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15 aviation-inspired watches that fly above the rest

Bloomberg • 7 min read
15 aviation-inspired watches that fly above the rest
From technical pilot watches to timepieces that simply draw design inspiration from flight, these are extra-special pieces for those who appreciate the language of air travel.
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From technical pilot watches to timepieces that simply draw design inspiration from flight, these are extra-special pieces for those who appreciate the language of air travel.

For as long as watches have existed, their makers have looked to the skies to inspire technical complications, design flourishes, and more. When humans began to fly, new types of watches were born—crafted to aid pilots, be they professional, military or leisure fliers. As such functional aviation attributes as the flyback chronograph were developed, so was the design language around them. Land-bound buyers began clamoring for watches with the same look and functionality. Today, pilot watches (also known as Fliegers) are some of the most popular on the market.

These 15 models, some recently released and others in limited editions, represent various developments in the category. Prices vary by the thousands, and independent brands such as Bremont meet powerhouse prestige houses like Patek Philippe. Many pieces are technical in nature; a few are purely aesthetics-driven. All, however, honor the world of pilots and aviation.

Stowa Flieger Klassik Chrono Automatic Limited

This year marks the 90th anniversary for Germany’s Stowa brand. To celebrate the milestone, the watchmakers have reissued many classic models in limited editions of 90—with updates for 2017. In the Flieger Klassik Chrono Automatic, a Valjoux 7753 mechanical movement sits within a stainless steel case with a hand-ground, fine matte finish. Temperature-blued steel hands offer a design punctuation point on the face. (US$2,000)

Breitling Cockpit B50

There’s something jarring about a digital display set in the midst of an analog watch dial—yet the Breitling Cockpit B50 puts this identity clash to good use: readability. Billed at the “ultimate pilot’s instrument,” this multifunctional electronic chronograph carries a movement designed for aviation, the Breitling B50 SuperQuartz. Bursting with functionality and complexity, the 46-millimeter titanium (or black titanium) timepiece offers a digital and perpetual calendar, a flight-time chronograph function, an electronic tachometer, and more. (US$8,035)

Alpina 99MG Limited Edition Startimer Pilot Automatic Michael Goulian

A stunning, straightforward, limited edition piece, the 44mm Alpina 99MG Limited Edition Startimer Pilot Automatic Michael Goulian was developed in partnership with the talented aerial demonstration pilot. Applied silver indexes contrast the dark blue matte dial beautifully. Alpina will release only 188 pieces. (US$1,150)

Bremont Special Edition 1918

In three exemplary variations, Bremont’s Special Edition 1918 timepieces commemorate next year’s centenary for Great Britain's Royal Air Force. Inside each 43mm automatic watch—hewn from either stainless steel, rose gold, or white gold—is a modified automatic chronometer movement. Here, the dial features the brand’s first ever moonphase complication. There’s rigorous attention to detail in these watches, exemplified by the rotor material: metal and wood veneer from four original RAF aircraft flown during World War I and World War II. (Range: US$11495 - US$22,995)

IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition Antoine de Saint Exupery

The pilot watch is a tentpole category for IWC, and the Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition Antoine de Saint Exupery acts as a truly extraordinary representation. Four subdials lend visual balance to a dial that’s awash with technical notifications. A self-winding movement powers the features, which include an uncommon, seven-day power reserve, perpetual calendar, and moonphase. Refined detail work can be seen in the 18 karat red gold rotor and Côtes de Genève finish. Finally, there’s a potency to the brown dial's pairing with the calfskin strap by Santoni. (US$25,900)

Oris Big Crown Propilot Calibre 111

A watch for contemporary pilots, Oris’s Big Crown Propilot Calibre 111 more than embodies the spirit of aviation timepieces—it delivers attributes required for aviators. Beating at the heart of this 44mm stainless-steel piece is the brand’s proprietary, hand-wound Oris 111 movement, with a whopping 240-hour power reserve. On the blue dial, one finds big SuperLuminova-coated numerals. Altogether, this is about simplicity and readability. (US$5,500)

