connect with the hour glass
If there’s a category of watches that both creates a great enthusiasm on collectors and that also happens to be one of the most common types of timepieces to be used and abused as a tool, it is the pilot’s watch. However, a pilot’s watch is not a casual instrument, certain rules have to be respected for it to be genuinely useful in the air.
Pilot watches were born at the same time as aviation, and from the very beginning, their definition was simple: a reliable, precise and legible watch to be worn on the wrist. Yes, the latter feature is certainly not a detail, as the very first commercialized wristwatch for men was intended for a pilot, Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont who wore a wristwatch custom made by Cartier, giving birth to the Santos wristwatch. Since then, the pilot watches evolved and the golden era of such tools the mid to late 20th century, particularly with military issue aviator’s watches, many of which defined the basics of the pilot’s watch till today. Let’s look at the key features of timepieces for pilots and watches that exemplify these qualities.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Ref. 5524
Certainly one of the most unexpected watches from the 176 year-old Geneva house when it made its debut in 2015, the Calatrava ref. 5524 is a pilot-inspired watch, inspired by Patek Philippe’s history but still a surprise. The idea of a legible dial with large hands and indexes, as well as a great contrast – it is a Patek for sure, but a pilot’s Patek. And because piloting an airplane means crossing borders, the dual-time function of the ref. 5524 is ideal.
Because piloting an airplane means crossing borders, the dual-time function of the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Ref 5524 is ideal.
Sinn Pilot 104 St
Sinn, even if specialising in affordable timepieces with simple mechanics, is also one of the essential brands in aviation timepieces. Not only do they offer reliable and functional watches to a large audience thanks to accessible pricing, but their tool watches are widely used by military forces (including the German navy’s commando frogmen), proof of their superior conception. The best known of their pilot-oriented pieces is certainly the 104 St, a functional, time-only watch with a day-date function and a rotating bezel to mark elapsed time.
The Sinn 104 St is a functional time-only watch with a day-date function and a rotating bezel to mark elapsed time.
Breguet Type XX 3800ST
The only chronograph of our selection is also based on a military heritage. Created in the 1950s for the French navy, the Type XX (the French military spec for a pilot’s chronograph) mixes the original attributes of the classic pilot’s watch (namely legibility and reliability) with a “retour-en-vol” (or flyback) chronograph. Flyback is an instant reset and restart function for the chronograph, extremely practical for pilots to start recording the elapsed time when changing fuel tanks. As one of the original suppliers to the French navy, Breguet decided to reissue the Type XX in 1996 with a more modern and luxurious case but keeping the same distinctive look as well as the flyback chronograph movement.
Breguet re-started production of the Type XX in 1996, keeping the same distinctive look as well as the flyback chronograph movement.
The IWC Big Pilot Ref. 5009
Even if revamped in 2016, the iconic pilot watch from IWC is all about its classic look purposely inspired by antique IWC B-Uhr (short for “navigation timepiece”) made for German pilots during WWII. These watches were intentionally huge, being made to be worn over a flying jacket, and impressively legible, with their large luminous hands and indexes. The original B-Uhrs are were precise and reliable decades ago, and IWC continues to build pilot watches with the exact same spirit.
The IWC Big Pilot Ref 5009 is intentionally huge and impressively legible with their large luminous hands and indexes.
Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special
The Zenith Pilot Type 20 collection is inspired by vintage timekeepers made by the manufacture, but this time we’re not only talking about wristwatches (the first Type 20 was created in the 1910s for French aviator Louis Bleriot) but also aircraft dashboard instruments. The concept of reliability, precision and legibility is still the same, with large Arabic numerals contrasting on a black dial and, to enhance the vintage look, some superb cathedral hands, altogether in a reasonable-ish 45mm steel case – for a contemporary wearability.
The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special is inspired by its vintage watches and features superb cathedral hands to enhance the vintage look.
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