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10 Best Pilot Watches of 2024 for Aviators

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best pilot watches

Pilot watches are more than just timepieces; they are essential tools for aviators, combining functionality with style.

At the forefront of this blend are iconic timepieces like the Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi” and the Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43, celebrated for their exceptional precision and robustness. 

Notably, watches such as the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN have become the go-to choice for US Navy pilots, esteemed for their dependability and sophisticated features tailored to meet the rigorous demands of aviation.

Read on to learn more about our curated selection that appeals to the high-flying spirit of aviation professionals and the discerning taste of watch connoisseurs.

Soaring Through Time: The Evolution of Pilot Watches

The history of pilot watches is a fascinating journey through time, reflecting the evolution of aviation and the needs of pilots. The first pilot watch can be traced back to 1904, crafted by Cartier for Brazilian pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont, who needed an easy-to-read timepiece while flying. This wristwatch, known as the “Santos,” marked the beginning of the pilot watch as an essential tool in the cockpit​​.

During World War I, the demands of aerial combat necessitated watches with large, easily readable dials and luminous hands and numerals. The iconic black dial with large Arabic numerals became standard. Innovations such as the independently adjustable seconds ring, developed by U.S. Navy Captain Philip Van Horn Weems, allowed pilots to synchronize their watches with radio time signals without stopping the sweep seconds hand​

Notable years in the history of pilot watches:

  • 1904: The Cartier Santos, the first pilot watch, was created for Alberto Santos-Dumont.
  • 1909: Louis Bleriot wore a Zenith wristwatch during the first airplane flight across the English Channel.
  • 1927: Charles Lindbergh collaborated with Philip Van Horn Weems to develop the Hour Angle system for wristwatches.
  • 1936: The Beobachtungsuhr (B-Uhr) was developed, setting the standard for classic pilot watches.
  • 1941: Breitling introduced the Chronomat with a slide rule bezel.
  • 1955: The Breitling Navitimer, also with a slide rule, was released.
  • 1992: IWC unveiled its IW3711 Double-Chronograph.
  • 2005: Bell & Ross introduced the BR-01 with an instrument-inspired design.
  • 2018: LIV Watches introduced the P-51 Pilot’s Watch, paying homage to the P-51 Mustang fighter of WWII​

Pilot watches today are characterized by features such as illuminated dials, clear numerals, easy time zone adjustments, and rugged construction. While modern aircraft are equipped with sophisticated instruments, the pilot watch remains a valuable backup and a symbol of reliability and precision.

Our Top Picks for Pilot Watches 

1. Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi” – Stainless Steel & Black Dial Ref. 126710BLRO

Rolex Pepsi 126710BLRO

About

In the 1950s, Rolex introduced the “Pepsi” model, a pilot’s watch with a stainless steel case, rotating 24-hour bezel, and sapphire crystal, offering durability and precision. With a stainless steel case, a rotating 24-hour bezel, and a sapphire crystal, this pilot’s watch combines durability with precision. The 40mm diameter and 100m water resistance make it a top choice among the best pilot watches for both functionality and style.

Features

The GMT function stands out as a unique feature, enabling the tracking of an additional time zone with a distinctive extra hand and a 24-hour bezel. Specifically tailored for global travelers, and enthusiasts of sports watches, this innovation allows for seamless navigation across different time zones with ease.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2018
  • Case Size: 40mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Jubilee
    • Bezel – Ceramic
  • Function: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Additional 24 Hour Hand (adjustable), Date, Chronometer
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Rolex caliber 3285

2. Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Chronograph – Bronze & Blue Dial Ref. 29.2430.4069/57

Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Chronograph Ref. 29.2430.4069-57

About

Drawing inspiration from the 1920s and ’30s, the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Chronograph is among the best pilot watches, embodying the spirit of early aviation. This pilot’s watch features a robust 45mm bronze case that develops a unique patina over time, paired with a striking blue dial and luminescent Arabic numerals for excellent readability. The blue nubuck leather strap enhances its vintage appeal. 

Features

This timepiece stands out with its flyback chronograph and column wheel mechanism, allowing for precise timing and seamless reset. Its unique dial layout, featuring either three central hands or two central hands with a small seconds sub-dial at the 9 o’clock position, caters to diverse user preferences and enhances readability.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2017
  • Case Size: 45mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Blue
    • Bracelet – Leather
    • Bezel – Bronze
  • Function: Hours, Minutes, Small Seconds, Chronograph, Column wheel
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Zenith caliber El Primero 4069

3. Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 – Stainless Steel & Silver Dial Ref. AB0138241G1A1

Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Ref. AB0138241G1A1

About

This iconic timepiece, developed by Willy Breitling in 1952, revolutionized pilots’ watches with its circular slide rule for flight calculations. As the official watch of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, it became the most famous pilot’s watch, adored by aviators and celebrities alike. The stainless steel model features a 43mm case, sapphire crystal, and the Breitling 01 self-winding movement with a 70-hour power reserve. 

