wheel and vertical clutch, beating at 28,800 vibrations per hour and 70 hours of power reserve. It is equipped with either a black alligator leather strap accompanied by a folding buckle or a stainless steel seven-row Navitimer bracelet secured by a butterfly clasp.
10. Tissot Telemeter 1938 – $2,125
Meet the elegant Tissot Telemeter 1938, a stunning vintage-inspired timepiece boasting two railroad sub-dials and a telemeter scale to accurately measure the distance between events. Beneath the transparent caseback lies a movement that not only honors the heritage of the brand/group but also incorporates notable advancements. The beating heart of this timepiece is the Valjoux A05.231 caliber, intimately connected to the esteemed 7750 framework, sharing its distinguished cam-level structure and renowned durability. An impressive 68 hours of power reserve is at your disposal, while it maintains a steady frequency of 4Hz vibrations. It is elegantly finished with a calfskin leather strap in a dark or brown hue, featuring a steel pin buckle and convenient quick-release spring bars.
11. Porsche Design Chronograph 1 – 75 Years Porsche Edition – $11,000
This year, Porsche Design introduced a new iteration of their Chronograph 1, named the “75 Years of Porsche Edition.” This exclusive timepiece was crafted to commemorate a significant milestone in the legacy of the iconic car company. Encased within a 40.8 mm black carbide-coated titanium case, this timepiece boasts matching side pushers and an inner tachymeter bezel. The watch showcases a sapphire crystal caseback, which reveals an engraved “75 Years Porsche” logo, along with a winding rotor shaped in the likeness of the iconic Fuchs alloy wheel, with the Porsche emblem at its center. Inside is the Porsche Design WERK 01.140 caliber, operating at 28,800 vibrations per hour (vph) and offering a power reserve of 48 hours. Restricted to a mere 475 units, the recently unveiled Porsche Design Chronograph 1 – 75 Years Porsche Edition carries a price tag of $11,000 and is currently accessible for purchase.
12. Bell & Ross x Alain Silberstein Krono 22 – $6,700
Round four of the Grail Watch series sees Bell & Ross joining forces with designer Alain Silberstein in a collaborative effort. As expected, Krono 22 is the busiest watch of the trilogy and features five of Silberstein’s iconic Bauhaus-inspired hands, appealing to both visual maximalists and those who favor a legible chronograph. Made of black ceramic and fitted with black rubber strap, the watch houses an automatic movement Caliber BR.CAL-302, with 42-hour power reserve. A numbered and limited edition consisting of 100 pieces, where the first 50 watches will be offered within a unique box set containing all three timepieces of the trilogy.
*Special mention, one of my favorite pilot’s watches: The Omega Flightmaster
OMEGA’s Flightmaster made its debut in 1969 as the pioneering pilot’s watch, boasting a futuristic design inspired by jet engines, specifically tailored for aviators. Despite its magnificent design, it had a tragically brief existence. It is estimated that a total of approximately 37,500 Flightmaster watches were manufactured between 1969 and 1977. Check out an in-depth and breathtaking review on Monochrome Watches’ website.