In this article on the best pilots watches 2015, I’m concentrating on the classic pilot’s watch type, resembling the watches supplied by A. Lange & Sohne, IWC, Wempe, Laco, and Stowa to the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Watches of this type generally have a black dial, simple Arabic numerals vertical all the way around, hands with lots of SuperLuminova, often a large inverted conical crown, and a triangle, sometimes with two dots on either side, at the 12 o’clock position.
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, 1940, with the calibre 52T S.C. (the S.C. stands for central seconds) pocket watch movement dating back to an 1888 design. 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).
In this post I won’t include the many aviation watches which, though made with pilots in mind, look very different from this typology. I have included three IWC watches from a few years ago, because this brand renews one collection every year and this year it was the Portugieser collection, so no new pilot’s watches. The three I have included are still available in boutiques, and they provide an anticipation of what will presumably be next year’s pilot’s watch bonanza when IWC present their new range.
The watches are ordered according to price (ascending), from €380 to €42,000.
1. Mondia 1946 Aviator
This watch is made by Italian brand Mondia, based in Voghera, near Milan. Its name is “1946 Aviator,” and it has a lot of the classic pilot’s watch features, such as the very simple dial, the Arabic numerals vertical all way round, and the triangle at the 12 o’clock position. The hands are generously coated in SuperLuminova, there is a small date window, and the leather strap loops through a leather bracelet that makes it very comfortable to wear. The strap and bracelet are available in different colours. The stainless steel case is 42 mm in diameter, thickness 13.5 mm, and the watch is powered by the Miyota 821A automatic movement. The movement can be seen through the transparent caseback.Water resistance 50 metres. Price €380, available at Mondia retailers from 10 April 2015. At present, there are retailers only in northern Italy. See www.mondiawatchgroup.com for retailers.
2. Laco Pilot Watch Type A
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 Düsseldorf shown here, reference 861882, has a stainless steel case treated for a vintage look, 42 mm in diameter, with sapphire caseback. The black dial has hour markers and minute track with SuperLuminova, and black hands also treated with SuperLuminova. The movement is the Laco 21 automatic, based on a Miyota calibre. Price €398. Read more and buy online at https://shop.laco.de/en/Fliegeruhren-A.html (photos below courtesy of Laco).
3. Steinhart Nav B-Uhr 44 Automatic A-Type
Watches by German brand Steinhart combine excellent finish with quality Swiss-made movements and careful design. All at exceptionally low prices. The new Steinhart Nav B-Uhr 44 Automatic A-Type is based on one of the World War II B-Uhr patterns, with classic features such as the large conical crown, the triangle motif at 12 o’clock, the black dial and generous SuperLuminova on dial markings and hands. The brand has added some attractive additions such as the blued hands that add a discreet note of colour. The solid caseback features the Biggles-type engraved pilot depiction that they use on several of their models. At 44 mm in diameter and 14.2 mm thick, it is very wearable. 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. Curiously, the caseback is marked with 30 metres water resistance, while the company’s specifications say “limited water resistance, no swimming or shower.” This model, article number F0322, costs €400 inclusive of VAT, €337 without VAT. It can be purchased direct from Steinhart at http://www.steinhartwatches.de/
4. Archimede Pilot 42 H Automatic
This is the entry-level pilot’s watch by Archimede, at €585 for EU customers (inclusive of VAT), €491.60 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 B-Uhr format. You can choose from a variety of strap options. Reference #UA7929-A7.1, price €585 (inclusive of VAT). Order from their website http://www.archimede-watches.com
5. Archimede Pilot 42 Bronze Automatic
This model has 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, 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. 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. The version shown here costs €775 (in the European Union). Order from their website http://www.archimede-watches.com. Delivery time is 1-2 weeks.
6. 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.
7. Hamilton Khaki Field Pioneer Auto
This watch has vintage-colour dials and hands and a traditional style of fluting on bezel and crown. The stainless steel case is available with 45 or 42 mm diameters, and a sapphire caseback. It has an ETA 2824-2 automatic movement. Reference H60515533.. Price about $945, €840. Unfortunately this watch is being phased out and so is not available in all boutiques in the UK. More at http://www.hamiltonwatch.com/.
8. Tourby Pilot Automatic
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.
9. Alpina Pilot Automatic AL-525B4S6
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/
10. Sinn 857.012
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
11. Mühle Glashütte Terrasport I
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 approximately £1,180 (€1,630). Further information from http://www.muehle-glashuette.de/
12. The Longines Avigation L2.8184.108.40.206
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 £1,440 (approximately €2,000). See http://www.longines.com/ for further info, or phone 084 5272 6500 for UK stockists.
