Top 20 pilot’s watches

This selection presents twenty pilot’s watches, still in production, with the classic black dial, white Arabic numerals, and triangle marker at 12 o’clock, recalling the watches supplied to the Luftwaffe in the years before, during and after the Second Worlld War by A. Lange & Sohne, IWC, Wempe, Laco, and Stowa. Three of those historic brands still make pilot’s watches: IWC, Laco and Stowa. There are now many others which make watches based on this genre, such as Alpina, Archimede, Bell & Ross, Bremont, Hamilton, Steinhart and so forth. Post updated 7 October 2017.

So-called observation watches (Beobachtungsuhren) were not just used during the war. They were used for navigation purposes on ships much earlier, from the early 20th century, and right through to the early 1950s, as a portable addition to marine chronometers.

During the War, the Luftwaffe specifications for Beobachtungsuhr, observation watches (abbreviated to B-Uhr) were for an indirectly-driven centre seconds hand with stop-seconds function, black dial, radium-coated numerals and hands, precision in timekeeping at temperatures down to 20°C below zero, grey brass or steel case, and a strap, with loops riveted over the bar between the lugs, and extra long so it could be worn over a flying suit.

A typical watch of this type is the IWC Big Pilots Watch, reference 431, 1940, with the calibre 52T S.C. The S.C. stands for Seconde au Centre, central seconds, and the T for tirette, stop seconds, a complication that IWC added to the original pocket watch movement, Calibre 52, dating back to an 1888 design, in order to bring it into line with the Luftwaffe specifications. IWC made about 1,200 of these, 1,000 delivered to the Luftwaffe, and 200 to the British Royal Navy. Its 55 mm case made it the largest IWC watch ever (photo from the book Engineering Time Since 1868, courtesy IWC).

IWC_big_pilots_1940

The selection below is in increasing price order. You’ll probably think that there some important watches missing from this list, and you’re right, but hopefully you’ll find them in some other articles:

Top ten early pilot’s watches
Top ten aviation watches

1. Steinhart Nav B-Uhr 47 Vintage TITAN A-Muster – €470

German brand Steinhart make an extensive range of pilot’s watches inspired by the World War II B-Uhr patterns. This model in particular is distinctive for its large size, 47 mm in diameter and 14.2 mm thick, its solid caseback, conical crown, and caseback engraving that is similar to the information generally engraved inside the caseback of the WWII models. The case is in titanium to reduce weight (114 grams), while the caseback is in steel. The dial accurately reflects Type A B-Uhr patterns, with no logo, and luminous numerals and minute track in an attractive “old radium” beige colour. The watch has a brown vintage-look leather strap, with a titanium pin buckle. The movement is the ETA 2824-2 in its “Elaboré” version, a self-winding movement providing 38-40 hours power reserve. It has the stop-seconds function, useful in setting the watch to the nearest second. Water resistance is 5 bar, 50 m, no swimming or showering. This model, article number 107-0402, costs €470 inclusive of VAT, €394.36 without VAT. It can be purchased direct from Steinhart at http://www.steinhartwatches.de/, delivery time 2-3 days. Read more here.

Nav B-Uhr 47 Vintage TITAN A-Muster

2. Laco Pilot Watch Original Münster – €850

Laco is a German brand dating from 1925, and, at that time named Lacher & Company/Durowe, they manufactured some of the WW2 B-Uhr watches. Today they make a large range of pilot’s watches, including some almost perfect reproductions of the wartime originals. The Münster shown here, reference 861748, has a stainless steel case that is sandblasted for a dark vintage look, 42 mm in diameter, with solid caseback, and the traditional reference “FL23883” engraved on the caseband. The black dial has hour markers and minute track with SuperLuminova, and the blued steel hands also treated with SuperLuminova. Brown calf leather riveted strap. The movement is the Laco 24 automatic, based on the ETA 2824.2. Price €850. Read more and buy online at https://www.laco.de/

Laco Pilot Watch Original Münster

3. Archimede Pilot 42 H Bronze BL.B with blue dial – €900

Archimede have given the pilot’s watch genre a youthful look by means of a bronze case and bright blue dial, particularly effective with the light brown strap. Very wearable at 42 mm diameter and 9.9 mm thickness. It is powered by the Swiss-made ETA 2824-2 self-winding movement. The piece shown here, with bronze case and blue, grey, black or light brown strap, costs €900 inclusive of tax. Read more here.

