The 20 Best Pilot’s Watches Available Right Now
You are a pilot, flying the aircraft of your dreams. What do you need? Scarf? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Trusty copilot? Roger that, Ace.
Now, what about your watch. What does it look like? It’s highly legible. It can survive drastic changes in temperature and pressure, and is protected from magnetic fields. If you’re a fighter pilot, you need to be able to read it in between strafing runs and shouting at obscenities at Tom Cruise. A globe-trotting commercial pilot might want a GMT hand showing a second time zone; a solo explorer flying an ultralight might want a GPS function in the watch.
You are, ostensibly, only an imaginary pilot. But who cares? The best pilots watches mix and match all sorts of cool features; what was once the tool watch of choice for fighter jocks has a rich history and a wildly divergent set of uses. Pilots watches are all different — which means you have lots of chances to find just the right one. Here are our favorites.
Seagull 1963 Chronograph
The Tianjin WuYi watch factory was one of the Chinese government’s most important watch factories during the Industrial Revolution. In 1963, it produced the first Chinese chronograph, the ST3. The factory privatized during an entirely different revolution — the quartz one — and today makes a number of movements, including tourbillons. It also makes the 1963 Chronograph, an homage to the ST3, and an affordable chronograph, to boot.
Movement: Seagull ST19 hand-winding
Notable Functions: Chronograph
The Cruxible is MK II’s attempt to honor vintage American watch design. The watch is an homage to the A-11, a navigation watch worn mostly by soldiers in the American military. The Cruxible has large numerals for legibility, a big crown, an affordable price, and a simple, understated design that’s the hallmark of the brand. And you can get one without the years-long wait that comes with Yao’s other designs.
Movement: SII NE15 automatic
Notable Functions: Date (optional)
Citizen Satellite Wave GPS Freedom
Citizen’s innovation is constantly being passed on to consumers. Take, for instance, the Satellite Wave GPS watch — it’s powered by the brand’s Eco-Drive movement, of course. Its GPS function allows for accurate timekeeping, no matter where you are, rather than functioning aa a navigating tool. It simply calculates your position, and, when you cross a time zone boundary, adjusts the watch’s time for you, anywhere in the world.
Movement: Eco-Drive calibre F150
Notable Functions: GPS timekeeping and time zone adjustment; perpetual calendar
“Sleek” is not ordinarily the realm of the pilot’s watch. Indeed, Damasko, a German brand that’s become a do-it-all darkhorse in a few short decades, tends to make military-inspired watches bigger than 40mm in diameter. The DS30, at just 39mm and under 10mm thick, breaks that streak. Its simple black-and-white dial round out a tight, worthy package. And as we recently pointed out, it’s a great unisex watch.
Movement: ETA 2824-2
Notable Functions: Shockproof; antimagnetic
Alpina Startimer Pilot Automatic
Alpina has the mid-range pilot’s watch absolutely nailed down. Its dial finishing and style is legible and classic; its hands, unique and elegant; the case size ideal; the crown, perfectly big. Any first-time pilot’s watch buyer should check out the brand’s entire line to consider everything from its chronographs to its affordable throwbacks. But the Startimer Pilot Automatic is a bread-and-butter watch, at the right price.
Notable Functions: Date
Archimede Pilot 39 Bronze
Archimede makes several pilot’s watches with more aeronautically themed complications — the 42 GMT and Pilot Chronograph, for instance — than this simple three-hander. Yet, though the 39 Bronze has been around for several years, its simple dial design and straightforward bronze case are both timeless and perfectly of the time. That it costs around $1,000 with a workhorse ETA 2824-2 automatic movement makes it a wonderful pilot’s watch value-buy.
Movement: ETA 2824
Notable Functions: Bronze case
Hamilton Pilot Pioneer Aluminum
Hamilton released its Pilot Pioneer in stainless steel back in 2013 as an homage to RAF pilots. It had a Valjoux movement and a neat asymmetrical case, but it cost $2,000. Its Aluminum version, released in 2015, remains an interesting take on the pilot watch style; aluminum’s extremely light weight makes it very comfortable. And isn’t ultra-lightweight style the ultimate homage to flight?
Notable Functions: 80-hour power reserve, rotating interior bezel
Sinn 104 ST SA I A
Sinn calls it a “classic pilot’s watch,” and it is. There’s a rotating bezel and precise seconds markers, plus a Sellita movement that’s resistant to pressure changes. This version, our favorite yet, has a sunburst-style anthracite electroplated dial. Sinn is beloved among watch nerds because it produces quality and toughness at a good price, and this one lands on the lower end of the sliding scale, just above $1,300.
Movement: SW 220-1
Notable Functions: Captive bezel, day/date
Farer Automatic GMT
Since 2015, the British-based brand Farer has combined sharp mid-century looks with funky pops of color. Its Automatic GMT was the brand’s first use of an automatic movement. Farer did it using the ETA 2893-2, at a notably affordable cost with some slightly oddball colorways. It doesn’t have a rotating bezel like several other microbrand GMTs on this list, but this lends it a sleek profile.
