Best pilot's watches for men: Choose from Rolex, Breitling, Longines, Zenith and more

Combining technical brilliance with panache, watchmakers today are creating practical and stunning pilot's watches that are indeed revolutionary

rolex air king

Famous Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, in 1904, couldn't keep track of time while flying. This limitation turned into an idea for famous French watchmaker Louis Cartier who later created the first pilot's watch, featuring geometric shapes and exposed screws. Not just expeditions in the skies, but wars too saw their share of several pilot's watches. During World War I, British pilots took pocket watches to the skies to time their moves. Since then, timepieces for aviators have evolved, and today, they are fascinating not just to the pilot's but also those who admire the style and substance of these observation tools.

Functionality and legibility are two components pilot's watches are known for, but the contemporary iterations not only inherit the practicality of a tool watch but also present suave design characteristics that make these modern pieces both robust and elegant. From Rolex Air-King to Zenith Pilot Type 20 Blueprint, here are six pilot's watches to reach for the skies.

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rolex air king 1

Rolex Air-King

Price: Rs4.62 lakh (approximately)

When it comes to distinct timepieces, pilot's watches fuse pragmatism with style. Aviation watches were developed as timepieces that could assist pilots during mid-flight. With time, aviation embraced technology and so did pilot's watches. Rolex is among the brands that boasts of their unique line of pilot's watches. The brand's association with pilot's watches can be traced to as early as the 1930s. Back then, chronometer watches were a constant companion of explorers.

Rolex has succeeded in maintaining the tradition of its novel pilot watches. During World War II and after, Rolex manufactured numerous air models for the British Royal Air Force and its pilots. The Air-King was launched in 1945. Its large 34 mm case earned it the name 'King'. It was a part of a collection of air watches. In the collection that also had Air-Tiger, Air-Giant, and Air-Lion, the Air-King managed to outlive the rest. Reference 4925 was the first Air-King model, followed by Reference 4499.

Over the years, the Air-King evolved aesthetically. Reference 5500 has been a notable model as it redefined the line. 

In 2014, the Air-King was discontinued and the Oyster Perpetual was launched in 2015. However, a year later, Rolex introduced the new Air-King, Reference 116900. The new timepiece stands out with its unique black dial and large numerals for navigational time readings. The current model has a 40 mm Oystersteel case with scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and is water-resistant up to 100 metres. It has a Calibre 3131, Manufacture Rolex with a power reserve of up to 48 hours.

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presage studio ghiblin porco rosso

Presage Studio Ghibli Porco Rosso Collaboration Limited Edition - SRQ033J1

Price: Rs3.63 lakh (approximately)

In 2020, Seiko introduced the Presage Studio Ghibli Porco Rosso Collaboration Limited Edition - SRQ033J1 — a timepiece brimming with the artistry of traditional Japanese craftsmanship. The timepiece is inspired by the widely celebrated feature-length film Porco Rosso created by the famous Japanese production house Studio Ghibli. 

The film revolves around an early 20th century pilot who transforms himself into a seaplane-flying pig, Porco, and makes his living by tracking down sky bandits over Italy and the Adriatic Sea. The Seiko model captures the beauty of Porco's fictitious 1920's plane - Savoia S-21.

The timepiece's splendid dial draws inspiration from the instrument panel of the plane with clear, bold hands and numerals as well as detailed and elaborate markers. The black dial is made of enamel by master craftsman Mitsuru Yokosawa and his colleagues to create a splendour which exudes the feel and texture of the materials used in a 1920s aircraft. The SRQ033J1, limited to only 600 pieces, is powered by Seiko's most advanced chronograph calibre — 8R48. The watch is offered on black strap with stitching in red, white, and green. On the caseback is engraved, in Italian, a famous quote from the film, "A pig that does not fly is just a pig."

