An arresting combination of presence and practicality, the pilot’s watch has been a must-have from the moment that fellas began to strap timepieces around their wrists. Highly functional, robust and legible, and often with a crown large enough to be wound while fastened to the arm, the flieger(as it’s been known since before World War II) has evolved its own striking design language and, whether stripped-down simple or technical and complex, invariably makes a statement about its wearer.
No matter that 1A may be the closest you’ll ever get to the captain’s left-hand seat, you’ll definitely look the part in any one of these five picks.
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Named for the company that provides ejector seats to 70 percent of the world’s air forces, Bremont’s Martin-Baker MBIII incorporates an automatic GMT COSC-certified chronometer movement (a modified ETA 2892) on an anti-shock mount, a bi-directional inner bezel and an anti-magnetic Faraday cage in soft iron – and has been subject to a rigorous test programme, including shocks, vibrations, temperature and salt fog. In a 43mm case of hardened steel with barrel available in a range of colours, this rugged and handsome four-hand timepiece offers a 42-hour power reserve and some serious aviator cred.
A 46.2mm bronze case and oversize diamond-shape crown are among the features that make this massive, vintage-inspired timepiece so compelling. With an automatic 52110 Calibre that beats at 28,800vph and is protected by an anti-magnetic inner case, it offers a hefty seven days of power with reserve indicator at 3 o’clock. Made in a limited edition of 1,500 pieces, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage comes on a brown calfskin strap – and if the patina of age that inevitably accompanies bronze isn’t your cup of tea, the watch is also available in titanium, a metal that’s almost equally striking.
Within the 44mm steel case of the Oris Big Crown Propilot lies this fiercely independent Swiss watchmaker’s hand-wound Calibre 111, a beautifully executed mechanism that provides this sleek yet sturdy timepiece with a mammoth 10 days of grunt once fully wound. It has real presence, too, with its anthracite dial and red accents on the power reserve at 3 o’clock – and that exceptional movement visible through the caseback crystal. Wrist attachments comprise a choice of steel bracelet, green textile or brown crocodile; the latter’s an ideal compromise between smart and casual, but all work well.
Familiarity has brought acceptance for the Patek Philippe’s Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, which was received with some controversy on its unveiling in 2015. Because this timekeeper from what’s surely the world’s most sought-after watchmaker is actually deeply impressive and utterly covetable. Exquisitely made and finished, this 42mm GMT watch is powered by the automatic Calibre 324 S C FUS, visible in all its glory through a rear crystal and whose only drawback appears to be its unremarkable 35- to 45-hour power reserve. It’s available in rose or white gold and comes on a simple calf-leather strap – and either costs a fortune.
Without even a cyclops date window, this is one of the least complicated Rolexes you can buy, though given the Superlative Chronometer certification of its 3131 calibre and antimagnetic inner carriage it’s still a wholly desirable piece of kit. Its 40mm steel case is admittedly restrained, but the green highlights and blue lume on dial and hands are certainly eye-catching (the 3, 6 and 9 hours are in white gold) as is its pure functional clarity. In fact, think subtle classic rather than in-your-face statement and you’ve nailed the Air-King precisely.