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Classic Pilot Watch

Discussion in 'General Attire & Accoutrements' started by seahound, Dec 27, 2010.

  1. seahound

    seahound New in Town

    Hi guys,
    This is my first post. I've lurked for a while after being referred here by an Art of Manliness member (can't remember who).

    Anyway, as far as style goes, I'm partial to the classic pilot look. You know, jacket, glasses, watch. I know where to go for the jacket (I like Cockpit, I understand some people have differing opinions, I'm not looking to ignite that discussion) and the glasses (Randolph). I'm not sure about the watch though.

    What are the characteristics of the classic pilot watch? I'm looking for attributes, not brands. Breitling and Rolex are out of my price range for now. I just want to hear what you think about movements, materials, complications, etc. Thanks.
  2. Hi! I'm fairly new here too, but watches are a passion, so I'll help if I can.

    From the WWII era, pilot's used really big, like 55mm three-hand watches with a very large crown. The crown was large to allow for adjustment with gloves on. Google IWC Big Pilot's watch for an example. There are many, many examples from many brands in this style, most in the 40 to 44 mm range in size. Good brands that aren't (very) expensive are Muhle Glashutte and Hamilton.

    On the left is my Muhle pilot's watch. There is a black face version too. (The one on the right is a diver's watch.)

    Then you have chronographs. This is an inexpensive example.


    This is a slightly more expensive example, but very reasonable if you find a used one. (This one is mine.)

    Obviously, any classic pilot's watch is going to be mechanical, since quartz wasn't around until the late 60's I believe. The chronograph would be more modern I think than the basic three-hand configuration. Although I think both were used in the 30's and 40's.
  3. HeyMoe

    HeyMoe Practically Family

    Look on ebay for an A-11 watch. They were issued in WWII to USAAF aircrew.
  4. seahound

    seahound New in Town

    Caffeinated, I'd be interested to see how watches changed, not only with watch technology, but also with aircraft technology. I imagine that as aircraft got faster, watches with the ability to display multiple time zones (either through additional hands or bezels) became more popular. Likewise chronos with tachymeters probably became more widespread as precise timing became necessary. Most pilots nowadays own at least one G-Shock (the Air Force issues them at many pilot training bases), and the most useful features in my experience are atomic timekeeping, multiple time zones and the stopwatch (plus the G-Shock durability). I'm looking for something a little more classic, at least in terms of styling and function. I really like the Rolex GMT Master but that's a few years away for me. Victorinox makes several watches that I like, but at a more reasonable price. I think I'd lean towards an automatic movement with 2 time zones and no additional complications (a lot of modern pilot watches are very busy, ala Seiko or the Citizen Skyhawk). Thanks for the input guys.

    HeyMoe, the company that makes the reproduction has a lot of watches that fit my criteria, thanks for the heads-up.
  5. That's what I was going to say. My grandfather (the guy in my avatar) wore a Bulova-made A-11 during the War. Soemtime between then and now he acquired a nice old Helios that looks perhaps a bit more piloty to modern eyes. If you search my old posts, you'll see some really bad pictures of it.

  6. rmrdaddy

    rmrdaddy One Too Many

    I was able to pick up a Laco watch about a year ago second-hand. It's essentially a copy of the classic Beobachtungsuhren (B-Uhr) watches used during WWII by The Luftwaffe. They are available with quartz and automatic or hand winding mechanical movements (both made in Japan and Swiss movements as well for the mechanicals). Mine is the observer's watch with 2 rings and date, and it was a special edition that came with both black and brown leather bands in a nifty leather zippered folio type case. It's a 42MM watch, while the originals were sized at 55MM, as they were only issued for missions I believe, and visibility and use with gloved hands was more important than fitting under your shirt cuff....

    A few places to check them out:

  7. Michael Carter

    Michael Carter One of the Regulars

    The Fortis B-42 Cosmonaut has been on my list for two years now. Maybe this year.
  8. Generally vintage pilot watches tend to be black dialed with white hands for visibility. Mark x xi and xii for UK and commonwealth AF by IWC and JLC have become poplular and very collectable and fetching high prices. For vintage Axis watches check out the Hanhart chronographs. If looking for a modern version of these watches Hamilton, Hanhart and IWC makes some decent hommages. Check out this site www.broadarrow.net for more info.
  9. thebroker

    thebroker One of the Regulars

    As both a pilot and watch enthusiast, I believe one very important and functional feature of any pilot watch is a functioning E6B flight computer, also known as a "whiz wheel". Most good pilot watches have this built into the bezel. Another important and functional feature is a chronograph, either digital or analog. To give you an idea of what I view as the "perfect" pilot's watch, check out the Citizen Skyhawk. They come out with a new model almost every year, but they all have virtually the same features. Of course, this is a more modern watch, certainly not of WWII vintage, but it is one I've not only worn because it's nice, but one I've also used in the air.
  10. You should try to hunt down an original RAF Omega - but they are quite expensive too.
    If you are into the big pilotwatches, and only Luftwaffe used the big ones - A11's and Omegas are nothing more than Ø35mm - take a look at Stowa (www.stowa.de) they are re-producing their B-uhren at a very reasonable price. Great watches and great design!
  11. Tomasso

    Tomasso Incurably Addicted

  12. Michael Carter

    Michael Carter One of the Regulars

    I have found from experience that a wiz wheel on a watch is darn near impossible to use in a bucking, rolling aircraft. It's also nearly impossible to read at night without destroying your night vision.