Features

This watch boasts a highly precise chronograph with 1/4th second, 30 minutes, and 12-hour counters. It is complemented by a robust 47-jewel movement ensuring exceptional accuracy and reliability.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2023
  • Case Size: 43mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Silver
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Stainless steel
  • Function: Automatic, Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Chronograph
  • Mechanism: Automatic

4. Longines Spirit Zulu Time 42 – Stainless Steel & Black Dial Ref. L3.812.4.53

Longines Spirit Zulu Time 42 Ref. L3.812.4.53

About

Drawing inspiration from its illustrious aviation heritage, the Spirit Zulu Time is a testament to Longines’ prowess in crafting some of the best pilot’s watches. It boasts a robust stainless steel case with a rotating 24-hour bezel, complemented by a sunburst black dial featuring Arabic numerals and stick hands. The watch is powered by the self-winding caliber L844.4, ensuring precision with its chronometer certification and offering a true GMT function. 

Features

The watch features an additional 24-hour hand that is adjustable, along with a date function. It boasts excellent lume on its markers, Arabic numeral indexes, and stick hands for enhanced visibility.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2022
  • Case Size: 42mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Stainless steelStainless steel
  • Function: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Additional 24 Hour Hand (adjustable), Date
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Longines caliber L844.4

5. Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time – White Gold & Blue Dial Ref. 5524G

Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref No. 5524G-001

About

The Calatrava, a big pilot’s watch collection of Patek Philippe is a masterpiece that draws on the rich heritage of aviation timepieces. This model, with its innovative dual time zone mechanism, is a testament to the brand’s commitment to combining functionality with elegance. The blue varnished dial, adorned with luminescent gold applied numerals, and the robust white gold case, water-resistant to 60 meters, make it a top choice for travelers seeking both style and practicality. 

Features

This watch allows the wearer to easily track two time zones simultaneously, with clear indications for day and night in both the local and home time zones. Additionally, it features a date display that adjusts according to the local time setting.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2015
  • Case Size: 42mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Blue
    • Bracelet – Calf Leather
    • Bezel – White Gold
  • Function: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Additional 12 Hour Hand (adjustable), Day/Night Indication, Date
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Patek Philippe caliber 324 S C FUS

6. IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN – Ceramic & Black Dial Ref. 389101

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Ref. 389101

About

The “TOP GUN” series by IWC Pilot’s watches is inspired by the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as TOPGUN, but IWC has a long history of producing pilot watches for various air forces, including the German Air Force (Luftwaffe). Crafted with a durable ceramic case and a striking black dial, this timepiece from IWC Schaffhausen Pilot collection stands out for its robust design and aviation heritage. 

Features

This IWC Big Pilot Watch features a robust 69380 calibre with a 46-hour power reserve, ensuring reliability for pilots. It boasts a soft-iron inner case for magnetic field protection and a chronograph function for precise timing.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2019
  • Case Size: 44.5mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Textile Strap
    • Bezel – Ceramic
  • Function: Hours, Minutes, Small Seconds, Date, Day, Chronograph, Column Wheel
  • Mechanism: Automatic, IWC caliber 69380

7. Rolex Air King 40 – Stainless Steel & Black Dial Ref. 126900

Rolex Air-King 40 126900

About

Capturing the essence of aviation heritage, the Air-King 40 is a testament to Rolex’s prowess in creating modern watches with a nod to the past. Its black dial, adorned with Arabic numerals, is encased in robust stainless steel, making it a durable companion for any adventure. Powered by the precise Rolex caliber 3230, this timepiece seamlessly blends the elegance of vintage watches with the functionality of GMT watches

Features

Featuring the innovative 3230 movement and an updated case design, this watch stands out with its large 3, 6, and 9 numerals, complemented by a minute scale for precise navigational time readings, catering to the specific needs of pilots and navigators.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2022
  • Case Size: 40mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Stainless steel
  • Function: Hours, Minutes, Seconds
  • Mechanism: Automatic,Rolex caliber 3230

8. Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch – Stainless Steel & Black Dial Ref. 310.30.42.50.01.002

Omega Speedmaster 310.30.42.50.01.002

About

Omega offers a diverse range of watches, from dive watches to aviation watches, catering to all types you might be looking for. Crafted in 2021, this Pilot’s watch chronograph 41, one of the best pilot watches features the robust Omega caliber 3861 automatic movement, encased in stainless steel with a sapphire crystal back. Its black matte dial and tachymeter bezel draw vintage inspiration, making it a great watch for fearless aviators and the favorite pilot alike. 

Features

This Moonwatch boasts a chronograph function with small seconds, hours, and minutes, as well as a chronometer certification for precision. Its iconic design includes an aluminum tachymeter bezel insert, enhancing its functionality and style.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2022
  • Case Size: 41mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Stainless steel
    • Bezel – Stainless steel
  • Function: Small Seconds, Hours, Minutes, Chronograph, Chronometer
  • Mechanism: Automatic, Omega caliber 3861

9. Cartier Santos De Cartier – Stainless Steel & Black Ref. WSSA0039

Cartier Santos De Cartier Ref. WSSA0039

About

Designed by Louis Cartier in 1904 for aviation pioneer Alberto Santos Dumont, this vintage charm timepiece represents the first pilot watch, marking a significant milestone in aviation watch history. Its square case and black dial showcase Cartier’s signature Art Deco aesthetic, while the stainless steel construction ensures durability.

