Aviator tradition in modern luxury timepieces.
Airline captain or fighter jet commander, the daring and wanderlust-worthy lifestyle of a pilot captures our imaginations like nothing else. Perhaps it’s the thought of flying thousands of feet above sea level. Perhaps it’s the jet-setting way of life.
And what better way to channel all the intrigue and excitement of the pilot lifestyle than wearing one of the world’s best pilot watches on your wrist?
The pilot watch was first invented in 1904 by aviation pioneer Albert Santos-Dumont. Today, the world’s best luxury watch brands are clamoring to deck our wrists in aeronautically-inspired timepieces that not only serve as reliable companions up in the sky but also look suitably dashing down on Earth too.
But choosing a pilot’s watch is no easy endeavor when there are so many models on offer. You need to consider the features and complications, your particular budget, and, of course, the aesthetics that speak to you.
Just landed: The 15 best pilot watches available to buy today, from the iconic and classic to the practical and functional, with designs ranging from luxury and extravagant to minimalist and modern.
The 15 Best Luxury Pilot Watches of 2020 – Editor’s Pick
- IWC Pilot’s Mark XVIII Heritage
- Timex Intelligent Quartz Fly-Back
- Breitling Aviator 8 Curtiss Warhawk Automatic
- IWC Pilot’s Le Petit Prince Chronograph
- Casio EF52RD-1AV Edifice
- Oris Big Crown ProPilot GMT Automatic
- IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage automatic
- Panerai Luminor Base 8 Days Titanio
- Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master
- Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special
- Bremont ALT1-Classic/CR Automatic Chronograph
- Montblanc 1858 Automatic
- Bell & Ross BR S Heritage
- Baume & Mercier Clifton Club Automatic
- Garmin D2 Delta PX Aviator Smartwatch
Check our special pilot watches buyers’ guide after the list to see exactly what you should pay attention to before purchasing an aviator’s watch. We also share our fashion editors’ tips on how and when to wear a pilot watch, because you should enjoy your watch when you’re on the ground too.
IWC Pilot’s Mark XVIII Heritage
This Mark VIII Heritage model by IWC Schaffhausen offers a new take on their classic Big Pilot’s Watch T.S.C.
It draws inspiration from the Big Pilot’s distinctive profile, but a few things have changed. Firstly, powered by a caliber 35111 movement, this automatic aviator watch will deliver precise and reliable timekeeping to its lucky wearer for years to come. The movement is also housed in robust titanium—durable and lightweight. Meanwhile, a soft-iron case protects the movement against magnetic fields.
Outside, the black dial is big but not too big—still incredibly wearable on an everyday basis. The dial has luminous indices and is high-contrast for optimum visibility. Of course, you’re unlikely to be conducting stealth night-time raids, but it might come in useful in the cinema or theatre, for example.
The vibe is low-key and back-to-basics. It’s a timekeeping device, first and foremost. The only additional features are date at the 3 o’clock mark, and a triangle at 12 o’clock—as per the original pilot’s watches. The mood is charmingly retro, with the large contrasting dial and calfskin leather strap.
The IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Mark XVIII Heritage is everything you could ask for from a classic aviator watch: functional, simple, and stylish. It’s sure to become one of your most treasured possessions and everyday essential.
Best for: a modern-day pilots watch perfect for 21st-century living. It’s our pick for the best overall pilot watch of the year.
Case size: 40 millimetres Material: titanium Movement type: mechanical automatic
Timex Intelligent Quartz Fly-Back
Looking for a watch with all the sleek appeal and vintage allure of the classic pilot watches but without spending too much in the process? The Timex Intelligent Quartz Fly-Back has you covered with a functional budget-friendly timepiece that resembles the best pilot watches.
It’s available in three colours but our favourite is the black stainless steel with a tan strap—evoking a suitably military mood.
Aesthetically, this quartz pilot watch is fairly traditional, with the large dial featuring a date window at 3 o’clock. There’s also a fly-back chronograph, originally designed for pilots, which allows you to stop, reset, and then restart the chronograph in a single seamless action. When it’s not being used, the chronograph displays a second time zone—perfect for international flights, whether you’re the pilot or not.
The watch also features Timex’s signature Indiglo backlight so you can read the time at any moment, day or night. And it’s water-resistant up to 100 meters in case you want to trade your aeronautical pursuits for some of the aquatic variety.
Best for: Fans of the classic pilot watches who need to tighten their purse strings. The Timex Intelligent Quartz Fly-Back is the best pilot watch under $100 on the market today.