Bell & Ross Vintage BR V1-92 Military

Clarity of design is the hallmark of Bell & Ross's Vintage BR V1-92 Military wristwatch. It’s certainly one of the more refined pieces in the brand’s roster, and the vintage military inspiration doesn’t settle simply for nostalgia; it’s brightened by contemporary flourishes. At 38.5mm, the stainless steel watch is on the smaller side, which works to its advantage. (US$1,990)

Patek Philippe Calatrava PIlot Travel Time Ref 5524G

A stunning example of the potential for aviation-inspired watches, Patek Philippe’s Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Ref 5524G offers a dual-time zone mechanism—quite handy for frequent flyers. It’s 43mm in white gold with a sapphire crystal caseback, offering a glimpse at the 21K gold central rotor. Gold applied numerals glow from the classy yet contemporary, blue-varnished dial. (US$42,446)

Hamilton Khaki Aviation Takeoff Auto Chrono

A pilot watch in form and function, the Khaki Aviation Take Off Auto Chrono was designed by Hamilton to meet the needs of Air Zermatt, a Swiss mountain-rescue service. Predominantly black, with white numerals and a touch of yellow on the bi-directional countdown turning flange, it’s one of the starkest, cockpit-inspired pieces. (US$1,895)

Zeno Giant Chronograph Date

Drawn from ZENO’s Pilot line, the green oblique dial Giant Chronograph Date manages to honor the brand’s history of aviation influence while standing out on the strength of its bold coloring. Inside this 50mm timepiece, a Valjoux 7750 movement is seen through a glass caseback. The historic Swiss brand pairs the piece with a green leather strap, uniting the visual statement. (US$2,475)

Graham Chronofight Vintage Nose Art Ltd.

There’s more to Graham’s Chronofight Vintage than a pin-up girl resting on its blue, unbrushed dial (though it does stand out). Limited to 25 pieces, this chronograph features a Calibre G1747 automatic movement that also powers a day-date at 9 o’clock. Also noteworthy, the lockable crown and pushers fall on the left side of this 44mm watch—more ergonomically convenient in many situations. (US$5,450)

Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X-33

Even a quick glance at the Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X-33 makes clear that it was designed for a flight to space—the European Space Agency used it for many missions. Within the 45mm, brushed, grade-2 titanium case, an advanced quartz caliber inside powers the hands, as well as an LCD display. As Omega says, this was designed for deep-space visibility, to which its crispness attests. (US$5,900)

Citizen Protomaster Skyhawk A-T Limited Edition

Another wristwatch to bind analog and digital attributes, the Citizen Protomaster Skyhawk A-T Limited Edition draws power from sunlight (a tenet of the brand’s Eco-Drive technological platform) and syncs to a hyper-accurate, state-of-the-art atomic clock. Production of this 47mm titanium watch has been kept at only 5,000 pieces. It’s got a laundry list of functionalities, including a chronograph, perpetual calendar, dual time, and digital backlight. There’s a pilot’s rotating slide rule bezel, too. As far as design goes, this is a rather complex piece, but if one knows how all the tools work, it’s beyond handy. (US$895)

Longines Aviation BigEye 41mm Chronograph

Winner of the 2017 “Revival” Prize at the prestigious Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève, Longines’s Aviation BigEye 41mm Chronograph harks back to its classic pilot watch from the 1930s. A 41mm automatic timepiece that sports the brand’s 688-caliber movement, the watch’s every component has received a functional infusion aligned with the spirit of true aviation watches. From the chronograph pushers to the emphasized readability, this has been designed for active use. (US$2,625)

Zodiac Jetomatic Limited Edition

Limited to 82 pieces, Zodiac’s new Jetomatic references the brand’s classic pilot watch of the 1960s. This Swiss-made automatic piece sets itself apart by way of an oversized crown and SuperLuminova accent indicators on the dial. A small, circular date window sits between 4 o'clock and 5 o’clock. Altogether, readability is emphasized on a reasonably sized watch, at 40mm. (US$1,495)

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