The 1950s were the golden age of aviation, the era when flight became almost commonplace and shearling-lined jackets were the uniform of frontier-defying aeronauts. It was also when the now commonplace pilots’ watches really came into their own.
Some of the most iconic designs in horological history have fallen under the auspices of aviation – Breguet’s Type XX, Zenith’s similarly-named Type 20 and the granddaddy of them all, the Cartier Santos to name just a wristful. The pilots’ watch is still a staple of watchmaking, almost as much as the diver and, with so many new models popping up, here are three of our favourites across a variety of price points.
Junghans Meister Pilot
Switzerland’s falling behind when it comes to cool, well-priced watches and German brands like Nomos Glashütte and, in this case, Junghans have been more than happy to take up the slack. We’ve been more than happy to let them.
The Meister Pilot embraces the military resurgence brands like Vertex have been built on, though rather than our own Ministry of Defence, this watch was originally conceived in 1955 for the Bundeswehr. It’s been updated with a DLC case, but the sheen of the dial is perfect faux-vintage. The indented bezel and bold chronograph pushers give it a little more personality than most of its ilk, but the Meister is still clearly a Pilot.
£2,140 from WATCHES OF SWITZERLAND
I’m normally a little averse to mentioning Rolex, not because they’re not great watches but simply because they get enough attention as it is. Most of that attention though is directed at the Daytona and Submariners, so I don’t feel too bad about giving the Air-King a plug.
Sharing the same Oyster case common to most models, it’s less militaristic than other pilots but still has a 50s pedigree. The numerals though are a little odd. The larger 3, 6 and 9 are all sound and above board, but the other number markers show the minutes instead – 5, 10, etc. It makes reading to the minute slightly easier but perhaps more importantly it’s an interestingly different entry-level Rolex.
£4,550 by ROLEX
IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage 48
The name couldn’t be more appropriate. The signature crown is huge, the strap is chunky and at 48mm this edition of IWC’s legendary pilots watch is on the hefty side. Thankfully it won’t ironically exceed your luggage allowance as the steel of the original 50s version has been switched for titanium. Other than that, it’s true to its roots, with its black and off-white dial and blued steel, propeller-inspired hands.
The movement inside has a not-too-shabby 8-day power reserve, though as it’s hand wound you’ll be twisting that crown at least once a week. Importantly for pilots (and audiophiles) the inner workings are also shielded by a layer of soft iron to protect against magnetic forces.
£11,500 from BERRY’S