Editor’s Note: We’ve updated our favorite pilot’s watch picks to include the best 2015 has to offer.
IWC Spitfire Chronograph
IWC’s development of pilot’s watches can be traced as far back as the 1930s, and they haven’t budged in their focus — covetable pilot’s watches with a signature style — since. With its beautiful gray dial and instrument-like legibility, the Spitfire Chronograph ($10,700) has the easy appeal of a nicely broken-in bomber jacket. The Spitfire’s 43mm steel case houses IWC’s in-house 89365 automatic chronograph movement with a 60-minute maximum measure, flyback functionality and 68 hours of power reserve; on its brown alligator strap, it’s also a stunning spin on the Big Pilot style. And then there’s its $10k price tag, which proves that 80 years of experience doesn’t come cheap.
Archimede 42 B Automatic
While you’ll find a Swiss automatic movement at the heart of the 42 B Automatic, the case was made just outside Stuttgart, and all Archimede’s watches are assigned and assembled in Germany. The watch features a classic design, with an arrow at 12 o’clock, an inside hour track, and an outside minute track on the dial, read by prominent, lumed hands; each hour is clearly marked, as are the minutes, in segments of 5. At 42mm in diameter, the 42 B strikes the right balance between the pilot watch’s traditionally large size and modern everyday wearability. Better yet, it’s priced well under $1,000.
Alpina Startimer Manufacture
The Alpina Startimer’s layout pares down the traditional Pilot’s watch, removing the 3 and 9 Arabic numerals, in addition to a sub-dial with date complication at 6 o’clock that fills the dial’s bottom portion. The result is a symmetrical design that sacrifices a small amount of legibility in favor of flexibility. Sized at 44mm in diameter, with a large crown, the Startimer is prominent on the wrist, an unmistakeable version of the extremely legible pilot’s timepiece; an in-house movement sweetens the deal.
Bell & Ross WW1-92 Military
Meant to recall the watches worn by pilots in the mid 1920s, the Bell & Ross WW1 (Wrist Watch 1) packages old-world design with modern execution. An inside hour track and outside minute track account for precise timekeeping, with the arrow and dots laying claim to the 12 o’clock position. What could be a legibility issue — the hour hand extends over the hour track — is solved by a 45mm case diameter, understated by a distressed leather strap. A Swiss automatic movement keeps things moving, and the normal-sized crown makes for more comfortable daily wear.
Hamilton Pilot Auto
The Hamilton Pilot Auto offers a new take on the traditional (read: huge) Pilot’s watch layout: the inside hour track is framed inside the hollow portion of the hour hand (solving a problem of the Bell & Ross watch, above). The applied minuted numerals are read by a massive, lume-filled minute hand; it barely fits inside the huge 46mm case. But if you have big wrists and want to spend less than $1,000, you’re in luck.
Garmin D2 Pilot
If you’re breaking into the world of private piloting and like your watches as nerdy as possible, look no further than Garmin’s D2 Pilot watch ($449). Even in the crowded field of complex digital flight watches, the D2 stands out with a truly amazing set of features. Sporting an accurate WAAS GPS receiver along with an altimeter and compass, the 49mm-wide D2 can manage direct-to and nearest routing via an on-board worldwide airport database. Speed, waypoint, flight plans, ETA, active mapping, bearing and glide ratio are all available, along with a view of up to six time zones. It can even communicate with a number of external Garmin devices to keep additional flight information ready at a glance. It’s a remarkable, pure flight tool.
Sinn 857 UTC TESTAF
The more traditional approach to the pilot’s watch is mechanical, and few do that as well as Sinn. Their 857 UTC TESTAF ($2,470) features a 43mm hardened steel case with a legible dial offering not only local time and date but also a display for a second time zone. “TESTAF” (German for “Technical Standard for Pilot’s Watches”) means that the 857 UTC has been certified for use as a pilot’s watch: it’s both water resistant to 660 feet and low-pressure resistant with an active anti-fogging system, making it suitable for high-altitude use (and also good for bragging rights).
Bremont ALT1-WT World Timer
Tough and well equipped, the ALT1-WT World Timer ($6,250) is just one example from Bremont’s impressive line of pilot’s watches. Derived from a military-only model for C-17 Globemaster pilots, the ALT1-WT has a 43mm Trip-Tick hardened steel case surrounding its BE-54AE movement, which offers time, a 12-hour chronograph and a user-defined world time feature via an independent UTC hand and rotating bezel to quickly show the time in another time zone. The ALT1-WT is available with a black, blue or white dial below a hardened sapphire crystal and comes fitted to a matching leather strap. Bremont has built their identity on pilot’s watches, and the combination of a long-duration chronograph and fast time zone adjustments make the ALT1-WT an excellent choice for frequent flyers and pilots alike.
Breitling Chronomat Airborne
Few brands are as synonymous with pilot’s watches as Breitling, and from fighter pilots to armchair mavericks the tough, masculine and slightly baroque Chronomat Airborne ($8,030) is ready for multi-role duty. Available in 41mm or 44mm versions with either a black or a silver dial, the Chronomat Airborne sports oversized hands and markers for a legible time display, a ratcheting unidirectional bezel and a 12-hour chronograph managed by Breitling’s in-house B01 automatic movement. With 47 jewels, a power reserve of 70 hours, and 1,000 feet of water resistance, this is one bad-ass watch.
Zenith Pilot Doublematic
The Zenith Pilot Doublematic ($13,200) boasts an impressive list of features without trading mechanical prowess for digital programming. Packed into its 45mm steel case, the Doublematic sports a 30-minute chronograph, full world time, an alarm with its own power reserve indicator and a big date display — all thanks to the Zenith El Primero 4046 movement. The 4046 is a 5Hz automatic movement with 439 components, 41 jewels, a power reserve of 50 hours and a total thickness of over 9mm. The Pilot Doublematic is designed for travel; whether you’re in the cockpit or the first class cabin, this impressive watch will be right at home.