Pilot’s watches, with their inherent simplicity, are a perfect introduction into the world of mechanical timepieces, and a fair number of brands make pilot’s watches costing under a thousand euro. Here are my top 10 pilot’s watches for under €1,300, in descending order of price.
1. The Longines Heritage Military 1938
The Longines Heritage Military 1938 has that perfect simplicity typical of military-inspired watches, and this piece is based on the watches that Longines made in the 1930s for armed forces. This three-hand version has a steel case, and numerals and hands coated with white SuperLuminova which provides a green glow in low light conditions. The crown is a direct reference to the original design, low, flat and fluted. The date window is nicely positioned right next to the numeral 3 so that it doesn’t excessively disturb the balance of the dial. The case is 40 mm in diameter, with a black canvas strap with white stitching. The watch is powered by the ETA 2892 automatic movement (Longines have named it calibre L619) providing 42 hours power reserve. The reference number is L2.7184.108.40.206. €1,285. Read more at www.longines.com
2. Alpina Startimer Pilot Automatic Sunstar
This watch has that intriguing triangular symbol at 12 o’clock that creates the link to the old B-Uhr watches supplied by several brands to the Luftwaffe in the WWII years. But the symbol has been updated in this piece, and likewise the rest of the finish, with a sunray finish anthracite dial, and Alpina’ signature red triangle at the counterweight end of the seconds hand. Applied numerals and minutes ring add an element of luxury. The case is 40 mm in diameter, in anti-reflective satin-finished stainless steel, with a distinctive truncated conical screw-in crown. This watch has the added bonus of a transparent caseback revealing the automatic movement, calibre AL-525, power reserve 38 hours. Alpina is one of the few Swiss watch brands to make their own movements, and the AL-525 was specifically designed for robust, heavy-duty performance in all conditions. Leather strap. Reference AL-525G3S6. Price about €1,069 (CHF 1,290). Purchase online from the official Alpina store. Visit the main Alpina website here.
3. Mühle Glashütte Terrasport III
M1-37-44-LBThe Terrasport III, reference M1-37-84-LB, by Mühle Glashütte, has most of the characteristics of the B-Uhr pattern (it’s missing the rivets on the strap, but to be honest, I think that it looks better without), in a relatively small 34 mm format, 10 mm thick. It suits even more slender wrists, and the clarity of the dial, with hands and hour markings coated in SuperLuminova, makes it perfectly legible. The SW 200-1 automatic movement has a personalized Mühle rotor with the characteristic concentric slots, Glashütte solarization and perlage finish on the plates, stop-second regulation (hacking seconds) and a 38-hour power reserve. This movement is made by Sellita, and it is a modified version of the ETA 2824-2. The case is in brushed and polished stainless steel, with a black buffalo leather strap and a stainless steel pin buckle. The watch is also available with white dial, black numerals and brown leather strap. The price of the watch is €990. Find Mühle Glashütte retailers here.
4. Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Aluminum
The Khaki Pilot Pioneer Aluminum is the first time that Hamilton has used the light, aeronautical metal, in a series of four colours, sand, khaki, black and navy blue. The design was inspired by watches that Hamilton made for the R.A.F. in the 1970s, with an asymmetric case, wider on the right hand side than on the left. A crown at 2 o’clock can be used to rotate the internal bezel, whose markings make it possible to use the watch for a countdown. The H-10 movement has an 80-hour power reserve. The watch is very light, and mounted on a NATO strap of the same colour as the case, with leather details and aluminium pin buckle. Price about €905. Click here to visit the Hamilton website.
5. Stowa Flieger
Stowa has been making pilot’s watches since the late 1930s, and they are based in Engelsbrand, near Pforzheim in Germany, where they also have a museum of their watches running back to 1927. The Stowa Flieger is based on a historical B-Uhr model which was very large – 55 millimetres – with a long strap so that it could be worn over the sleeve of a flying jacket. Today the version is more suitable for everyday use, with a diameter of 40 mm, thickness 10.2 millimetres, and a black or brown strap with two rivets on each side. The dial is perfect simplicity, with no logo, and just hour, minute and seconds indications, very clearly made on the black background. Dials are made by German company Schätzle. Hands are made by Swiss company Universo, in blued steel. This is why they have that attractive detail, looking like blue outlines – the white is the SuperLuminova. The movement is the ETA 2824-2 automatic, 38-42 hours power reserve. The watch costs €840, you can buy online at http://www.stowa.de/, delivery in about 6 weeks.
