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pilot watches

Pilot Watches: A Comprehensive Guide

Since watches were first invented, manufacturers have found ways to tailor their pieces for various professions. From military-specific watches and special-edition motorsport pieces to world-famous diving models, the list of occupation-specific timepiece classifications continues to growing.

Thanks to years of development, research, and relentless field testing, one watch type that stands out is the pilot watch.

Today, brands like Longines, OMEGA, and Seiko have all developed their own unique take on the fabled pilot’s watch that many fliers use and depend on for their trips in the sky. Each version expresses a vision of what exactly such a timepiece should be – especially when it comes to key elements that distinguish them from other options.

iwc pilots watch chronograph

A Look into the History of the Pilot Watch

The inception of the pilot watch began as a solution for a particular problem that many pilots faced in the era before GPS and advanced radios – navigation. In the early days of flying, watch technology was rather limited. To ensure that their routes calculated on the ground matched those flown in the air, pilots relied on pocket watches to measure the flight time of each leg of their journey. This was, of course, rather inconvenient because of how much focus it took to read and operate a bulky pocket watch while flying.

In 1904, Louis Cartier sought to solve this problem by helping out his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont – a Brazilian aviator of some renown – by designing the now-famous Cartier Santos. Before Cartier took it upon himself to design a timepiece for pilots, it was not uncommon for pilots to affix their pocket watches onto their wrists by way of jerry-rigged straps. Cartier created a small watch with a square face and exposed screws, a style choice reminiscent of the rivets found on the exterior of aircraft.

Since the first pilot watch was created and introduced to the world, watch companies have made incredible innovations that make modern pilot’s watches more refined and capable than ever. Thanks to the consistent efforts of brands like Breitling and IWC, modern aviator-tailored pieces are now more than capable of meeting ever-changing flight complexities.

oris big crown pointer date

What Makes Pilot Watches Unique

There are key elements that make a pilot watch stand out. First, they feature utilitarian aesthetics and sharp legibility. The latter is especially emphasized because it caters to the necessities of easy reading while in the air, without the need to pull a hand off the control wheel or yoke to bring the watch close to read. Big hands and a wide, visible dial are also distinguishing features of pilot watches.

Staying true to their initial image as one of the first real “on-board computers,” pilot watches also feature various components that allow for seamlessly navigating the skies. Watch elements such as slide rules and chronographs are commonly integrated and aren’t typically available on other non-pilot watches—another unique feature. Finally, in the early days of aviation before pressurized and climate controlled cockpits, a metal bracelet could cool or heat to uncomfortable levels so most pilot watches featured straps made of a less temperature sensitive material – leather.

hamilton khaki aviation pilot day date auto

Other Key Features That Make Pilot Watches Unique

If you’re a pilot looking for a dependable piece to wear or someone that simply appreciates the more practical side of horology, then you’re probably thinking about investing in an aviation watch.

Here are some specific features of pilot watches that might interest you:

  • Flyback chronographs
  • Luminosity
  • Additional bezel markings
  • Dual-time or GMT functions

These features – and more – can be found in Feldmar’s exquisite selection of IWC Pilots Watches!

breitling premier b09 chronograph


The pilot’s watch is one of the most storied and unique type of watch available today. As such, they are a critical point of reference when understanding the functionality and history of watches. With this guide, you’ll be able to cultivate a much better understanding and appreciation of these specialized timepieces!

Feldmar Watch takes immense pride in being the place to be if you want to buy luxury watches in Los Angeles, CA, at excellent prices. Feel free to browse our vast collection of available options today!

About The Author: Tom Roth


Born in Washington state, Tom developed an interest in photography during college at University of San Diego. There, he got started in music journalism, interviewing artists and taking photos at concerts. A life-long tinkerer and collector, it wasn’t long before Tom became fascinated with fountain pens and watches.

Those interests collided in November 2020 when Tom started at Feldmar Watch Company where he lives out every watch geek’s dream: photographing and writing about timepieces. When he’s not tinkering with his watch collection, Tom can be found traveling, biting his nails while watching PNW sports teams, and taking flying lessons.

Read more from Tom Roth

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