10 Best Pilot (Aviator) Watches Ready For Flight

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Whether you are sitting in the cockpit or first class, a pilot watch is a quintessential timepiece for those men who are always on the go.

A pilot watch will not only look great when worn but will provide you with accurate time no matter where your travels take you.

Beyond timekeeping, the best pilot watch should bring with it brand lineage, uncompromising materials, and timeless style.

In this guide, we will be reviewing a variety of pilot watches while also sharing with you a few key tips to keep in mind when making your purchase.  In addition to our expert reviews, we will also answer a few common questions men often have about the pilot watch.

Let’s fly to the sky:

1. Best Overall: Hamilton Khaki Automatic Pilot Watch

Taking all features into account, the Hamilton company offers the best pilot watch model available. The watch boasts a sapphire window piece that resists scratches and is very durable. Its automatic mechanism makes this watch self-winding and is one of the markers of the highest quality pieces.

The bezel is durable stainless steel, the wrist strap is brown crocodile skin embossed leather, and the whole piece is water-resistant to a 600-foot depth. If you’re a guy searching for an excellent overall timepiece, which must include all the classic elements of a bold yet sophisticated wristwatch, this is an excellent choice.

Pros

  • Durable features
  • Automatic movement

Cons

  • Fewer modern features
  • Higher cost

What You Need To Know

This watch fits both casual and formal settings and is full of high-quality features that are sure to get noticed.

2. Best Watch Under $500: Hamilton Khaki King Series Pilot Watch

When it comes to value purchases, this watch stands out. The Khaki King series displays the day of the week just below the 12 o’clock hand dial, and the stitching of the brown leather wrist strap is one of those features that adds a bit more personality to a watch. The hands are sword-shaped and luminescent, and the inner portion of the watch has 24 hour time displayed on a black background.

This is a watch for men who want to pick up a bold style choice, that has a list of great features, a durable stainless steel body, and a classic brown leather strap, all at an extremely reasonable price point.

Pros

  • Luxury features at a regular price
  • Crown protected by raised edge

Cons

  • Stiff leather band needs to be broken in

What You Need To Know

For guys who want aviator watches, the price may quickly become an issue, but this watch gives the best features of automatic movement watches at a price that can work for guys who want a watch they can wear every day. Easily the best pilot watch under 500.

3. Best for Actual Pilots: Garmin D2

The Garmin D2 is designed from top to bottom to be a true aviation watch. It has excellent features like connectivity to certain avionics devices and has many other smartwatch functions. The power reserve allows it to last a full 18 hours when using the most energy-intensive features, so you can be sure that it will be functional the whole flight.

As an aviation watch, this piece also brings the most intense list of features available — all in a titanium case with a black finish. The black case even contains a function to measure your blood oxygen which can be important when flying at altitude.

Pros

  • Charge will last all day
  • Long list of flight related connectivity features
  • Multiple size choices

Cons

  • Titanium strap may catch hair

What You Need To Know

When it comes to aviator watch brands, Garmin has brought the best features to guys who are really looking for a functional watch, including many flight-specific features.

4. Best Brand: Bell & Ross Aviation Pilot Watch

The black strap, black dial, and black ceramic case of this watch make it one of the most stylistically appealing pilot’s watches out there. It has a unique square case (approximately 42mm diameter,) which makes it distinct among this class of watches.

The sapphire crystal dial window guarantees that this is one of the more durable pilot watches you will find, a piece of gear that will make a distinct fashion statement through its matte black finish. The strap has black markers that read BR for Bell & Ross.

Pros

  • Unique square case
  • Black and luminescent hands and dial give high contrast

Cons

  • Rubber strap may be less long lasting than stainless steel

What You Need To Know

This is a remarkable watch that is both a distinct fashion statement and classic brand name choice.

5. Affordable: Lucien Piccard Automatic Pilot Watch

The best cheap pilot watch is easily the Lucien Piccard Automatic Pilot Watch. The transparent black dial, stainless steel case, and black leather strap make this watch as dapper as any luxury brand. If you’re not satisfied with it, there is a 30-day money back guarantee so you’re certain to be satisfied with your purchase.

This is a great piece of gear to add to a collection of either newcomers to pilot watch brand names, or if you just need a durable and inexpensive piece to wear out to do errands.

Pros

  • High contrast black dial and luminescent hands
  • Open window to see watch mechanism in dial

Cons

  • Lower quality materials used

What You Need To Know

This is the best budget pilot watch because of its high-quality features at an excellent price.

6. Most Stylish: AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Pilot Watch

Color is used in a reserved but compelling way to make this one of the best-looking pilot watches available. The watch comes in multiple color schemes, ranging from black, white, and brushed background dials, to multiple color choices for the leather strap.

The Japanese quartz movement is considered one of the most high-quality choices for battery-powered watches out there. The chronograph which is at the left of the dial face has a Spitfire color scheme that creates a welcome infusion of color on the modern design. The bezel has a tachymeter that helps measure distance, so this is a great watch for men who need a sleek and modern watch that is also functionally relevant.

