Whether you are sitting in the cockpit or first class, a pilot watch is the 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 dive in:
Table of Contents
|Hamilton Khaki Automatic Pilot Watch|
|Hamilton Khaki King Series Pilot Watch|
|Bell & Ross Aviation Pilot Watch|
|Lucien Piccard Automatic Pilot Watch|
|AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Pilot Watch|
|Zenith Pilot Type 20 Automatic Pilot Watch|
|IWC Le Petit Prince Automatic Pilot Watch|
|Citizen Navihawk Eco-Drive Pilot Watch|
The Best Pilot Watches of 2020 Reviewed
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 a 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 who is on a search for an excellent overall timepiece, which must include all the the classic elements of a bold yet sophisticated wristwatch, this is an excellent choice.
- Durable features
- Automatic movement
- Fewer modern features
- Higher cost
What You Need To Know
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.
- Luxury features at a regular price
- Crown protected by raised edge
- Stiff leather band needs to be broken in
What You Need To Know
3. Best Pilot Watch for 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 smart watch 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.
- Charge will last all day
- Long list of flight related connectivity features
- Multiple size choices
- Titanium strap may catch hair
What You Need To Know
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.
- Unique square case
- Black and luminescent hands and dial give high contrast
- Rubber strap may be less long lasting than stainless steel
What You Need To Know
5. Most Affordable (Cheap): 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 a new comer to pilot watch brand names, or if you just need a durable and inexpensive piece to wear out to do errands.
- High contrast black dial and luminescent hands
- Open window to see watch mechanism in dial
- Lower quality materials used
What You Need To Know
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 which helps measure distance, so this is a great watch for men who need a sleek and modern watch that is also functionally relevant.
- Thinner diameter is great for active guys
- White or black dial background gives variety of choice
- Bezel tachymeter function and multiple chronograph meters may crowd the dial
What You Need To Know
7. Most Luxurious: 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.
- Long lasting 50 hour power reserve
- Luminescent markers and dial make this watch readable at night
- Swiss made one-of-a-kind design
- Unique design is a strong style choice not appropriate for all occasions
What You Need To Know
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.
- IWC brand name recognition
- Excellent reliability, manufacturers guarantee included
- No rotating bezel
What You Need To Know
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 pilots watch because he’s going to be using it to navigate across the Atlantic.
- Excellent price for features
- Synchronized with atomic clock
- Citizen aviation watches can appear cluttered on the dial
- Mineral window
What You Need To Know
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.
- Stainless steel band built to last
- Luxury brand and features
What You Need To Know
8 Tips on Finding the Best Pilot Watch
The movement mechanism of a watch is an important consideration regarding the functions and reliability of the piece.
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, 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 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 watches use the oldest timekeeping mechanism still in common use, and require a winding once every couple days. This mechanism is associated with luxury watches today.
Editors Note: Read our full comparison on all the popular watch movement types.
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 crystal faces are the lowest grade of watch face. They are plastic and easily damaged or scratched — best to avoid.
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 is the hardest crystal you can own (9 out of 10 on 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.
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-concious 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.
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 leather is your choice for wrist band. This type of band design is great for dressy or formal occasions as its classic look supersedes the need for various functions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Classic pilot watches can range anywhere from under $100 to over several thousand dollars. A timepiece can be either a practical purchase that focuses on additional functions, or a more luxury purchase where sleek and striking style is more important.
Intent is important when considering what kind of watch to add to or start a collection — and the best watch choices serve their intent well. If you need a daily watch for office use, go with a moderate casual watch, with a leather or metal bracelet that has both fashion and function. You’ll find watch dials may have either clean minimalist or ornate complex design, go with what works best for you and your intended use.
Must Have Accessories For Pilot Watches
There are sleek and sensible accessories worth considering if you like and care for watches, let’s take a look.
A watch case is perfect to store and display your timepieces whether it is a thousand dollar Omega or one you picked up at the pawn shop. There are some great travel cases available, and it can be a particularly useful if you have a large watch collection. Be sure to check out our review of the best watch cases here.
A watch winder is a rotating device that keeps automatic watch time precise between wearing. It’s great if the automatic watch is worn infrequently, as the rotating action prevents the watch from being dysfunctional the night you wear it.
Pilot Watch FAQs
Q: What are pilot watches?
Pilot watches (as opposed to the classic pocket watch) was designed for aviators in the inter-war period. They strap onto the wrist and have Arabic numerals for easy viewing through watch window.
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
Q: What defines a pilot watch?
As pilot watches have become more of a fashion statement, the definition of what the aviator watch is has become more difficult to determine model by model. Generally speaking they had large a large window and features, they were also generally chronographs (which means they could be used as a stopwatch.)
Q: 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.
Pilot Watches vs. The Rest
The vintage pilot watch was made namely for aviators during WWII. The best pilot watches had a rotating bezel, a large window for viewing, and large features so that they could be easily manipulated when wearing a flack jacket. On a pilots watch, chronograph functions are also common.
Diver watches are designed to be easy to read, and water resistant, and luxury brand Bremont is a common name in diver watches. The water resistance is one of the key features for their original purpose, to be used by deep sea divers. They’re now a a popular design that still boasts their original features, take a look at Bremont or some of the watches we reviewed above if you’re looking specifically for a diver watch.
The field watch, like aviator watches, was design for warfare. It features water resistance, dust resistance, and may have a very simple style. The body is often stainless steel, and is designed to be very accurate and rarely need to have the time reset.
Invented in 1816 by Louis Moinet, the chronograph is a popular design of watch which features a stopwatch mechanism. One of the hands can be stopped and started in order to measure time easily. The chronograph watch was often used to time artillery fire.
Our Criteria for Choosing the Best Pilot Watches
We’ve looked at some of the best pilot’s watch choices out there as well as important features and considerations when choosing your first aircraft watch, or just your next special piece.
Whether you’re a guy who just needs an affordable pilot watch, one of the best pilot watches under 1000 dollars, or just military aviation watches to add a new style to your timepiece repertoire, you’ll find something perfect for you in the reviews we outlined above. When it comes to watches, brand, price, and style are all important — but if you’re looking for a really special piece, whether it is vintage or modern, for pilots or divers, you’re most important consideration is the intent of how you’ll wear it.
So once you’ve done an honest appraisal of what you’re looking for in one of these classic products, take a look for yourself at some of the watches we reviewed!
And if you like what you see, be sure to share this article with a friend.
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