In the early 1900’s, most men still carried pocket watches. But as aviation became more established, new pilots found that they needed a more practical instrument for navigation. The invention of what are now iconic pilot watches filled that need. The functionality of the pilot watch evolved during the outbreak of World War I. However, it was Charles Lindbergh’s history-making trans-Atlantic flight in 1927 that solidified the pilot watch as key tool for flight.
The next major moment in the evolution of the pilot watch came at the onset of the Second World War. During the war, there was an increased need for a watch that could be read at a glance during day and night missions. Thus, the pilot watch proved to be crucial for U.S. Army Air Forces. But, it was during the post-war aviation boom that the pilot watch took on the easily-identifiable, complicated characteristics seen in many modern watch models.
A few key features separate a pilot watch from other sports watches. They typically have large and highly legible dials with prominent, high-contrast hands for optimal visibility in extreme conditions. To withstand constant changes in pressure, most pilot watches contain an anti-magnetic seal or Faraday cage along with crystal technology. Many models also feature dual time or GMT functions to track local time, destination time, and UTC.
Iconic Pilot Watches
Even with today’s advancements in aviation technology, both professional and recreational pilots often choose to keep a watch close by—even if just for its historical significance and appealing design. Because of this, pilot watches continue to be one of the most popular models for the aviation community and watch enthusiasts alike. These are seven of the most iconic pilot watches on the market today.
The IWC Top Gun pilot watch collection pays homage to the Fighter Tactics Instructor program, reserved for the U.S. Navy’s top pilots. This ultra-masculine model is the only one on the market bearing the iconic Top Gun name.
More than simply a stylish watch, a Bell & Ross Aviation serves as an indispensable survival tool. This is tactical timekeeping.
The Breitling Avenger family of pilot watches are known for their massive build, which provides the maximum sturdiness and shock resistance. The special edition Skyland Blacksteel model came in a limited number of only 2000 pieces.
The Bremont Zulu ALT1-ZT collection is popular among the military squadrons who partner with the brand. The ALT1-ZT/51 variation adds a new dimension to the range and integrates a significant design from Bremont’s past – the Limited Edition P51.
The Breitling Navitimer is like a miniature computer for pilots. In 1962, the model reached new heights when Breitling added a groundbreaking 24-hour dial to help spacemen distinguish between night and day.
Aviation is an important part of the Breguet family’s history of watchmaking. The Type XX Transatlantique model pays homage to Type XX Transatlantic planes produced by Breguet Aviation in the early 1900’s.
The creation of the Santos marks a major moment in the history of Cartier. It was not only the brand’s first men’s wristwatch but also the first pilot watch ever made.