Aviation-inspired watches are said to have made their debut on the wrist of aviator Alberto Santos Dumont. At the beginning of the 20th-century, Louis Cartier made a watch for his Brazilian friend, who wore it to time his flights. It was the first purposed-designed wristwatch. Since then, many watches have been inspired by the world of aviation, all born out of practicality – in particular, pilot watches. Today, the pilot watch category is one of the most popular genres.
Here are some of the most iconic aviation-inspired watches (watches that have set new standards and that have stood the test of time) that you can buy in 2018. Of course, you’ll have your own thoughts on this so do not hesitate to give us your feedback in the comment section below!
Rolex GMT Master II Pepsi Steel
Hard to believe but, yes, the Rolex GMT Master II is first and foremost a pilot’s watch. The model was first released in the mid-1950s and it was originally designed in tandem with Pan American Airways to equip its crews (in particular for transatlantic flights) and featured the iconic blue and red ‘Pepsi’ bezel. Presented in steel, on a Jubilee bracelet and fit with a new movement, the 2018 version of the Rolex GMT Master II was one of the most discussed watches at Baselworld this year. Three time zones are shown using an additional hour hand rotating on a 24-hour scale and read on the two-tone bezel showing day and night. A great example of civilian pilot’s watch and one of the hottest timepieces on the market today.
Quick facts: 40mm Oystersteel case – two-tone ceramic 24h bezel – 100m water-resistant – Calibre 3285 automatic with hours, minutes, seconds, date and GMT – 5-link Jubilee bracelet with Oysterclasp – Superlative Chronometer – EUR 8,500 – More details at www.rolex.com.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch IW501001
The origin of one of the most emblematic IWC watches dates back to pre-WWII days. Known as the B-Uhren, this pilot watch with military specifications was delivered to the German army. Highly legible, oversized watches, the movement of the B-Uhren was protected from magnetism by a soft iron inner case. However, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch was created in 2002 and went through a tasteful facelift in 2016. 46mm in diameter, this beast of a watch is powered by the in-house calibre 52110, a twin barrel automatic movement with 7 days of power reserve and soft iron inner case. The leather strap is supplied by Santoni. And as for the look of this watch, it certainly is one of the most recognizable pilot’s watches around.
Quick facts: 46.2mm steel case – 60m water-resistant – Calibre 52110 automatic movement with hours, minutes, seconds, date and power reserve indication – leather strap with folding buckle – EUR 13,600 – More details at www.iwc.com.
Breitling Navitimer 1 Chronograph 41
Breitling’s aviation history began decades ago. The Navitimer was born in the early 1950s and was developed with the AOPA (Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association). It has been one of the brand’s best-selling models since then. A tribute to the original model, the Navitimer 1 Chronograph 41mm has lost its double wing logo but still features the hallmark slide rule bezel to perform airborne navigation operations. It is powered by the Breitling calibre 13 based on the tried-and-tested Valjoux 7750 whose precision is certified by the COSC. More accessible than the version with an in-house movement and also more friendly on the wrist.
Quick facts: 41mm steel case – 30m water-resistant – Calibre 13 automatic movement with hours, minutes, seconds, date and chronograph – leather strap with pin buckle – Chronometer – EUR 5,500 – More details at www.breitling.com.
Breguet Type XX Aeronavale 3800
Breguet has a long history in aviation. Interestingly, la Société des Ateliers d’Aviation Louis Breguet, a French aircraft manufacturer now merged into Dassault Aviation, was founded by Louis Breguet, a direct descendant of the great watchmaker. In the 1950s, the French naval air army (known in France as the Aéronavale) commissioned the production of “Type 20” pilot chronographs from several brands, including Breguet. In the 1990s, the Type XX returned to Breguet’s collections in a civilian version fitted with a self-winding movement. 39mm in diameter, the reference 3800 features a graduated turning bezel and a screw-locked crown. It is powered by the flyback chronograph calibre 582, based on a Lemania ébauche.
Quick facts: 39mm steel case – 100m water-resistance – Calibre 582 automatic movement with hours, minutes, seconds and flyback chronograph – alligator strap with pin buckle – EUR 9,200 – More details at www.breguet.com.
Zenith Cronometro Tipo CP-2
The Zenith Cronometro Tipo CP-2 is the revival of a 1960s model, the Cairelli chronograph named after the Roman retailer who was commissioned by the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (the Italian Air Force) to source a purpose-built chronograph for its pilots. The modern version comes in a 43mm aged steel or bronze case, which retains most of the design cues of the original model. Its automatic El Primero column-wheel chronograph movement has been modified here with a flyback function.
Quick facts: 43mm aged steel case – 100m water-resistant – Calibre El Primero 405B automatic movement with hours, minutes, seconds and flyback chronograph – Nubuck leather strap with pin buckle – EUR 7,900 – More details at www.zenith-watches.com.