The two most popular sports watch categories are dive watches and pilot watches. The latter comes in two basic variants. Those being aviation watches, intended to be worn by pilots as essential tools, and those which are influenced by the look and feel of an airplane cockpit and its instrumentation. All pilots themselves wear a watch, using them as a backup tool if cockpit instrumentation fails. Having said that, pilots can be serious watch aficionados, so for them the right choice is important for the overall aviation experience.
It would be amiss to suggest that some pilot watches are “true” while some are “false.” Various agencies do in fact have technical requirements that certify “approved” pilot watches, but these are by no means universal rules. What most pilots do need is a legible view of the time, possibly a second time zone, chronograph, and sometimes more advanced digital functions. Usually a clear view of the time itself in a durable timepiece is enough so long as the watch visually appeals to them.
Bell & Ross popularized themselves with their now famous BR 01 family of “Instrument” watches inspired by airplane cockpit instruments. The large 46mm wide square watch is great looking and is also eminently useful. A wonderful choice for pilots is the BR 01 GMT, which adds a second time zone to the mix. This is useful for pilots who are interested in tracking the reference time as well as local time of the airport they are traveling to.
IWC has christened 2012 to be the year of the pilots watch for them. They have a less than modest collection of aviation inspired watches, such as the basic sounding IWC Pilot Watch Chronograph. At 43mm wide this beautiful steel timepieces includes the time and a 12 hour chronograph in addition to a day/date calendar as part of the Swiss ETA Valjoux 7750 automatic movement. Here is another useful, albeit aviation inspired timepiece.
The revived Swiss brand Alpina has a true aviation watch history and pieces like the Alpina Aviation are meant to be retro pilot watch inspired modern timepieces. At 44mm in steel, this watch exists as part of the large universe of aviation history inspired products (including watches). Alpina took inspiration from their own historic designs in designing a legible bi-compax chronograph with an attractive conservative character. The price is right too.
Breitling deserves at least two mentions because of their long history and current dedication to providing actual aviation professionals with competent and good looking timepieces. A classic is the Breitling Navitimer, also in Navitimer 01 form that includes an in-house made Breitling automatic movement. The year 2012 sees the 60th anniversary of the launch of the original Navitimer, and to celebrate Breitling have released the Limited Edition Navitimer Blue Sky. The Navitimer is perhaps so famous for having a slide-rule. Still today pilots are trained in the use of analog slide-rule bezels to perform necessary calculations. Non-pilots might not get a ton of use out of the special bezel, but those with the right training can use them for handy calculations in flight and on the ground. The Navitimer itself is an extremely classic and iconic look that is hard to miss as a true pilot’s friend.
Breitling is also the only, or one of the only serious Swiss watch brands still producing digital quartz based pilot instrument watches. Much preferred by pilots for their accuracy and range of use, timepieces like the Breitling Professional Chronospace contains special thermocompensated “Super Quartz” Swiss movements that are accurate to about 10 seconds a year. Basel 2012 saw the release of the Limited Edition Chronospace Blacksteel giving a contemporary edge to this classic professional watch. The digital/analog dials provide a series of secondary functions including a second time zone, countdown timer, chronograph, alarm, and more. For many real pilots timepieces like this are the ultimate cockpit companion.
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