Movement: ETA 2893-2
Notable Functions: GMT
Oris Big Crown Pointer Date
Oris is regarded as a great brand that punches above its price range, and the Big Crown Pointer Date makes the best case for that reputation yet. Released in 2018 and based on the brand’s classic pilot’s watches, it offers a vintage take on the Big Crown line with a coin-edged bezel, subtle dial colors in black, blue, and green, and a fourth date hand that points to the date around the edge of the dial. It’s a damn well executed watch, starting at just $1,600.
Movement: Oris Calibre 754 (Sellita SW 200-1)
Notable Functions: Pointer date
Monta, based out of St. Louis, Missouri, has scored a number of hit watches over the past years by combining indie prices with big-brand finishing and Swiss movements. The Skyquest combines a dive watch’s bulk with a Sellita GMT movement and rotating bezel. “Monta is filling a niche here in the GMT market,” we wrote in our hands-on review, “and they’re doing it with an attention to detail that typically costs much, much more.”
Movement: Sellita SW330 automatic
Notable Functions: GMT hand, rotating bezel
Oak & Oscar GMT
Another indie brand takes a crack at the GMT and hits a home run. The Sandford paired a GMT movement and an internal, rotating 24-hour bezel with Oak & Oscar’s hallmark sandwich dial. Unfortunately only 200 were ever made, so you’ll have to look on the secondhand market to get your hands on one of these beautifully made watches.
Movement: Soprod C125
Notable Functions: GMT hand, rotating internal bezel
Longines Heritage Military
Unveiled at Baselworld 2018, the simply named Longines Military Watch is a study in simplicity. For inspiration, the Swiss brand used a watch it made for the British RAF during WWII. And it went for the vintage look, hard: the simulated patina of the cream dial is so convincing that your friends might think you found the watch in your grandfather’s old desk.
Movement: Longines L619/888
Notable Functions: Blued steel hands
Junghans Meister Pilot Chronoscope
Junghans was making clocks for planes all the way back in the 1930s and wristwatches for the West German military in the 1950s. Those ‘50s chronos looked a lot like the Meister Pilot Chronoscope. The watch’s surprisingly modern-looking angularity comes from the watch’s bezel, which is deeply scalloped. It also features a column-wheel chronograph and a dial with two sub-dials at 3 and 9 o’clock. In black and stainless steel, it’s mid-century and brutalist at the same time.
Notable Functions: Chronograph
Bell & Ross BR V2-93 GMT
Bell & Ross is famous for its square watches that mimic an airplane’s dashboard instruments. The V2-93 GMT is decidedly round, and yet nearly everyone who looks at it agrees that B&R nailed it. It’s part of their vintage-inspired GMT lineup, but it’s been downsized to 41mm, and gotten an aluminum bezel insert that pops.
Movement: BR Cal 303
Notable Functions: GMT
When it was released in 2009, the Bremont MBI — short for Martin-Baker, after the company that makes ejection systems — was an affirmation of the idea that a pilot’s watch should be for legit pilots: Unlike its cousin the MBII, you had to have ejected from a MB seat to buy one. The new MBIII is just as bombproof as the original MBI (shockproof and anti-magnetic, actually), but with a GMT movement. And no, you don’t need to eject to get one.
Movement: BE-93-2AE chronometer
Notable Functions: GMT hand
Omega Spacemaster Z-33
If you want to really capture the funkiness of the late sixties and early seventies in a sci-fi kind of way, the Omega Spacemaster Z-33 is your choice. Its tonneau-shaped case is brushed titanium, with an extra-thick titanium case back that supposedly helps its alarm sound extra-loud. It also features UTC time plus two additional time zones and a perpetual calendar. And yes, it’s quartz — because let’s be honest, the void of space doesn’t care about your nostalgia for mechanical gears.
Diameter: 43mm x 53mm
Movement: Omega 5666 (quartz)
Notable Functions: UTC + 2 time zones, alarm, perpetual calendar
IWC Chronograph Spitfire
IWC’s Mark line is a benchmark in military watches — the Mark XI was made in 1948 for the British Ministry of Defense and was worn by British pilots. Those who want to stick with the historic lineage of the brand should check out the Mark XVIII; the brand’s Spitfire line is a more modern twist. Our money’s on the Chronograph, which was released at SIHH in 2019 and features a triple-register layout and a bronze case with a green dial.
Movement: IWC 69380 column-wheel chronograph
Notable Functions: Chronograph
Zenith Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback
In 2016, Zenith reintroduced a handsome modern version of its famous Cairelli Chronograph, supplied to pilots in the Italian military during the 1960s. The CP-2 Flyback version adds either a bronze or aged stainless steel case and a “tropical dial,” both of which complete the vintage look, reimagined. Of course, it’s powered by Zenith’s legendary El Primero movement.
Movement: El Primero 45B
Notable Functions: Flyback chronograph
Rolex GMT Master II
As Rolex lore has it, sometime in the 1950s, PanAmerican airlines requested a watch for their pilots that had would allow them to track both GMT and local time. The result was the Rolex GMT Master, with a half-blue, half-red bezel. Though this classic “Pepsi” configuration is perhaps most well-known, at Baselworld 2019 Rolex brought back the “Batman” bezel (black and blue), this time on a Jubilee bracelet, giving the GMT-lover even more choice. It’s an icon of the air, with a legend that’s far outlived its vintage airline roots.
Movement: Rolex Caliber 3285
Notable Functions: GMT hand