Features

This best pilot watch features a bold black dial with white Roman numerals, complemented by an ADLC coated steel bezel. Its mechanical movement with automatic winding 1847 MC is housed in a steel case, paired with a black rubber strap featuring a stainless steel folding clasp.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2020
  • Case Size: 39.8mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Rubber
    • Bezel – Stainless Steel
  • Function: Date, Hours, Minutes, Seconds
  • Mechanism: Automatic

10. Breitling Emergency – Titanium & Black Dial Ref. E76325221B1S1

Breitling Emergency Ref. E76325221B1S1

About

Equipped with the Breitling 76 SuperQuartz™ movement, this titanium-cased timepiece is a testament to precision and durability, featuring a thermocompensated quartz electronic mechanism with both analog and digital display options, including a 1/100th second chronograph. Its bidirectional bezel with a compass scale, paired with a non-screw-locked crown and integrated pushpiece, ensures versatility for adventurers. 

Features

Its standout feature is the integrated dual frequency distress beacon, operating at 121.5 MHz and 406 MHz, which can be a lifesaver in emergency situations by transmitting a signal for rescue operations. The durable titanium case and water resistance up to 5 bars further enhance its reliability and versatility.

Specifications

  • Production Year: 2024
  • Case Size: 51mm
  • Materials:
    • Dial – Black
    • Bracelet – Rubber
    • Bezel – Titanium
  • Function: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Day, Date, Alarm
  • Mechanism: Quartz, Breitling 76

Comparison table

In this comparison table, we present a curated selection of pilot watches, each with its distinct features and price points. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview to assist you in finding the perfect timepiece that aligns with your preferences and budget.

ModelKey FeaturesPre-Owned Price
Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi” Ref. 126710BLRO• Ceramic “Pepsi” bezel
• Rolex caliber 3285
• Jubilee bracelet
S$28,900
Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Chronograph Ref. 29.2430.4069/57• Bronze case
• El Primero 4069 movement
• Leather strap
S$6,347
Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Ref. AB0138241G1A1• Stainless steel construction
• B01 movement
• Slide rule bezel
S$9,243
Longines Spirit Zulu Time 42 Ref. L3.812.4.53• Dual time zone
• Longines caliber L844.4
• Stainless steel case
S$2,900
Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Ref. 5524G• Dual time zone with day/night indicator
• Patek Philippe caliber 324 S C FUS
• White gold case
S$47,107
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Ref. 389101• Ceramic caseI
• WC caliber 69380
• Textile strap
S$8,602
Rolex Air King 40 Ref. 126900• Rolex caliber 3230
• Stainless steel case
• Black dial
S$11,235
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 3861 Ref. 310.30.42.50.01.002• Manual-winding Omega caliber 3861
• Stainless steel case
• Hesalite crystal
S$10,800
Cartier Santos De Cartier Ref. WSSA0039• Stainless steel case
• Automatic movement
• Black rubber strap
S$9,280
Breitling Emergency Ref. E76325221B1S1• Titanium case
• Emergency distress beacon
• Quartz movement
S$20,177

The table above showcases the diversity and uniqueness of pilot watches available in the market. Whether you’re drawn to the classic elegance of the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time or the innovative functionality of the Breitling Emergency, there’s a watch to suit every aviator’s needs. We hope this comparison aids you in making an informed decision in your quest for the ideal pilot watch.

Investment Potential

When considering the investment potential of pilot watches, models like the Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi” and the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time stand out. 

The Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi” has shown significant appreciation in value from its retail price of S$15,700 to a pre-owned price of S$28,900, with a relatively low volatility of 4.8%. This indicates a stable and growing demand in the market. 

On the other hand, the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, despite a drop from its retail price of S$83,400 to a market price of S$47,107, still holds a prestigious position in the market due to its brand reputation and unique features, with a volatility of 6.9%.

For those with tighter budgets, the Longines Spirit Zulu Time 42 presents a more accessible option. With a retail price of around S$4,200 and a current market price of S$2,900, it offers a more affordable entry into the world of pilot watches. However, its higher volatility of 18.2% suggests that its market value can fluctuate more significantly compared to the higher-end models.

Final Word

Pilot watches blend historical depth, technological innovation, and unmatched functionality, far exceeding mere fashion statements. They are indispensable tools for aviation professionals, embodying precision, durability, and style.

Key Takeaways

  • Pilot watches are renowned for their robust design and practical features, such as dual time zones, chronographs, and legible dials, catering to the demands of aviation and travel.
  • The price of pilot watches varies widely, with other pilot’s watches options available from as low as S$2,900 for models like the Longines Spirit Zulu Time 42 to as high as S$47,107 for luxury pieces like the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time.
  • High-quality pilot watches, especially like the favorite pilot’s watches brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Breitling, can hold their value well over time, making them not just functional tools but also potential investment pieces.

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