Pros

  • Thinner diameter is great for active guys
  • White or black dial background gives variety of choice

Cons

  • Bezel tachymeter function and multiple chronograph meters may crowd the dial

What You Need To Know

The AVI-8 is a functional and stylish watch that hearkens back to the Hurricane fighter aircraft of the British Royal Air Force and is appropriate in both casual and formal situations.

7. Luxury Pick: Zenith Pilot Type 20 Automatic Pilot Watch

The sapphire crystal dial window is the first of a long list of luxury features that this watch has built into its Swiss design. Zenith is a well-known brand in the watch industry, and they take their brand abilities to the highest extent with this piece, including a calfskin strap and bronze crown. The white lettering and hands are an excellent accent to the vibrant green background of the dial.

Men who are searching for a piece to complete a luxury look have found a perfect choice in this watch.

Pros

  • Long lasting 50 hour power reserve
  • Luminescent markers and dial make this watch readable at night
  • Swiss made one-of-a-kind design

Cons

  • Unique design is a strong style choice not appropriate for all occasions

What You Need To Know

A man who appreciates luxury and subtle design will find this watch to be the height of fashion.

8. Automatic Movement: IWC Le Petit Prince Automatic Pilot Watch

This luxury piece has a fixed stainless steel bezel securing the sapphire crystal dial window, and the blue background of the dial is quite stunning against the markers and hands. This is also a great pilot chronograph watch, as it has 3 different chronograph functions — sixty seconds, thirty minutes, and twelve hours. The brown leather strap has stitching that accents the piece well on the wrist.

The IWC is a luxury Swiss watch brand used by aviators and the build of this watch is a testament to its durability and quality, and it shares a similar minimal but well-put-together design that Omega watches have.

Pros

  • IWC brand name recognition
  • Excellent reliability, manufacturers guarantee included

Cons

  • No rotating bezel

What You Need To Know

IWC has made one of the highest quality automatic pilot watches out there, which has the potential to be a generational piece.

9. Citizen Navihawk Eco-Drive Pilot Watch

As a brand, Citizen aviator watches are quite impressive — and this watch stands out as a flagship piece. The mesh bracelet is a unique feature that ensures the watch will fit well on the wrist, and if you’re a guy who’s looking for the best pilot watch under 1000 dollars, this may well be it.

There are choices between black and stainless steel color choices, all of which have a luminescent element to ensure that you can see the dial at night without getting too close.

In terms of style, this is one of the more utility-oriented pieces of gear that we reviewed — it has the look of a watch that’s worn by a man who needs a pilot’s watch because he’s going to be using it to navigate across the Atlantic.

Pros

  • Excellent price for features
  • Synchronized with atomic clock

Cons

  • Citizen aviation watches can appear cluttered on the dial
  • Mineral window

What You Need To Know

While this may not be the most luxury pilot watch (in the style of Omega aviation watches), it certainly can hold its own stylistically for the price.

10. Breitling Navitimer

The Breitling Navitimer is a true luxury Swiss watch, used by aviators it has the subtle features you would expect from a top-of-the-line piece. It brings together both style, and function with a dual rotating bezel, glare-proof sapphire window case, and stunning 70-hour automatic power reserve.

For a man who needs to show his competence and finesse, there aren’t many watches out there that are superior to this one.

Pros

  • Stainless steel band built to last
  • Luxury brand and features

Cons

  • Expensive

What You Need To Know

The Breitling Navitimer is a great piece for a man who wants to add another luxury piece to his collection that fits the casual yet competent niche of style.

8 Tips on Finding the Best Pilot Watch

1. Movement

The movement mechanism of a watch is an important consideration regarding the functions and reliability of the piece.

Quartz Movement: Quartz movement watches are the most modern mechanism for watches, and are battery-powered. They’re not heirloom quality, but they offer a mechanism that doesn’t require much maintenance to keep its accuracy. Within the realm of quartz movement mechanisms, the Japanese quartz movement is widely considered the best.

While quartz isn’t a luxury movement feature, a watch that includes quartz shouldn’t be written off as low-quality gear.

Automatic Movement: Automatic movement watches, otherwise known as self-winding designs, are a classic part of watch history and a testament to human mechanical ingenuity. These watches can be placed in a rotating watch winder box which keeps the mechanism running when not being worn, and typically have a thicker or raised case. The Swiss automatic type is revered by watch collectors everywhere and you will often find Swiss automatic watches when searching for luxury pieces.

Hand Wound: Hand-wound watches use the oldest timekeeping mechanism still in common use, and require a winding once every couple of days. This mechanism is associated with luxury watches today.

Editors Note: Read our full comparison on all the popular watch movement types.

2. Crystal

The crystal face of the watch is one of the most visible and prone to damage parts of the timepiece; so it’s important to know your options.

