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Best of 2021 – Our Favorite Pilot’s Watches of the Year

MONOCHROME’s top pilot’s watches of the year…

| By Robin Nooy | 6 min read |
IWC Big Pilots Watch 43 IW329301

This year has been an incredible year for many reasons. We’ve seen some fantastic new watches as brands adapt to the pandemic and embrace new business practices. With this in mind, we continue our retrospective of 2021, even though we still have a few weeks left in the year. Once again, MONOCHROME’s editorial team has cast their votes to determine our favourite pilot’s watches of the year. And the results are a pretty exciting mix of aviation-inspired pieces.

Editor’s note: this list reflects the preferences of MONCHROME’s editorial team and results from an internal vote. This list is, of course, non-exhaustive and remains subjective. If there are other pilot’s watches launched in 2021 that made an impression on you, feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Red Radar Ceramic

We kick things off with a watch by Bell & Ross, a brand forever linked to pilot instruments since its inception in 1994. The iconic square case of the BR 03 collection is taken directly from flight instruments in the cockpit. This bold BR 03 92 Red Radar Ceramic is the latest radar-styled watch by the Parisian brand and the first one decked in full ceramic. The 42mm wide black ceramic case hosts an unusual and playful display of time under a red-tinted sapphire crystal. The dial uses two concentric discs, the external one for the hours and the internal for the minutes. Both use planes as indicators, paired with a bar-like seconds hand. Power comes from the calibre 302, which is a Sellita SW300 at heart. It is limited to 999 pieces and has a price tag of EUR 3,900. More details are in our video review.

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Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Red Radar Ceramic

Quick Facts – 42mm x 42mm – square black ceramic case – red-tinted sapphire crystal – radar-like time display using concentric discs with aeroplane indicators – outer disc for hours, inner disc for the minutes, bar-like seconds hand – calibre 302, Sellita SW300 base – automatic winding – 28,800vph – 42h power reserve – black rubber strap – limited edition of 999 pieces – EUR 3,900

Blancpain Air Command Flyback Chronograph Titanium

Next to the Villeret and Fifty Fathoms lines, Blancpain also has historical ties with aviation. Described in detail here, Blancpain introduced the original Air Command in 2019. Following this rather fly-under-the-radar piece, Blancpain brought back the Air Command in more modern attire, with a lightweight titanium case (or 18k red gold, by the way). And this time, it is here to stay as it is a non-limited piece. Both this and the steel version of 2019 can trace their roots to the creation of the Type 20 standard for the French Ministry of Defence. The history is a bit murky, though, as it is pretty much undocumented. Nevertheless, the Blancpain Air Command Flyback Chronograph Titanium is a powerful blend of Type 20-styled pilot’s watches and modern materials and mechanics.  The watch retails for CHF 17,300 in titanium or CHF 27,300 in red gold.

Blancpain Air Command Flyback Chronograph Titanium Blue Dial AC02-12B40-63

Quick Facts – 42.5mm x 13.7mm – grade 23 titanium case, brushed and polished – bidirectional titanium bezel with blue ceramic insert – sapphire crystal on both sides – 30m water-resistance – sunray-brushed blue dial with bicompax chronograph display – polished silver hands with Super-LumiNova – calibre F388B, in-house – automatic hi-beat integrated flyback chronograph with column wheel and vertical clutch – 5Hz frequency – free-sprung silicon balance and balance-spring – 50h power reserve – hours, minutes, flyback chronograph with central seconds, 30-minute and 12h counters – CHF 17,300 in titanium or CHF 27,300 in red gold

IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43

It’s impossible to sideline IWC when it comes to pilot’s watches, as the Big Pilot and Pilot’s Watch collection are true icons. And this year, IWC focused all its energy on presenting new interpretations of the concept. It is no surprise then that the Big Pilot’s watch in 43mm is featured in this list. Some might feel it’s not an authentic Big Pilot’s Watch as it lacks details like the power reserve indication. And we’d partly agree with you on that, but nevertheless, it is an instantly recognisable piece, and given its new size, it will open up the BP range to a lot more people who previously felt the 46.2mm was just too much to handle. Inside ticks the modern IWC calibre 82100, made in-house and visible through the caseback. The new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 comes on the iconic riveted leather strap or alternatively on a rubber strap or stainless steel bracelet. Prices range from EUR 8,950 to EUR 9,950. Our in-depth review has all the details.

IWC Big Pilots Watch 43 IW329301

Quick Facts – 43mm x 13.6mm – stainless steel case, brushed and polished – sapphire crystal on both sides, secured against displacement due to air pressure drops – 100m water-resistance – matte black or sunray-brushed blue dial – hour numerals and hands with Super-LumiNova – IWC calibre 82100 – in-house, automatic – 22 jewels – Pellaton winding system – 28,800vph – 60h power reserve – leather, rubber or steel strap/bracelet – EUR 8,950 to EUR 9,950.

IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL

Yes, a second IWC Big Pilot’s Watch made the list, but this time IWC has taken the concept of the Big Pilot in a whole other direction compared to the BP 43 above. The IWC Big Pilot Shock Absorber XPL is the most technically advanced IWC Pilot’s Watch to date. And covering it was a true highlight for us, with the chance of interviewing Etienne Bauer, the Rafale pilot who field-tested it thoroughly. The IWC BP Shock Absorber XPL suspends the movement in a sort of a spring-loaded cradle. This patented SPRIN-g PROTECT system makes sure the movement is safe from impacts in excess of 30,000gs! Set in a 44mm wide Ceratanium case, the stealthy IWC Big Pilot Shock Absorber XPL is limited to 10 pieces per year and 30 pieces in total, at a price of CHF 80,000 each. Certainly not cheap, but damned impressive! You can read our extensive interview here.

Interview - Rafale Pilot Etienne Bauer Testing IWC Big Pilot Shock Absorber XPL

Quick Facts – 44mm x 12mm Ceratanium case – sapphire crystal on both sides, secured against displacement due to air pressure drops – SPRIN-g PROTECT system protecting the movement impacts above 30,000gs – matte black dial with typical IWC BP layout – calibre 3211, in-house – 4Hz frequency – 120h power reserve – black rubber strap – 10 pieces per year, 30 in total – CHF 80,000

Longines Spirit Titanium 40mm

Longines is another one of those brands with an extensive history in the field of pilot’s watches. The brand also has a keen sense of using its history to create appealing retro-inspired collections. One such collection is the Longines Spirit, with multiple colours, sizes and movements on offer. The best in our book is the Longines Spirit Titanium in 40mm, an excellent mix of modern materials and mechanics with vintage aesthetics. The use of titanium makes this a very comfortable watch, which can be worn on a titanium bracelet or a woven nylon strap in black. It uses the Longines calibre L888.4, based on the ETA A31.L11, a silicon balance spring and a very admirable 72-hour power reserve. It’s priced at EUR 2,550 on the nylon strap or EUR 2,950 on the titanium bracelet. A 42mm size is also available. More details in our review here.

Quick Facts – 40mm diameter – grade 5 titanium case, brushed and polished – sapphire crystal – titanium caseback – screw-down crown – 100m water-resistance – anthracite sandblasted dial with satin-finished flange – 1N gold-plated applied Arabic numerals and hands – calibre L888.4 (ETA A31.L11) – chronometer-certified by COSC – 21 jewels – 25,200vph – silicon balance spring – 72h power reserve – EUR 2,550 (black nylon strap) or EUR 2,950 (titanium bracelet)

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