The pilot style of watch is one of the most popular motifs that watch manufacturers draw from in the modern watch industry. Interestingly enough, what most recognize as a pilot’s watch is completely different than the first timepiece designed for an actual pilot.
Regardless, the large and legible aviator watch of today remains a timeless and popular design. Moreover, decades-long production runs have allowed brands to perfect their designs, leaving us with arguably the best pilot’s watches in history.
In this page, we will be discussing which brand made the first pilot’s watch (hint: they’re still around today). We’re also covering our favorite pilot’s watches. Lastly, we’re giving you a shortlist of aviation watches of different price points:
If you’re in a time crunch, the links above will help you jump down to a specific section. Otherwise, scroll down for the full read!
The Best Pilot’s Watches
- IWC Pilot’s Watch UTC Spitfire Edition MJ271 Ref. IW327101
- Breitling Navitimer 806 1959 Re-Edition Ref. AB0910371B1X1
- Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Ref. 29.2430.679/21.C753
- Bremont ATL1-C White-Black Ref. ALT1-C/WH-BK/R
- Stowa Flieger Classic 6498
We’ve chosen pilot’s models that display both modern and vintage design cues, so some of the brands here may sound familiar while others less so.
The links above will allow you to jump down to a specific one, though we recommend going down the list to appreciate the different perspectives taken by the brands. You may also be surprised to find such different timepieces resulting from the same inspiration.
See Bespoke Unit’s Watch Reviews
Who Made The First Aviator’s Watch?
With the prominence and popularity of pilot’s watches from the likes of IWC, Rolex, Zenith, Breguet and others, it’d be easy to assume that one of these powerhouse manufacturers were the ones to conceive the first aviator’s watch.
However, the history books tell of a time in the early 20th century when an aviator by the name of Alberto Santos-Dumont made a special request of close friend who happened to be a French watchmaker. Santos-Dumont needed a way to check the time on a pocketwatch without taking his hands off the controls, and his associate Louis Cartier produced a solution.
The result was the Cartier Santos watch, and the birth of an eternal watch family. The Santos also happened to be a catalyst in bringing about the advent of wristwatches, particularly for men.
Soon after, Zenith would also enjoy some time in the spotlight. One of their timepieces was worn by French pilot Louis Charles Joseph Blériot on his landmark flight across the English Channel. The event earned the brand almost worldwide recognition and marked the beginning of a historical association to aviation timepieces.
Military Pilot Watches
World War II brought about huge demand for wristwatches for military pilots on both sides. At one point, many renowned brands of today manufactured watches for their respective country’s army when called upon.
The likes of Longines, as well as Stowa, Laco, and A. Lange & Sohne produced timepieces for the Allies and the German Luftwaffe, respectively. IWC, albeit a Swiss company, also produced military watches for German pilots.
The Weems Second-Setting Watch was Longines’ most recognized contribution to pilot’s styles. On the other hand, the Germans employed the B-Uhr design in most of their examples.
The B-Uhr style is what we know today as the pilot’s watch. Back then, though, the timepieces were massive in size (55mm) and powered by hand-wound pocket watch movements.
Luckily, pilot’s watches are not as critical in contemporary times as they were in war times. This has allowed them to evolve aesthetically, namely shrink in size, while still retaining their military inspiration.
Not all brands have followed this same style though. Many have developed modern designs, often employing subtle design cues nodding to the past, while redefining what a pilot’s watch can be in the present-day.
Some of these have even earned a spot on our list of the best pilot’s watches, which we’re flying into next.
Best Pilot’s Watches
1. IWC Pilot’s Watch UTC Spitfire Edition MJ271 Ref. IW327101
One of the earliest manufacturers of pilot’s watches also boasts a seemingly unlimited amount of creativity when it comes to innovating on its hallmark aviator lines. The latest UTC “MJ271” version of the traditional IWC Spitfire from IWC demonstrates this perfectly.
The IW3270-01 possesses a brushed-finish bronze case, which may not sound fitting for a pilot until you actually get a look at it. Like us, you’ll probably find yourself pleasantly surprised by the attractive visage.
The case is further complimented by a dark green/olive dial imprinted with white hour and minute indices. There’s also an arc-shaped aperture at 12 o’clock that displays a second time zone, further accompanied by a date at 3 o’clock.
Measuring 41mm in diameter, the case is more reserved in its size than is usually encountered with pilot’s styles. This, in turn, should make it more widely appealing, as the 46mm+ pilot’s sizes often filter out many would-be buyers.
Though IWC also offered a Big Pilot Perpetual and Pilot’s Chrono in this bronze theme, we find the MJ271 limited edition to be the most cohesive. The new look, coupled with the practicality of the second time function, make for an ideal example of a modern pilot’s timepiece.
- Brand – IWC
- Model – Pilot’s Watch UTC Spitfire Edition “MJ271” (See on IWC’s site.)
- Price – $8,950
2. Breitling Navitimer 806 1959 Re-Edition Ref. AB0910371B1X1
Our list of top pilot watches would not be complete without a watch from Breitling, the self-proclaimed producer of “instruments for professionals”, especially if those professionals are aviators.
One of their most recent releases, the Navitimer Ref. 806 1959, is a carbon copy re-edition of a 1959 icon. The brand has gone to great lengths to maintain the look of the original while implementing modern technology.
The case boasts the same dimensions, as well as the same crystal, dial layout, and dial printings. Breitling specifically denotes that the only aspects separating the re-edition from the original are the water resistance (now 30m) and the modernized Super-LumiNova material whose color has been matched to imitate aged radium.
Also different, and rightly so, is the movement powering the watch. The re-edition is powered by an in-house chronometer-certified Caliber B09, a great upgrade from Breitling calibers of times past.
