Watch brands are showing a lot of interest in pilot’s watches. This type of timepiece is as recognizable and practical as diver’s watches, but the field is far less populated. Some high-end brands have always had pilot’s watches in their catalogues – such as IWC and Breitling – while others such as Patek Philippe and Blancpain have joined the race to the sky with interesting and surprising models. The separation between high-end pilot’s watches and accessible pilot’s watches is subjective, but based on prices that most people could aspire to without catastrophic effects on the family economy, in contrast to higher prices that are out of reach for most people. For the purpose of this top ten article, and the next dedicated to less expensive timepieces, I have placed the separation line at €2,000. These top ten (actually seven at the moment) high-end pilot’s watches are listed in order of decreasing price.
Patek Philippe 5520P-001 Alarm Travel Time
This new timepiece is based on the aesthetics of the 2015 Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, with a new alarm complication in addition to the second time zone. Its four large crowns – in actual fact, three pushers and a crown – create an unusual appearance. The alarm function is displayed by the rectangular windows at the top of the dial, while the home time is shown by a neat skeletonized hour hand. The date is shown on the subdial at 6 o’clock. Differently to most alarm watches, the sound quality of this piece has been enhanced by means of a hammer and gong arrangement of the type normally used for minute repeaters. Price €209,190. Read more here.
Blancpain Air Command pilot’s watch
Blancpain looked back into their history and found a flyback chronograph made in response to a 1950s French Ministry of Defence commission. Unlike Breguet’s Types XX, XXI and XXII, the Blancpain chronograph never made it into production. The new Air Command pilot’s watch is very close to the original, with bi-directional rotating bezel, dial markings in “old radium” SuperLumiNova, and no date window. Its technical features are different, with an hour counter at 9 o’clock instead of the running seconds on the original, a prestigious movement, the F388B running at 5 Hertz with vertical clutch and column wheel, and a propeller-shaped oscillating weight visible through the display caseback. Price 18,500 Swiss francs, a limited edition of 500 pieces. Read more here.
IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire
IWC’s 2019 collection includes many complication pilot’s watches. The Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire on the other hand is probably the timepiece closest to the classic pilot’s watch genre, based on its predecessor Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII (still in production). The most important feature of the new Spitfire is that it has an in-house movement, Calibre 32110, instead of the ETA movement used in the Mark XVIII. Apart from slight differences in the luminescent paint, and the presence of a date window nicely positioned at 3 o’clock, this is an attractive version of IWC’s historic pilot’s watches, the 1940s reference 431 and the 1948 Mark 11. Price €4,960. Read more here.
Breitling Aviator 8 Automatic 41 Curtiss Warhawk
The Breitling Aviator 8 Automatic 41 Curtiss Warhawk is the latest version of the Navitimer 8 Automatic. In stainless steel with black DLC coating and an olive drab dial, it has a green canvas strap for an authentic military feel. Its functional simplicity reflects that of classic pilot’s watches and cockpit panel instruments made by Breitling during the WW2 period. With 100 metres water resistance and screw-down crown, it is a practical all-weather watch. The bi-directional rotating bezel adds extra timing and countdown functionality. The Aviator 8 Automatic 41 Curtiss Warhawk costs €3,900 inclusive of VAT. Read more here.
Bell & Ross BR03-92 Bi-Compass
Undoubtedly one of the most interesting Bell & Ross pilot’s watches, this piece has an original dial layout based on the aesthetics of a radio compass from a cockpit instrument panel. The hours are shown not by a hand, but by a reference triangle on the rotating circular section at the centre of the dial. Green and beige SuperLumiNova, and differentiated levels for hour and minute markings, make this a very distinctive timepiece. It is a practical everyday watch with its automatic movement and a 100-metre water resistance. Limited edition of 999 watches, price €3,500. Read more here.
TAG Heuer Autavia 2019
The new Autavia models by TAG Heuer are beautiful timepieces with a lot of content: a bi-directional rotating bezel, chronometer-precision movements, graded dial, interchangeable straps, and 100 metres water resistance. The pilot’s watch appearance runs back to instruments used for aircraft and racing cars, as indicated by the name Autavia coined by Jack Heuer. The Calibre 5 movement is based on the Sellita SW200, but with a new carbon-composite hairspring that puts TAG Heuer into the very small group of brands capable of making their own hairsprings. The innovative balance enables the movement to be chronometer-certified. The watch is available in different dial colours, with two models having bronze cases. Prices from €3,250. Read more here.
Fortis PC-7 Team Day-Date Aeromaster
The Fortis PC-7 Team Day-Date Aeromaster celebrates the brand’s collaboration with the Swiss Armed Forces display flying team. The 42mm watch has a stainless steel case with solid caseback, a blue dial with indices, numerals and hands coated with SuperLumiNova, and a formation of Pilatus PC-7 aircraft at 9 o’clock. The movement is the self-winding ETA 2836-2, chronometer-certified, providing 42 hours power reserve. It is a limited edition of 300 units, with the edition number on a plate screwed to the caseband at the 9 o’clock position. The box includes a travel pouch, a PC-7 Team jubilee patch, a blue Cordura strap with red stitching in addition to the metal bracelet, and two tools for strap changing. Price 2,450 Swiss francs, approx €2,240. Read more on the Fortis website.