It might not be the most productive of categories, but the pilot’s watch remains one of the all-time important watch styles, even though its real-world relevance is more limited these days due to flight management systems. Nevertheless, nostalgia and vintage inspiration are still important drivers of the watch industry’s creativity, and for that reason, some brands continue to release classic pilot watches. Continuing our selection of the best models released this year, following categories such as chronographs and dive watches, we’re now listing the MONOCHROME editorial team’s five Best Pilot Watches of 2023.
Pilot’s watches are necessarily a fixed category. It’s not about the complication, which can range from simple time-only displays to more complex chronographs and traveller’s functions, but more about the overall purpose of the watch. Nevertheless, common design features will be found in most aviation-related watches, such as robustness, practicality, ease of use in harsh conditions and mainly, a strong focus on legibility, day and night.
Bell & Ross BR 03 Collection Updated
Bell & Ross has always had a strong connection with military forces and pilots. In 2005, the brand launched what is now known as its most important collection, the BR 03, a square watch with a circular dial and a design directly inspired by old-school dashboard instruments. After 15 years of continuous production, Bell & Ross decided it was time for an update. But how do you revamp such an emblematic design? Simple, you barely touch it and introduce minor evolutions where it matters. In effect, the new BR 03 is almost identical visually, with a slightly downsized case and a bit more refinement on the finishing. The dials, if still entirely focused on readability, have also been retouched a bit. Also, the movement’s power reserve has been beefed up. Finally, some new and attractive colours have been added alongside the classic steel or ceramic versions.
For more details about the updated Bell & Ross BR 03 Collection, please consult our first-look article here.
Breguet Type 20 and Type XX Chronographs
The Breguet Type 20 (military models) and Type XX (civilian models) are amongst the most important pilot’s watches ever created. Born in the 1950s as an answer to a military request, it is part of a series of watches built around the same concept: a flyback (retour en vol) chronograph made for the pilots of the French Aéronavale. A direct replacement for the long-gone reference 3800, the new Type 20 Chronograph 2057 and Type XX Chronograph 2067 pay tribute to the origins of the models, yet with modernity in the construction – larger diameter, state-of-the-art in-house movement. It’s not all perfect, as the size, the price or the date window can be criticised, but still, these are highly important watches marking the comeback of an icon with two models.
For more details about the Breguet Type XX and Type 20, please consult our in-depth article with video here.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 TOP GUN Mojave
What would be a selection of pilot’s watches without an IWC? Indeed, the Schaffhausen-based manufacturer is probably the most active brand in this field. The difficulty we faced was to only feature one in this article. Our editors went almost unanimously for this watch, the Top Gun Mojave. Why is it the best of all models released this year? Simply because it combines the bold yet highly attractive full-beige, desert-inspired style of the Mojave collection (first seen in this watch) with the relatively compact dimensions of the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41. The best of both worlds… It’s striking, monochromatic, different, typical IWC and makes an impact without being too impactful on the wrist.
For more details about the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 TOP GUN Mojave, please consult our first-look article here.
Longines Pilot Majetek
Another Longines, another fantastic vintage reissue… The new but not-so-new Longines Pilot Majetek is a modern interpretation of the Longines Czech Pilot watch developed in the 1920s and supplied to the Czechoslovakian Air Force in the 1930s. The watches were marked as “Majetek Vojenske Spravy”, meaning “property of military administration”, earning the Longines Majetek nickname among collectors. It’s back this year with a very attractive design overall and its classic rotating bezel with an inner marker. The rest is classic Majetek, with a sleek and legible dial, a cushion-shaped case and a no-nonsense style that perfectly suits the historical importance of this watch. Being a modern Longines, it also comes with a pretty solid automatic movement with a 3-day power reserve and anti-magnetic hairspring (which, after all, should always be a component of pilot’s watches).
For more details about the Longines Pilot Majetek, please consult our hands-on article here.
Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback
Last but not least, Zenith also made its comeback in the field of pilot’s watches this year. It’s worth mentioning that the English term “Pilot” was trademarked by Zenith in 1904, and Zenith is still the only brand that can use the word Pilot on a watch dial. There’s a bit of legitimacy in the equation here since Louis Blériot was wearing a Zenith wristwatch when he completed his successful cross-channel flight in a monoplane in 1909. This year, following the massive Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 or Pilot Type 20 watches, Zenith releases something relevant, wearable, technical and more modern in two styles: a time-and-date and a cool chronograph. The latter, available in steel or black ceramic, relies on the El Primero base movement with a flyback function and a large date with an ultra-fast patented system, which also sounds pretty amazing when actuated (remember the old airport panels… this is what it sounds like). Last, the steel version features a cool, discreet Easter egg on the 30-minute counter, a tribute to the Zenith Rainbow Flyback of 1997.
For more details about the Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback, please consult our hands-on article here.