Never sat in a cockpit, but still like the look of pilot’s watches? Then you’re in good company. Pilot’s watches have long achieved cult status in the worlds of fashion and lifestyle. Long gone are the days when they were only used for navigation and calculation. Today, you’re most likely to find a pilot’s watch at the office. One thing has however stayed the same: These timepieces give you a taste of what it’s like to soar above the clouds. And they’ve got that sporty, attractive, adventurous aura about them reminiscent of aviation yesteryear.
People also love pilot’s watches for their practical design. After all, you not only need a watch that looks good when you’re in the cockpit, but that’s got great functionality too, with simple legibility under any lighting conditions, and a robust build to boot. Now, great legibility also means that many of these models have a pretty wide case size, so not every pilot’s watch is going to look good on every wrist, or even be a practical choice with the typical dimensions these timepieces have. But never fear! If you’ve got small wrists like I do, this isn’t necessarily a problem. I, too, fell in love with pilot’s watches long ago – and since then I’ve been on the lookout for the best-looking, technically outstanding, and smaller pilot’s watches out there. Today I’m showing you my Top 5 models.
Stowa Flieger Classic 36
Looking for a simple pilot’s watch that’s also perfect for you? You’ll find one with Stowa. The brand combines German 1940s Fliegeruhr design with a Swiss caliber, creating a pilot’s watch you’ll simply love – the Flieger Classic 36. This timepiece has a clean, legible black dial, and hands that glow brightly in low light. And something special as well, because Stowa lets you individually design your watch the way you want it. Hand-wound or automatic, with or without a logo, in stainless steel or bronze – your watch is customized to create the perfect Flieger, just for you.
Like Sinn, another famous maker of pilot’s watches, Stowa was a leader in the introduction of the German DIN 8330 industry norm. In place since 2016, it sets high standards for pilot’s watches: they should not interfere with any of the aircraft’s instruments, and be able to withstand any and all stress. Drop the watch? No problem. Magnetic fields? The Stowa Flieger Classic 36 doesn’t bat an eyelash. It’s a perfect everyday timepiece, whether you’re at the gym or at the playground with your kids. This watch does it all, and with a great stylish, minimalist design.
Longines Heritage Military
Longines is not only Switzerland’s oldest registered watch brand, but also one of its most successful. It remains faithful to both its future and its past, which is why Longines continually releases homages to famous models from its horological history, one of which is the Longines Heritage Military. This timepiece stood out even back then: In contrast to many other pilot’s watches, the Heritage Military has a white dial with blued hands. We’re all a bit different, aren’t we? And some of us simply find lighter dials easier to read.
What’s impressive is how much the design of this watch borrows from the original. It features an automatic caliber that has 64 hours of power reserve, but is the sole automatic Longines watch to not indicate this on the dial, and is thus faithful to the hand-wound original. The same can be said of its domed sapphire crystal, which recalls the Plexiglas used in the model from the 1940s. This timepiece also has the same patina look as its forebear, with every dial hand-sprayed with tiny black droplets, making each Longines Heritage Military one of a kind, and the perfect pilot’s watch for freedom-loving individualists.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King
Think you misread that? Think again. After all, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King was originally created for the Royal Air Force, and has a pilot’s watch design. And although the Air-King isn’t under 40 mm, it is in fact right at 40 mm. It’s important to have guts to be a pilot – which is why I’m recommending this watch. Take the leap, and go for a watch that’s bigger than usual. Big pilot’s watches are their own watch sub-category. So why not declare this 40-mm Flieger to be a big pilot for smaller wrists?
The Air-King’s design brings together plenty of the things we love about Rolex: the Oyster design with color tones reminiscent of the Explorer, and just the right touch of Rolex green. The slight ergonomic downturn of the lugs means this model will fit your wrist beautifully. The Air-King is also a good investment. Its price makes it a great place to enter the world of Rolex, and its financial performance has been very positive over the last few years. Whether as a fashion statement or an investment, you’ll be happy you had the guts to go with the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-King.
Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer
American lifestyle with Swiss quality? No problem – Hamilton’s got you covered. This brand’s range of models delivers all kinds of tool watches that can do it all, be it outdoor adventures or military maneuvers. Hamilton makes sure you’ve always got a stylish, reliable watch on your wrist. Some of their timepieces are inspired by past classics, with the same great look but the modern technology to keep them contemporary. Of course, this goes for the Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer as well, a watch once worn by soldiers in the US military.
Now, do we really have to say anything about how great this watch looks? The Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer is truly a cut above the rest. Its case width of “only” 36 mm doesn’t hold this timepiece back from having an extravagant design borrowed from a boxy, stainless steel model from the 1970s that turned heads with its unique look, even back then. With its perfect legibility and matte dial and case, this watch embodies the idea that “form is function.” Its mineral crystal has an anti-reflective coating on both sides to prevent glare and, true to its military heritage, this watch comes on a robust NATO leather strap. Although the dial texture is taken directly from a popular 1970s look, the Khaki Pilot Pioneer runs on the modern hand-wound H-50 caliber, which boasts 80 hours of power reserve and excellent precision. The Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer is a watch for anyone looking for a timepiece that’s as rough-and-tumble as they are.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire
What lineup of pilot’s watches would be complete without IWC? IWC is, after all, famous for these timepieces, which is why it’s rounding off our Top 5 today with a watch that, for me, was love at first sight: the Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire. As its name makes clear, the cockpit of the famous Spitfire was the inspiration for this timepiece, whose stainless steel case, black dial, and brown calf leather strap are an homage to this aircraft. It also remains true to the purist style of the Mark 11 – the watch that IWC created for the British Royal Air Force in 1948. The IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire thus unites two military legends.
And the Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire doesn’t just deliver with great looks. It’s powered by the robust IWC in-house 32110 movement, with an impressive 72 hours of power reserve. It’s seated within a soft-iron inner case that protects it against magnetic fields. Its crystal is also secured against displacement should a sudden drop in air pressure occur. Do I sound a little biased? Absolutely. After all, the Spitfire delivers the utmost in tradition, design, technology, and sheer emotion, all packed into a great-looking, robust 39-mm case.