Acrylic: Acrylic crystal faces are the lowest grade of the watch face.  They are plastic and easily damaged or scratched — best to avoid.

Mineral: This is a glass (crystalline) material — it resists light surface scratches and scuffs, and can often be found on watches that are below $50. If you’re a guy who is on a budget, this is a great way to take a step up from acrylic faces.

Hybrid / Proprietary: Hybrid and proprietary composite glasses are found in larger brands (like Hardlex glass on Seiko watches.) Many of these proprietary composites are untested on the Mohs scale of hardness — it’s important to recognize there is not a hard number on how durable these materials actually are, although they are more resistant to scratches than pure mineral faces, and less resistant than sapphire.

Sapphire

Sapphire is the hardest crystal you can own (9 out of 10 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale) and is the best choice for watch faces. It functions as a window to the watch that resists nearly all surface scratches and scuffs. While it has excellent functionality when it comes to scratches, it is weakest against direct impact — however, this is unlikely when wearing a watch.

3. Band / Bracelet

The wrist band is a distinct aspect of the watch whether it be for functionality or purely design choice.

Natural Fibers: Canvas straps provide a casual design that can be submerged into water with no issues — they air dry easily. They’re a great choice for eco-conscious men who prefer to avoid animal products, and they’re also more breathable than both a leather band or a metal one. Canvas is a simple, stylish, and functional design — while other choices may pull on arm hair, natural fibers won’t.

Hide: There are several grades of leather that are used in timepieces, but top or full-grain leather is both the most durable and has a classic style as it will develop a nice patina with time.

Avoid genuine leather options if possible, as it will degrade quickly as it is an aesthetic rather than functional grade of leather. Leather bands do not have water resistance, so avoid contact with water if the leather is your choice for a wrist band. This type of band design is great for dressy or formal occasions as its classic look supersedes the need for various functions.

Metal: Titanium and stainless steel are common metals for timepiece band design: they’re the most versatile as they can be dressed up or down easily. Metal bracelets have a tendency to pull hair, but higher quality brands have been designed to avoid this. Metal bands have water resistance and won’t show signs of age as much — they’re both durable, rugged, and have a classic style.

4. Case

Case metals are usually stainless steel, titanium, silver, or gold plated. The height of the case depends greatly on the timepiece’s movement design, with quartz typically being the thinnest design out there. As a style point, pay attention to the fact that lugs shouldn’t extend past the edge of the wrist. Larger men should look for a case that is +40mm diameter, while smaller guys should go for -40mm diameter.

5. Extras

Markings: The watch face is often written in Arabic numbers (the numerals you’re probably used to) for ease of reading when flying a plane. There are other stylish faces that have roman numeral or minimalist markings, however, they’re less common than the classic style of Arabic numbers. Markings often come in white luminescent or silver colors.

Dial Color: The dial is traditionally black or another dark color, but there are some stylish designs with a white dial — the choice of dial display color is up to personal preference.

UTC Display: Coordinated Universal Time is widely used around the globe to avoid the confusion of different time zones. If you’re a man who does a lot of travel, you may want to find a watch that can avoid reference to the time zones by using the extremely accurate UTC method.

Power Reserve Indicator: If you have an automatic or solar-powered watch, this is one of the functions that is a must — it shows you how much energy is remaining in the timepiece.

Stopwatch: Whether you’re taking a flight or just want one for simple casual use, a stopwatch is an excellent function to add to your timekeeping device.

Compass Bezel: A compass bezel (commonly found on compass watches) helps you get your bearings based on the sun’s location in the sky, a great feature for backpackers or travelers.

6. Brand

The pilot watch market boasts many different brands, the most common names are companies like Garmin, Hamilton, Citizen, Breitling, Bell & Ross, as well as many others.

Pilot Watch FAQs

What are pilot watches?

Pilot watches (as opposed to the classic pocket watch) were designed for aviators in the inter-war period. They strap onto the wrist and have Arabic numerals for easy viewing through the watch window.

Why do pilot watches have a triangle at the edge?

The triangle is at the 12 o’clock watch position — and is was meant to make it easy to tell the orientation of the dial through the timepiece window at a glance — an important feature for pilots who needed to keep their eyes looking out the front window while in flight.

Do pilots wear pilot watches?

The pilot watch has been virtually completely phased out as an actual aviation tool. While they were used famously in WWI and WWII as airplane watches, the advent of advanced navigation and computer technology has largely made them obsolete.

Why do pilot watches have a triangle?

The triangle is meant to allow a pilot to easily tell the orientation of the dial by giving a reference point.

What defines a pilot watch?

As pilot watches have become more of a fashion statement, the definition of what the aviator watch has become more difficult to determine model by model. Generally speaking, they had large a large windows and features, they were also generally chronographs (which means they could be used as a stopwatch.)

What does a triangle with two dots mean?

The two dots are simply added to the edge of the triangle to create easier markers to read the clock face.