    I'll stick to the full-size E6B model and leave the wrist computers for those with better eyes or pilots flying turbine aircraft.

  13. I'm sure other's will have differing opinions, but I see pilot's watches as broken down into three basic eras, with different styles of the same basic watches representing each era.

    The two basic early styles are the navigator watch and the chronograph. I'd put this time-frame from pre-WWII through the 50's. The A-11 mentioned before is a basic navigator style. This is also a very common dial layout for a pilot's watch:

    Early chronographs tended to be simple layouts:


    Into the 60's the chronographs become more complicated and the navigator's watch often includes a GMT hand for a second time zone. Test pilot Chuck Yeager famously wore a Rolex GMT and of course, the Apollo astronauts wore Omega Speedmaster chronographs. Watch the Tom Hanks movie "Apollo 13" sometime to see the Speedmaster in action. They time their corrective thruster burn with a Speedmaster.

    And of course the modern era is dominated by quartz chronographs and multifunction watches.

    So I think you first need to pick your era. How far back do you want to go? Then decide if you want a chronograph or a navigator. That should narrow it down some. There are beautiful, period-correct mechanical watches available in very reasonable price ranges. Laco, Stowa, Muhle, Fortis and Sinn are all reputable brands you could look at. Of course there are many, many very affordable quartz options too.

    To me, a mechanical watch is more fun though. It's an amazing little machine, as opposed to a little electronic gizmo. But that's a whole other thread!

    Have fun!
  14. seahound

    seahound New in Town

    Thanks for all the replies. I found them very informative.

    I'm going to follow Caffeinated's lead and narrow it down considerably. I'm looking for a GMT (with an extra hour hand for dual time zones) type watch, black face, leather band, stainless steel with an automatic movement for approx $500USD. I haven't been able to find one on my own, so if you know of any that fit the bill, please let me know.

    Edit: A GMT bezel would be ok in lieu of an extra hand.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2011
  15. Michael Carter

    Michael Carter One of the Regulars

    You will have a difficult time finding anything in that price range with any sort of quality, if at all.

    Another 1k to 1500 opens up your choices considerably. Don't waste your money on junk.
  16. I searched the FAQ and I can't find any rule against linking to other forums or web pages so I'm going to post some links for you to check out.

    I agree with Michael, however, I think you will ultimately be disappointed with a $500 automatic GMT. Unless you go to the used market, the watches at that price point are not really well made. But they are out there. Like this Junkers:


    Now a non-GMT auto from a reputable manufacturer can be had at your price. Like this: http://www.amazon.com/Hamilton-H70555533-Khaki-Field-Watch/dp/B000EQ0BM2/ref=sr_1_1?s=watches&ie=UTF8&qid=1294071271&sr=1-1


    Why they call this a GMT, I don't know. Probably because it has the 24 hour numbers in the dial. It's not a GMT, but it is a classic pilot watch from a watch maker with great history.

    Hamilton was an American watch maker, and they produced watches from the late 1800's until they were killed by quartz watches in the late 60's. They went out of business and the name was purchased by Swatch. They make very good watches by all accounts. If you look around, you might even find a Hamilton GMT at your price.

    If I may recommend, buy the inexpensive watch and wear it while you save for the one that will last. Like one of these:



    The cool thing about MKII is you can get so many different versions of the watch. You can even customize it if you are willing to wait a looooooong time.

    This is another great brand.


    Of course, I'm a big Omega fan, but they don't make this GMT anymore. Shame.


    In the meantime, spend some time on this site:
    Lot's of ideas there. Plus they have a sales forum where you can get great deals.

    Have fun!
  17. Michael Carter

    Michael Carter One of the Regulars

    I'm a big Omega fan too. I have the 2531.80, but I don't really care for their GMT or chronograph watches. For those type of watches I really think Fortis has the edge.
  18. Lou

    Lou One of the Regulars

    I'm glad to see Fortis and Sinn make an appearance. Limes and Glashutte are two other reasonably priced models.
  19. seahound

    seahound New in Town

    Sorry to necro a six year old thread, but it's my thread so I can do it, right?

    Anyway, I'm back on The Lounge after a several year hiatus and I just saw that this thread began with my first ever post. It started my watch fascination and in the time that I was away, I published a few articles for Real Men Real Style on various men's watch styles. I think you guys would appreciate them so I am posting them here. Enjoy!


    Full disclosure: I received no money for these articles, but I did get a link to my non-revenue producing blog (now all but defunct, though still hosted). RMRS might get money from Amazon Affiliates if you buy from one of the embedded links though.
    David Conwill likes this.

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