Pilot watches were made for the quest of flight in Europe in the beginning of the 20th century. The world’ first pilot watch was made by Cartier, Louis Cartier to be precise. The Santos watch was made by Louis Cartier for his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont to wear in his flights in 1906 so he did not have to look at his pocket watch when controlling his aircraft. The watch first went on sale in 1911.
In 1912, Louis Blériot flew across the English Channel with a Zenith pilot watch which featured oversized Arabic numerals, an oversized crown and luminous hands and dial. From 1939, the Zenith Zenith Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 became a standard instrument for French aircraft. Zenith then successfully made its name in the history of aviation.
However, what made pilot watches so popular were the two world wars. British pilots began to use pocket watches in WWI. In WWII, five manufacturers including A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, Lacher & Company/Durowe (Laco), Walter Storz (Stowa) and IWC started manufacturing the legendary 55mm B-Uhren for the German air force. Today, you can find vintage pilot watches made by these companies sold at hefty prices.
These B-Uhren were large, easy to read and anti-magnetic and they laid down the foundations for modern pilot watch designs.
1. Breguet Type XX
The Breguet Type XX connects aviation with the brand’s family history. The Breguet Type XX Aeronavale can trace its roots back to the 1950s when the French Naval Airforce made a special order for 500 pilot watches with “flyback” function. Until today, this function remains one of the very recognizable features of the Breguet Type XX Aeronavale.
The watch features a 39mm case, a size which is just about right for everyone’s wrist. It has a polished case and a polished bi-directional bezel. The case is very well finished with coin edge. The dial is extremely legible with three sub-dials displaying the running seconds, the minute counter of the chronograph and the hour counter of the chronograph.
This watch is one of the most celebrated pilot watches in production. It comes with a brown alligator strap or you can choose the bracelet version, which is equally elegant.
The watch retails at around 80k HKD. You can expect more than 20% discounts at HKWF. However, If you want to get a second-hand one, you may as well go for those which have tritium dials. The vintage feeling of those watches are just irresistible.
1. Zenith Type 20 Annual Calendar
The Zenith Type 20 Annual Calendar is absolutely a bang for your buck. It is a pilot chronograph that has annual calendar display and retails at around 75k HKD before any discount.
The watch is a reissue of the aforementioned Zenith Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 with modern functions. It has a 48mm stainless steel case with a huge onion crown. The oversized hands and Arabic numerals offer very good legibility, which is a must for pilot watches. The display of the date is at 6 o’ clock and the display of the month and the day is at 3 o’ clock. The two sub-dials are the chronograph’s minute counter and the running seconds.
The watch comes with a brown alligator strap. It is a blend of modern functions with retro style. On the wrist, it gives you a lot of wrist presence. It is not a watch to be ignored in any way.
1. IWC Big Pilot Heritage 48 (Heritage 55)
IWC has in 2016 updated its pilot watch collection. Adhering to the brand’s design of the 1940s pilot watch, the Big Pilot Heritage offers two choices on case size, 48mm and 55mm. While the 55mm version is exactly the size of the original B-Uhr, the 48mm version may be more wearable for most who are not Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The case of the Big Pilot Heritage is in sandblasted titanium, which helps reduce the weight of the watch. The hands are in blued steel and it has a seconds sub-dial. The Arabic numerals are in beige color.
The strap that comes with the watch is a brown calf-skin pilot-style strap which has rivets on it. It is a watch that reminds you of the WWII era and one that is absolutely better than a Steinhart, a Stowa or a Laco.
The IWC Big Pilot Heritage retails from 120k HKD to 140HKD. It is a simple and pure pilot watch with great history and tradition.