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breiting

Breitling AVI REF. 765 1953 AVI REF. 765 1953 RE-EDITION

Price: Rs6.27 lakh (approximately)

In stainless steel and black, AVI Ref. 765 1953 AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition brings back the memories of the Co-Pilot Ref. 765 AVI introduced in 1953. The timepiece preserves the original 765 AVI's signature luminescent indexes every three minutes. In the 1950s, these instruments helped pilots mark a final check of the planes — an exercise that should not exceed 15 minutes. Breitling has indeed paid attention to recreate the original. 

It features an all-black dial which is protected by a highly domed Hesalite crystal, and has the same Arabic numerals as the original Co-Pilot from 1953, with tone-on-tone small seconds, 15-minute and 12-hour chronograph counters.

The contemporary model comes housed in a 41 mm case which also bears resemblance to the original, including the bezel secured by three screws that are placed in precisely the same positions as those on the timepiece from 1953. The improved water resistance — up to 30 metres —  and "GENEVE" not appearing on the dial are two modifications that separate the new from its original sibling. 

The in-house Breitling Manufacture Caliber B09 drives the watch which comes with a black vintage-inspired leather strap with a pin buckle. The Re-Edition is a limited-edition of 1953 piece, each engraved with "ONE OF 1953".

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longines spirit 1

Longines Spirit L3.810.4.53.0

Price: Rs1.56 lakh (approximately)

The winged hourglass brand with its Longines Spirit collection simply takes one's breath away. The Longines Spirit L3.810.4.53.0 is a robust and bold timepiece with a black dial and brown strap — a handsome colour scheme bound to impress. The collection brings history close to innovation by clubbing references to the magnificent days of aviation with contemporary aesthetic and technical requirements.

Housed in a 40 mm stainless steel case, the watch is water resistant up to 100 metres. Its dial in matte black is complimented by silvered sandblasted hands — a contrast which looks astonishing. The model is driven by self-winding mechanical movement L888.4 churning out a power reserve of around 64 hours. The elegant timepiece is offered on a brown leather strap which again magnifies the overall visual experience of the Longines Spirit L3.810.4.53.0.

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zenith pilot type 20 blueprint

Zenith Pilot Type 20 Blueprint

Price: Rs5.98 lakh (approximately)

Zenith's famous attic is a place full of watchmaker's history and surprises. A team at the Zenith manufacture found a blueprint of its historical building. They were quickly reminded of the blueprints they had seen of the initial Aeronefs, the earliest aircraft developed by the pioneers of flight, most notably French aviator Louis Blériot, and his Type XI aircraft that he flew across the English Channel. Inspired by the blueprint, they decided to incorporate the production plans directly onto the Pilot Type 20 Blueprint's dial.

The stunner in blue is housed in the historically inspired steel case. The large steel case, finished with a mix of polished and satin-brushed surfaces, features the signature oversized 'onion' shaped crown that allows the time to be adjusted even with flight gloves on. The Elite manufacture automatic movement drives the instrument watch delivering a power reserve of up to 50 hours. Limited to 250 pieces, it is available on a blue calfskin leather strap.

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IW327101_Pilot's Watch UTC Spitfire Edition MJ271

IWC Pilot's Watch UTC Spitfire Edition "MJ271"

Price: Rs8.12 lakh (approximately)

In 2019, two pilots took off from Goodwood aerodrome in West Sussex, UK,  the home ground for Spitfire pilots. They took off in a Spitfire, an engineering marvel, and covered around 43,000 kilometres and visited over 20 countries. It took them four months to accomplish their record-breaking flight. IWC had supported the expedition 'Silver Spitfire — The Longest Flight' as the primary partner and official timekeeper. The airplane became the first Spitfire ever to circumnavigate the globe in 2019. 

What makes the timepiece stand out are its bronze case, olive green dial and brown calfskin strap. 

The UTC mechanism helps the wearer set a second time zone without a hassle. Turning the crown one way or another in its intermediate position causes the hour hand to jump forward or backward in one-hour steps. If the International Date Line is crossed in the process, the date display likewise changes automatically. The home time can be read off in the arc-shaped UTC display in the upper half of the dial. The IWC-manufactured 82710 calibre features Pellaton winding, with components made of non-wearing ceramic, delivers a 60-hour power reserve.  

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