Archimede Pilot 42 H Bronze BL.B

4. Archimede Pilot’s 250 – €980

The Archimede Pilot 250 is a 50-piece limited edition built to celebrate 250 years of watchmaking in Pforzheim: in 1787, the Markgraf Karl Friedrich of Baden gave watchmaker Jean François Autran permission to set up a watch factory in an orphanage in the town. The Pilot 250 has 42 mm case in brushed stainless steel, 9.6 mm thick, 5 atm/50 metres water resistance, with a dark brown leather strap with rivets, and the classic pilot’s crown. Its slim profile is in part due to the hand-wound movement by Junghans, calibre 687, a traditional movement in production since 1963, with a balance that runs at 18,000 vibrations per hour, 2.5 Hertz. The watch is reference UA7959.250-JH1.3, and it costs €980 inclusive of VAT, or €823.53 withouut VAT, delivery time 1-2 weeks, Order from their website http://www.archimede-watches.com

Archimede Pilot 250

5. Tourby Pilot Automatic – €1,000

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 Pilot Automatic 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. Waterproof to 200 metres depth. The watch is fitted with a leather strap, and you can choose from their selection of straps. Price €1,000. Take a look at http://www.tourbywatches.com/; they don’t have a shopping cart, you just order by email.

pilot_auto

6. Stowa Flieger Klassik 40 Automatic Baumuster B Limited – €1,120

Stowa has been making pilot’s watches since 1937, 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 Klassik 40 Automatic Baumuster B Limited is part of celebrations of its 90th anniversary, and it is a limited edition of 90 pieces. It 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 brown strap with two rivets on each side. The dial is perfect simplicity, with no logo, and just hour, minute and seconds indications, with “old radium” beige SuperLuminova. The movement is the ETA 2824-2 automatic in the “Top” version with blued screws. It provides 38-42 hours power reserve, and it can be seen through the sapphire caseback. The rotor incorporates an engraving with details of the watch. The watch costs €1,120 inclusive of VAT, you can buy online at http://www.stowa.de/, delivery in about 6 weeks. It comes in a special Black Forest wood case.

Stowa Flieger 40 Baumunster B Limited edition

7. Alpina Pilot Automatic AL-525B4S6 – €1,240

This is a 44-mm pilot’s watch, a limited edition of 8,888 pieces. The Alpina AL-525 automatic calibre has a power reserve of 38 hours, and can be viewed through the transparent caseack. The stainless steel case has a water resistance of 100 metres, with a screw-in crown, and it is mounted on a black leather strap or bracelet. Price CHF 1,290, about €1,240. Read more at http://www.alpina-watches.com/ or purchase online at http://webstore.alpina-watches.com/

alpina_pilot_auto

8. Mühle Glashütte Terrasport I – €1,630

The classic observation watch, 44 mm in diameter, 10.4 mm thick, with a brushed stainless steel case, mounted on a soft buffalo leather strap. The movement is the Sellita SW 200-1 automatic, with Mühle decorated rotor, stop-second function, and 38 hours power reserve. Price €1,630. Further information from http://www.muehle-glashuette.de/

M1-37-34-LB_600x938

9. Sinn 857.012 – €1,670

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 857.012 is a pilot’s watch in satinized stainless steel, 43 mm in diameter, 12 mm thick, with a rotating bezel ratcheted at minute intervals, and a small date window. It has a mechanical SW300-1 automatic movement (Sellita) with stop seconds function. Waterproof to 200 metres  Price €1,670 with leather strap, purchase online at https://www.sinn.de

Sinn_857

10. The Longines Avigation L2.831.4.53.2 – €1,920

This watch has the classic black dial and luminous Arabic numerals and hands, and another motif typical of wartime pilot’s watches, the broad arrow that was used to mark government property timepieces used by the RAF in the Second World War (the symbol’s history runs back to the 16th century, as it appears on items recovered from the Tudor battleship Mary Rose). The watch is in fact based on the design of a model produced for the British Army during the 1950s. The case is 44 mm in diameter, with solid screw-down caseback, and 30 metres water resistance. Inside, the automatic L704.2 movement (based on ETA 2893-2) has a central-sweep seconds hand, and an additional 24-hour hand for a second time zone. It has another feature typical of traditional pilot’s watches: anti-magnetic protection. Power reserve 48 hours. Price €1,920. See http://www.longines.com/ for further info.

longines avigation

11. Wempe Zeitmeister Aviator Stainless Steel Automatic 45 mm – €2,065

An automatic watch with Swiss automatic movement (ETA A07.161) that is chronometer-certified to the German DIN 8319 standard. It has the stop-seconds function for convenient synchronisation to the nearest second. The solid caseback has a relief engraving of the observatory that performs the chronometer tests. The 45 mm stainless steel case is mounted on a handmade shell-cordovan leather strap with stainless steel pin clasp. The automatic movement is a modified version of the ETA A07.161 calibre providing time functions and date display. Case diameter 45 mm, reference number WM60 0002. Price €2,065, £1.820, or $2.950, available at Wempe retailers or online at http://www.wempe.com/

Wempe_WM60_0002

12. Bell & Ross BR123 Sport Heritage – €2,300

Based on civil aviation watches made in the 1960s, this is the Bell & Ross piece with the greatest similarity to the B-Uhr-type watches. Arabic numerals, hour markers and hands are finished in beige SuperLuminova. The case is 43 mm in diameter, with sapphire caseback, and a rotating bezel with one-minute ratchet intervals. The watchglass is designed in a way such that it emerges dome-like from the narrow rotating bezel. The case has 100 metres water resistance. The automatic movement is the classic ETA 2892. Black rubber strap. Price €2,300. For further information and online purchase, see http://www.bellross.com/

