A “pilot’s watch” is a category of tool watches that has no clear-cut set of requirements. A brief survey of watches used by aviators throughout the 20th century reveals a wide range of timepieces that range from small, minimal and almost dress watch-like to big and brash, loaded with bezels, markings and complications. There are, however, a few key concepts that characterize pilot’s watches, notably legibility and functionality. Vague as those concepts are, you’d be surprised at how few watches are suitable for use in a cockpit. These three vintage pieces, however, have these traits and were models actually used by pilots as a result, which is exactly why they’re worth collecting today.
Zodiac Hermetic Aerospace Jet
What we like: Like the Rolex GMT, the Zodiac Aerospace Jet was originally built with pilots in mind, who liked the legibility of a full 24-hour dial, and given its release in the ’60s it was not an uncommon site on the wrists of military pilots during the Vietnam War, according to Analog/Shift. This particular model, from later in the model’s run in the ’70s, looks to be in great shape, and comes with a black dial with red hour markings.
From the seller: Case is in very good condition overall with some signs of use and wear. Dial is in very good condition with some signs of age, including patina to the luminescent elements. Signed crown.
Seiko 7A28 RAF “Gen 1”
What we like: By the ’80s, quartz had pretty much entirely usurped mechanical watches, which is why the RAF ended up issuing quartz Seikos to its pilots. That’s no knock, though: the 7A28 was one of the most technologically-advanced watches of its time, and a handsome one at that, with a clean 36mm case design and a simple, legible dial. This specific model appears to be the real deal, with all the markings on the case back to indicate it was once issued to the Royal Air Force.
From the seller: In impeccable working order, has been serviced and a new battery; glass and all seals replaced.
Heuer Bundeswehr 3H
What we like: The Heuer Bundwehr is arguably one of the most iconic military pilot’s watches ever made, seeing service in West Germany. Its big lumed numerals and chunky black bezel are archtypal design traits, and the “3H” stamp at six o’clock indicating the presence of tritium (aka hydrogen-3). The flyback function is also a great addition, allowing the wearer to time multiple events in succession without restarting the chrionograph function.
From the seller: Exceptional condition example Heuer German pilot’s 2 registers manual wind chronograph with flyback function circa 1960. In excellent mechanical condition and offered with our one year warrantee of accurate timing and operation. An exceptionally mint condition example.