Though the re-edition card has been played by many before Breitling, it takes particular skill to know when to play it, as well as the manner in which to do so.
Breitling does so at a time when their brand is undergoing many changes, though here they make it clear that their heritage will not be forgotten. It’s also evident that quality and expertise shall not be sacrificed, nor will the beautiful Navitimer model’s history be overshadowed by temporary trends.
- Brand – Breitling
- Model – Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition (See on Breitling’s site.)
- Price – $8,600
3. Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Ref. 29.2430.679/21.C753
A past intertwined with that of aviation itself makes the Zenith’s Type 20 Extra Special yet another historical figure that should not go unmentioned when considering the best pilot’s timepieces.
Our favorite version, the Type 20 Extra Special, employs an unorthodox bronze case that is sure to age and impart an even more authentic look to the watch. At 45mm, the case is traditionally large, as is its “onion crown”.
The dial is black and possesses large and luminous Arabic numeral indices, along with equally lumed rose-toned hands at center. Lastly, bringing the entire package together is a Nubuck leather strap that is sure to age and develop its own unique character over time.
The Type 20 style of pilot’s watch is not the first to come to mind when most collectors think of a pilot’s watch. Yet its heritage is so rich, its look so uncommon, and the brand making it so well-established, that it’s difficult to argue against this timepiece remaining a classic aviator’s style for even more decades to come.
- Brand – Zenith
- Model – Pilot Type 20 Extra Special (See on Zenith’s site.)
- Price – $6,700
4. Bremont ATL1-C White-Black Ref. ALT1-C/WH-BK/R
In contemporary times, Bremont has come to be recognized as one of the top watch brands producing modern pilot’s watches. The founders, being aviators themselves, have made sure that the theme remains front and center in many of their watch offerings.
Nick and Giles English have also ensured that build quality and style are never compromised either. The ALT1-C White-Black demonstrates this concretely.
The watch touts a brushed-finish hardened steel case with the trademark DLC-treated mid-case and a sapphire caseback. Its dial is white with contrasting chronograph subregisters which make for an attractive “panda” motif. Also of note are the date at 6, the applied luminous hour indices, the railroad minute track, and the delicately lumed center hands.
Bremont has also taken it upon themselves to ensure that their timepieces are of chronometer specification, a characteristic not discarded with this ALT1-C. This last virtue helps make an already engaging timepiece into an accurate one, ultimately sealing the deal on what present-day pilot’s style should hope to be.
- Brand – Bremont
- Model – ATL1-C White-Black (See on Bremont’s site.)
- Price – $6,495
5. Stowa Flieger Classic 6498
Stowa was one of the original manufacturers in the 1940s when the first pilot’s models, the Baumuster A and Baumuster B (B-Uhr), were being conceived.
In the modern day, they continue to carry their aviation legacy with modernized styles and components. In some cases, though, they draw directly from their earliest watches for inspiration on new timepieces.
The Flieger Classic 6498 is just such a case. Along with the traditional looks of the pioneering big pilots, Stowa has also added a small seconds register while keeping the large, legible, and luminous dial markings.
The case measures in at 41mm, more reserved than the initial 55mm, which certainly amplifies the potential audience while maintaining the original aesthetic. Inside the case is a nicely finished handwound Unitas 6498, a direct descendant of the Unitas caliber 2812 employed in war times.
It’s almost hard to believe that a timepiece with the pedigree of the Stowa Flieger and with such outstanding quality can be purchased brand new for less than $1,500.
Luckily, this is the nature of Stowa – a brand not caught up in marketing or being the most popular. Instead, they’re solely preoccupied with making the best watch, with the best looks, at the best price to their customer.
- Brand – Stowa
- Model – Flieger Classic 6498 (See on Stowa’s site)
- Price – ~$1,350
Aviator Watches By Price
All prices are for new watches unless otherwise indicated.
Pilot’s Watches Under $5000
- Sinn 103 Pilot’s Chronograph Limited Edition Ref. St Sa E – $2,250
- Alpina Startimer Pilot chronograph “Blackstar” Ref. AL-860GB4FBS6 – $3,395
- IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire Ref. IW326801 – $4,350
Pilot’s Watches Under $2000
- Stowa Flieger GMT – $1,700
- Oris Big Crown ProPilot Big Date Ref. 01 751 7697 4065 – $1,195 (Gray Market)
- Union Glashutte Belisar Pilot Date Ref. D002.607.16.057.00 – $1,975
Pilot’s Watches Under $1000
- Hamilton Khaki Aviation Day Date Auto Ref. H64715535 – $950
- Alpina Startimer Pilot Automatic Ref. AL-525S4S6 – $995
- Stowa Flieger Verus 40 – $650
Pilot’s Watches Under $500
- Citizen Promaster Nighthawk Ref. BJ7000-52E – $300
- Sea-Gull Classic Mechanical Pilot Watch Ref. D819.552 – $279
- Laco Pilot Watch Aachen 42 Ref. 861690.2 – $410
Check Out Our Other Watch Guides
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the pilot’s watches that we presented in this article – were there any you may have disagreed with? Let us know below in the comments!
If you’re hunting down more watch content, make sure to check out some of the related guides below:
- What Is A True Dress Watch + Our List Of The Best Ones
- How Thin Is Thin? Bespoke Unit Breaks Down The Thinnest Timepieces
- The Best Field Watches Are Not Always The Most Expensive
- History Of German Watchmaking & Today’s Top Brands
- Bespoke Unit Watch Homepage
"I've owned many pilot's watches throughout the years and have yet to get tired of them. Though I usually go for IWCs, there's a couple of brands on this list I will definitely be checking out. Great stuff!"Rating: 5.0★★★★★