20130913_051529

13. Bremont Solo – €3,800

This piece dates back to 2011; it is a very attractive vintage-style watch in three versions, Solo WH-SI (silver-finish dial, hands and hour indications with white SuperLuminova), Solo CR (black dial, cream SuperLuminova) and Solo WH (black dial, white SuperLuminova). The case is 43 mm in diameter, 13.5 mm thick, and made in specially hardened, scratch-resistant steel; it is characteristic for its three-part construction, with a top part comprising lugs and bezel, a centre section with two bright lines contrasting with the satin finish, and the caseback with sapphire display window. It is water-resistant to 100 metres. The COSC-certified chronometer movement is the BE-36AE automatic chronometer calibre, which is in fact the ETA 2836 automatic day/date movement with 38 hours power reserve, with a Bremont personalised, skeletonised and decorated rotor. It is available with embossed leather strap or titanium bracelet. Each case and movement is engraved with the Bremont serial number, and the watch is supplied with COSC certification documentation. Price about €3,800. See more at http://www.bremont.com/. Photos courtesy of Bremont.

Solo-CR

14. Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Heritage IW327006 – €€4,830

IW327006 is a new version of the preceding IW327001. This watch has a titanium case, the first time for an IWC pilot’s watch. In design, it is very close to IWC’s 1940 Big Pilot’s Watch, the legendary reference 431 that appears at the top of this post. The new IW327006 is 40mm in diameter and 10.8 mm thick, making it wearable on most wrists. It is powered by the self-winding movement Calibre 35111, based on the Sellita SW300-1, which provides a 42-hour hour reserve. The window for the date, the texts on the dial, and the cylindrical crown, are the most noticeable design differences with respect to the reference 431. The IW327006 has a brown calfskin strap, a solid caseback, and a soft-iron inner case to provide protection against magnetic fields . The case has a better-than-average water resistance of 6 bar, and the watchglass is secured against drops in air pressure. The Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Heritage IW327006 by IWC costs €4,830, and it will be available from November 2017. Read more here.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Heritage IW327006

15. Glashütte Original Senator Excellence – €8,500

Glashütte Original presented the Senator Excellence in 2016, based on its new Calibre 36 movement that incorporates a lot of research and development. The watch has a case 40 mm in diameter and about 10 mm thick. The display caseback reveals the Glashütte Original oscillating weight, the attractive finish of plates and wheels, and traditional blued screws. This piece, one of the three versions of the Senator Excellence, has a black dial, with hands and Arabic numerals coated in SuperLuminova. It is very close to the classic pilot’s watch aesthetic, with details such as the shape of the hands, and the tiny triangle at the 1 o’clock position. It is mounted on a dark brown calfskin strap. It costs €8,500 including VAT. Read more here.

Glashutte Original Senator Excellence Automatic

16. IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage – €14.000

With its large conical crown, classic dial design and riveted leather strap, this new Big Pilot’s watch by IWC has an authentic look, close to the original 1940s IWC reference 431 that can be seen at the top of this post. The IW501004 has a titanium case: it is also available in bronze, IW501005, a limited edition. It is large at 46.2 mm diameter and 15.4 mm thickness, with a black dial and blue hands coated with luminescent paint. Differently to the original pilot’s watches, it has a date window at 6 o’clock, and a 7-day power reserve indicator at 3 o’clock. The crown is screw-in, and the water resistance is double the standard, at 6 atm. Power is provided by the in-house calibre 52110, with a 7-day power reserve, 168 hours. The movement provides the stop-second function, and it is protected against magnetic fields by a soft iron inner case. It runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour, 4 Hertz, and has 36 jewels. Price €14.000, available from November 2017. Read more here.

IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage reference IW501005

17. Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, reference 5524 – about €36,330

This is the first Patek Philippe pilot’s watch for quite a time, and while it shares a lot of the classic features of the genre, it has some important and practical differences. The dial is in dark navy blue lacquer, with large applied Arabic numerals in white gold with generous SuperLuminova coating, as on the baton-style hands for local time. Patek Philippe have added a useful function to the basic pilot’s watch, an indicator for a second time zone. The home time hour hand is skeletonized and designed so that when the watch is set so that local time and home time are the same, the home time hand is below the local time hand. There are two day/night indicators with small circular windows, one at 9 o’clock for local time, and one at 3 o’clock for home time. The time-zone adjustment pushers have a safety lock to prevent accidental adjustment of the local time hour setting. To be operated, the pusher is released by a quarter turn, and after adjustment, they can be locked with a quarter-turn in the other direction. The watch is powered by the in-house automatic Calibre CH 324 S C FUS movement. Price 42,000 Swiss francs. Read more here.

detail_patek-2000

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A brief postscript in images: where it all started.

Heinkel He 111 bomber

Heinkel He 111 bomber

Spitfire, photo courtesy of IWC/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Spitfire, photo courtesy of IWC/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Cockpit of the IWC Ju-52

Cockpit of the IWC Ju-52

The IWC Ju-52 in flight, photo courtesy of IWC

The IWC Ju-52 in flight, photo courtesy of IWC

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