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Pilotwatches: from cockpit to must-have watch

Every year, April 26 is World Pilot Day. A profession that started in the first years of the 19th century and which has had a great influence on the watch market. Pilotwatches go under different names, such as Flieger or Aviator, and have been a popular branch of  watches for years. They are marketed by a wide variety of brands and consist of many different brands, some more popular than others. What is a pilot's watch and what are the options?

The history of pilotwatches

The history of pilotwatches actually starts with Louis Joseph Cartier. He was the grandson of Louis-François Cartier, the founder of the jewelry house as we know it. At the time, Louis Cartier was friends with the aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. He pointed out to Louis that it was an annoyance to get his pocket watch out while flying. Louis Cartier knew a solution for this for him. And that's where the first pilot's watch was born: the Cartier Santos-Dumont . This used to be unique, but this watch is still in production today.

What is a pilotwatch?

A watch is a pilot's watch because of the design and the functions that are of added value for pilots. It used to be important that the watch was easy to read for the pilot, both in the light and in the dark. That is why the format of the hour markers was often large and conspicuous. The GMT function was important for pilots to display different time zones. Thousands of kilometers from the home front, the pilots knew that they could make a phone call before the children were put to bed. A good example of this is the Rolex GMT-Master 'Albino', which was put into production at the time at the request of Pan Am. Nowadays, the Rolex GMT-Master with this color combination blue and red on the bezel is also called the 'Pepsi'. The Tachymeter and Chronograph function are also often associated with Pilotwatches these days. However, these are more interesting for the design than the actual functionality during flight.

What trends are there?

Today, pilotwatches look different than they used to. There are different market trends that products respond to. While the retro designs remain in demand, the dials, numerals and cases of pilotwatches are getting bigger, nowadays up to a case width of 48 mm. The use of materials by the manufacturers of pilotwatches has also changed. Because these watches had to be sturdy and impact resistant, the cases used to be often made of steel and therefore heavy. Nowadays, sturdier and lighter materials are used, such as titanium, ceramic or even carbon.

Popular brands and models

There are of course the well-known brands active on the market with pilotwatches. Then think of Cartier and Rolex as mentioned. Yet there are also some lesser-known brands that have managed to get themselves a place with noteworthy pilotwatches. Some brands may have lesser-known models, but they are certainly iconic.


One of the most important is Breitling. Breitling has been a producer of pilotwatches since the 1950s, with the Navitimer series as its icon. The Breitling Navitimers are equipped with, among other things, a slide rule with which pilots can perform complex calculations.


Another renowned shareholder in the pilot watch market is IWC. The brand has a long history of making watches for the aviation industry, and the IWC Pilot series, which includes the Big Pilot, is one of its most recognizable models.


Zenith is also partly responsible for maintaining the pilot's watches. Zenith is a Swiss watch brand known for its precision instruments and chronographs. The brand also makes pilot watches, including the Pilot Type 20 series, which is inspired by the watches worn by pilots in the 1930s and 1940s.

Bell & Ross

Perhaps a lesser known provider of pilotwatches is Bell & Ross . Bell & Ross is a French watch brand known for its military inspired watches. The brand has an extensive collection of pilotwatches, including the BR 01 series, which is inspired by the instruments of an airplane cockpit.


As mentioned earlier , Cartier was reportedly the first to strengthen the watch market with pilotwatches. The Cartier Santos-Dumont was the first of many other variants of the Cartier Santos that are still very much in demand today. The Santos line consists of a small version, the Santos Galbée 29 mm wide, to its big brother with almost double the width, the Santos 100 XL 54 mm, and everything in between.


Despite the rich history of other brands among pilotwatches, one of the most important providers is Rolex. They offer models such as the GMT-Master series, but the Air-King and Sky-Dweller also fall under this range.

The market

Although the functionality of the Fliegers is perhaps less important to today's consumer, they still remain popular. You can see that the big brands are still selling like hot cakes. This popularity can also be seen on the platforms where pre-owned models are offered for sometimes higher than the 'list' price. Yet there are also a large number of models that go pre-owned or vintage for very attractive prices. Consider, for example, the Oris Big Crown . A pilot watch that can be found for around €1,200 with the well-known 'Pointer Date' function.

Pilotwatches have a rich history and are still popular with watch enthusiasts. It all started with Louis Joseph Cartier, who designed the first wristwatch at the request of an aviator. Today, pilotwatches have several functions that are useful for pilots, such as GMT function, tachymeter and chronograph function. Brands such as Breitling, IWC, Zenith and Bell & Ross offer a range of pilotwatches with different designs and materials. While the retro designs remain in demand, dials and cases are getting larger and sturdier and lighter materials are being used. In short, the world of pilotwatches offers a wide variety of options for watch enthusiasts and pilots, both in function and style.


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