6. Sinn 556 A
Sinn is a company founded as “Helmut SINN GmbH” in 1961 by flying instructor Helmut Sinn. Its leadership passed to Lothar Schmidt in 1994 when Sinn retired, and today they manufacture a wide range of watches at their base in Frankfurt. The 556 A is a classic pilot’s watch in satinized stainless steel, 38.5 mm in diameter, 11 mm thick, available with steel bracelet or a range of different leather straps. The movement is the ETA 2824-2 automatic, about 38 hours power reserve, with hours, minutes, seconds, and a very small date display at 4.30. This is a feature I particularly like, having made the date as unobtrusive as possible so it doesn’t disturb the overall balance of the dial. The watch has a transparent caseback. Price €790 with leather strap, purchase online at https://www.sinn.de
7. Victorinox Airboss Mechanical
Founded 130 years ago in 1884 by Karl Elsener, Victorinox established their world-wide fame with the Original Swiss Army Knife, and today, the company also makes watches, fashion garments and fragrances. The Airboss Mechanical (reference 241507) has the classic looks of a pilot’s watch, with clearly visible numerals, 24-hour indications, date window at 6 o’clock above the triangle normally at 12 o’clock, where there is the Victorinox logo. Hands and numerals are coated with luminescent material. This watch in stainless steel is powered by the ETA 2824 automatic movement which provides a power reserve of about 38 hours, and the hacking seconds function. Water resistant to 100 metres. Price about €750 ($950). Read more at http://www.victorinox.com/
8. Tourby Aviator C3 Automatic B3e
Tourby is a German company based in Westfalen that sells online, with the possibility of choosing from various options so that you can personalize your watch. The Aviator C3 Automatic B3e is the classic pilot’s watch, 42 mm in diameter, 12.7 mm thick, with solid caseback engraved with a map of Europe. The piece is not branded, like several of the B-Uhr type watches included here. The SuperLuminova dial provides excellent visibility in the dark. The movement is the ETA 2824-2 automatic, with stop-seconds or hacking seconds (when you pull out the crown to set the time, the second hand stops, so you can synchronize it precisely to the second and keep an eye on how the watch is performing in terms of accuracy) and a power reserve of 38-42 hours. The watch is fitted with a leather strap, and you can choose from their selection of straps. Price for EU customers is €749, for international customers €680. Take a look at http://www.tourbywatches.com/; they don’t have a shopping cart, you just order by email. Alternatively you can visit them at their store in Hagen Westfalen, Germany.
9. Archimede Pilot 42 Bronze Automatic
Archimede is, like Tourby and Stowa, based in Pforzheim, important German centre for watchmaking, and its pilot’s watches are tributes to the wartime B-Uhr type. B-Uhr watches were originally supplied to the Luftwaffe by a number of brands, A. Lange & Sohne, IWC, Wempe, Laco, and Stowa (IWC supplied both the Luftwaffe and the R.A.F.). The name is an abbreviation of Beobachtungs-uhren, or Observation watches. They are characteristic for the triangle at 12 o’clock, sometimes with two dots at the top of the triangle. I have chosen this model, amongst the numerous designs by Archimede, because it pairs a bronze case, 42 mm in diameter, 9.9 mm thick, with the classic black dial and white, SuperLuminova numerals and hands. Bronze is an interesting material, now being adopted by several high-end brands such as IWC, because it develops a patina over time, and so each watch becomes an individual object, whose appearance depends on your lifestyle. When it’s new, it starts off looking a bit like gold, but it very soon develops its characteristic weathered look. I think that the Archimede B-Uhr is great with a brown strap as in the photos shown. It has an ETA 2824-2 movement, the case is made by Pforzheim-based company Ickler, and it has the typical large pilot’s watch crown. Straps are available in black, and in three shades of brown. Other variations include case size (36, 39, 42, 45 mm), case material (stainless steel, titanium, bronze), functions (chronometer, hand-wound, automatic), and whether the Archimede logo is present or not. The version shown here costs €695 (in the European Union). Order from their website http://www.archimede-watches.com. Delivery time is 1-2 weeks.
10. Archimede Pilot 42 H Automatic
This is the entry-level pilot’s watch by Archimede, at €535 for EU customers (inclusive of VAT), €449 for non-EU customers who don’t have to pay VAT. The H in the name stands for “historic,” because the watch is based on the original B-Uhr design, without brand name, with blued hands coated with SuperLuminova C3, truncated conical pilot’s crown, and no date. This version has a sapphire caseback so that you can see the rotor and other details of the ETA 2824-2 movement, but it is also available with a steel caseback which is of course closer to the original watch format. You can choose the colour of the leather strap, and the size of the watch (36, 39, 42, 45 mm). Price €535. Order from their website http://www.archimede-watches.com