13. Wempe Zeitmeister Aviator Stainless Steel Automatic 45 mm
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/
14. Bell & Ross BR123 Sport Heritage
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/
15. Jeanrichard Aeroscope
The Jeanrichard Aeroscope is the same as in last year’s collection; the only thing that has been changed for 2015 is the strap, now available in a heavy-duty canvas-type version. The case is 44 mm in diameter and 12.6 mm thick, with an attractive cushion shape. It is in grade 5 titanium, which makes it relatively light. Solid screw-down caseback in titanium. The watch is water-resistant to 100 metres. It has an automatic JR60 calibre, which is probably a modified Sellita SW 200 movement, with 38 hours power reserve. The black grained dial provides an effective backdrop for the hands, numerals and hour markers coated in white luminescent paint: even the red second hand has a tip coated in luminescent material. Price €2,900. The watch is also available in a chronograph version. Reference 60660-21G651-UK2A. See http://www.jeanrichard.com/
16. IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVII IW3265
TThis 41 mm watch has a date window with vertically-aligned numbers that recall cockpit instrumentation, and for the rest it is close to the classic pilot’s watch type. It can be considered as the heir to the IWC Mark 11 of the 1940s, that remained in production until 1981. The movement is the automatic 30110-calibre (a version of the ETA 2892/A2, substantially reworked by IWC), with 42 hours power reserve and stop-second function. A soft-iron inner case provides protection against magnetic fields, and the watchglass is secured to withstand sudden drops in pressure. The case iw waterproof to 60 metres depth in water. The watch costs £3,700 with leather strap, and £4,600 with stainless steel bracelet. More at http://www.iwc.com/
17. Bremont Solo
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.
18. Glashütte Original, Senator Observer
This watch has long been part of the Glashütte Original collection, and even though the brand connects it to the world of navigation at sea, I personally find it close to the pilot’s watch aesthetic, with its black dial, generous green SuperLuminova, and Arabic numerals that are vertical in all positions. There are extra elements, the small seconds subdial at 9 o’clock, the power reserve indicator at 3 o’clock, and the big date indicator, but I think that this is as much a pilot’s watch as Patek Philippe’s Calatrava Pilot Travel Time. And the name “Observer” recalls the Beobachtungs-uhren, or Observation watches, supplied to the Luftwaffe in the war years. This year’s piece has a very balanced, symmetrical design, and for those who like the pilot’s watch look along with some practicality and usability, this is perfect: the continuous seconds to show that the watch is running, the power reserve indicator that tells you when you have to put it back on to keep it going, and the large date, the most useful complication of them all. The watch is powered by the Calibre 100-14 automatic movement providing 55 hours power reserve. It is visible through the sapphire caseback, with its three-quarter plate with striped finish, and skeletonized rotor with gold oscillating weight and double-G logo. The watch has a 44 mm case in stainless steel, with black calfskin strap or stainless steel bracelet. The Senator Observer by Glashütte Original costs €9,900 (with leather strap) and €11,100 (with stainless steel bracelet). See more at http://www.glashuette-original.com/
19. IWC Big Pilot’s Watch IW5009
This watch inherits the tradition of the 1940 Big Pilot’s Watch, stil large at 46 mm and 16 mm thickess though not as large as its illustrious 55 mm predecessor. It is powered by the in-house 51111-calibre movement – the largest automatic movement ever made by IWC – wwhich has the Pellaton pawl-winding system, stop-seconds function, a 168-hour (7-day) power reserve, and a soft iron inner cage for anti-magnetic protection. A mechanism stops the movement after 168 hours, before the mainspring has completely run down, to ensure a constant level of accuracy over the entire period of functioning. The power reserve is shown on a subdial at 3 o’clock. There is a date display at 6 o’clock. The watchglass is secured to withstand sudden drops in air pressure, and the case is water-resistant to 60 metres depth of water. Price £11,250. More at http://www.iwc.com/
20. IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Miramar
IWC’s Big Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Miramar is named after the U.S. Marines college in Miramar, California, where aircraft carrier pilots are trained. The watch, very large at 48 mm diameter and 15 mm thickness, is inspired by military-style design, with metallic grey ceramic case, beige hands and chapter ring, and green canvas strap. The in-house 51111-calibre is the largest automatic movement made by IWC; it has the stop-seconds function, and a 7-day (168 hours) power reserve. Even though the watch has enough energy to run for eight and a half days, a mechanism stops the movement after 168 hours so that optimum precision is maintained throughout the entire running period. Power reserve is displayed on the subdial at 3 o’clock. The watchglass is secured against sudden drops in air pressure; the solid caseback has a Top Gun engraving. Water-resistant to 60 metres depth. Price £13,900. http://www.iwc.com/
21. Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, reference 5524
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.