5 of the best pilot’s watchesD.C. Hannay
For such a specific classification, the term “pilot’s watch” cuts a surprisingly wide swathe in terms of wrist-bound sub-genres. You’ll find classic chronographs, slide-rule bezel models, Flieger styles, and even timezone-hopping GMTs under the broader “pilot’s watch” umbrella, so you’re not short of options when it comes to aviation-style timepieces. Here, in ascending order of price, are five of my favourite contemporary pilot’s watches that soar above the ordinary.
Sinn 105 St Sa UTC
Germany’s Sinn is a bit of an insider’s choice when it comes to highly capable tool watches. Known for their tegimented “submarine steel” dive watches, Sinn has some fine pilot’s models in the lineup as well. One of their best is the catchily named 105 St Sa UTC, a 200 metre-capable GMT model perfect for globetrotting pilots and passengers alike. The no-nonsense 41mm stainless case gets a subtle bead-blasted finish, with a blackened 24-hour bezel in the aforementioned submarine steel. The movement is the Swiss Sellita SW 330-2 with a 56-hour power reserve, and everything has that Teutonic feel of quality, the same kind of solidity you’ll find in the door of a Mercedes 5oo SEC. A bold orange GMT hand jumps out from your choice of matte black or white dials, and the overall demeanour is that of a serious tool. Which it is.
Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage Automatic Chronograph
Alpina is well known for their Alpiner and Seastrong tool watches, but they’ve also got an established roster of pilot’s models in their Startimer lineup, and the Pilot Heritage Automatic Chronograph is one of the coolest references in their catalogue. This beauty mashes up a vintage-looking 42mm tonneau case with a sinister black PVD finish that recalls my favourite ‘70s-era chronos. The AL-727 automatic movement is another standout detail, a monopusher calibre based on a La Joux-Perret design. The chunky yet compact dimensions and silver sunray panda dial give it real presence, and you get something else that’s rather rare among chronographs: 100 metres of water resistance. A convex sapphire crystal and a substantial black leather strap with white contrast stitching complete the package, and the strong retro flourishes make the Pilot Heritage Chrono irresistible to yours truly.
Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G
The Black Bay GMT is one suave bastard, and no reference is more dashing than the ‘70s-tastic stylings of the S&G version. If you haven’t sussed it out by now, S&G stands for Steel & Gold, which not only makes for a great buddy cop movie title, but also identifies Tudor’s two-tone models. The “root beer” bezel colourway would make Dirty Harry proud, but the BB GMT is more than just a handsome devil. The Manufacture Calibre MT5652 is COSC-certified with a power reserve of 70 hours, and the whole affair is rated to 200 metres, which makes the BB GMT a confident, all-conditions travel companion. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: today’s Tudor is making the watches I wish Rolex still made.
Breitling AVI Ref. 765 1964 Re-Edition
The Breitling renaissance that began in 2017 continues, with the continued release of reverent Re-Editions under the watchful eye of CEO Georges Kern and Breitling consultant and super-collector Fred Mandelbaum. This piece is an especially attractive one. Although the esteemed Navitimer is Breitling’s signature pilot’s watch, the 765 AVI “Co-Pilot” is a gorgeously compelling reboot. The AVI was first released in 1953, and this new limited model recreates the 1964 version with its reverse panda dial and black 12-hour bezel, accented with that distinctive red triangle. Period-correct details include a 41mm stainless-steel case, aged-lume pencil hands and baton markers, and a Hesalite crystal, but modern improvements are employed as well. Those include the manuallyvwound in-house Caliber B09, the very same COSC-certified movement as the one found in the stunning, sold-out Navitimer 806 1959 Re-Edition, as well as a DLC finish on the bezel for added durability. The AVI is a note-perfect throwback to a time when air travel was a far more refined experience.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Edition “Mr. Porter”
IWC is the big Kahuna when it comes to big, modern pilot’s watches, and although they certainly have larger and more complicated choices, this 43mm limited-to-500 special edition just hits the bullseye for me. The Big Pilot’s Watch is available in a wide array of versions, including precious metal and perpetual calendar models, but the bronze Edition “Mr. Porter” variant from the London-based men’s style powerhouse nails the tool watch vibe of a Flieger’s military roots. The big Arabic numerals, sword handset, and iconic faceted conical crown are all present, and all those softly glowing bronze-toned elements coordinate perfectly with the bronze case and understated black dial. Trust me when I say this is gonna age so, so well. Despite the tastefully subdued appearance of its material makeup, it’s still plenty luxe, with a decorated in-house Calibre 82100 movement, antimagnetic soft-iron inner case, convex sapphire crystal, and black Alcantara EasX-CHANGE strap. The whole effect is less about flash, and more about walking that stealth wealth tightrope.