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Best Pilot Watches: Gnomon's 2023 Guide

You don't have to be a pilot to own these best pilot watches.
Nov 17, 2022

Sitting peacefully on the verandah while listening to a man telling a glorious story about his treasure passionately. I spent almost half of the day listening to his answer of "Why do pilots need pilot watches?". It started when I came to my friend's house and encountered a simple-glass storage yet stunning with what it keeps inside. That's when I knew that pilots wear certain types of watches and what the best pilot watches look like.

He was a former pilot, an experienced-one with thousands of hours traversing the skies. Besides a love for aircrafts, he's also into collecting watches, especially pilot watches -- "It stays as a close friend of mine right on my wrist," he said. Also known as aviator watches, they feature not only a high-end function but also a terrific style. 

Further, it has specific functions that constitute a pilot watch, from a GMT function to a maximal legibility even in a dark condition, legible dial to oversized winding crown, and extra bezel markings to assist with calculation like air speed and fuel burn.

You might want to hear more about how a former pilot perceives pilot watches. Let me clear out the story for you.

Why Do Pilots Need Pilot Watches?

This is an obvious question that popped into my head when I heard "pilot watches". Why don't they just use the same watches as others? In some cases, a watch could be critical during a flight such as a system-failure.

Pilot watches are designed to have characteristics and features that set them aside from other types. This is when the demand comes in to meet the needs.

There are several things I got that I would like to share here.  First of all, pilots need a timepiece to be impact-resistant that could withstand extreme changes and pressures. With that being said, a robust watch that can absorb external forces should be on the list.

A good luminosity is also necessary for enhancing the readability in night flights along with large markers that even a glance would be able to tell the time. Most of the watches come in black dial to prevent reflections and tend to have a large dial to ensure great visibility.

In addition to that, a pilot watch mostly featured an oversized winding crown that would help a pilot to wind even with gloves on. Having a GMT complication of dual time would also be essential for pilot watches considering that they travel around the world.

This complication will specifically track multiple time zones. With all of these complications, pilot watches could be a great tool during a flight. This is when I realized that a watch is indeed more than just a fashion statement.  

Enough for the why, a new question came across my mind.

Do Today's Pilots Actually Wear Pilot Watches?

Apparently the answer is not really. Watches and aviation did really have a strong bound story but the relationship has gone as today pilots would wear any sort of watches that suit their taste. Even the best pilot watches are meant for everyone now.

Pilot watches gained its popularity back then when a pilot found it difficult to tell the time from a pocket watch. But all of the story ended in the mid-1980s as electronic navigation systems kicked in.

The only thing that remains is the memory between watches and the aviation industry. The story goes on until now as how he told me his joyous flight stories with his IWC's First Big Pilot's Watch Ref. IW431.

He mentioned that the nostalgic feeling of using timepieces inspired from a plane would bring a great feeling of satisfaction. Its value is kept within the memory and well-reserved in the heart of a pilot watch -- "I feel its significance and I'm lucky enough to grab some of the pieces to be part of my journey". As such, this is the time where we should accept today's pilot watches as what they are -- robust and rugged pieces of high-accuracy jewelry.

Curious, I did some research to look for the best pilot watches you could have today. Here is the list of pilot watches that you can afford under $500 and $1000. You don't have to be a pilot to buy these watches -- or you could just be an imaginary pilot.

Read also: The 5 Best Watches with Tritium that Glow Constantly

Marathon Pilot’s Navigator Government Black Ref. WW194013-S-BK-B

Let's start with one of the Marathon timepieces that is well-known among military watch enthusiasts as it has been making timing instruments for the Allied Forces. No wonder that durability and accuracy are what it offers you in the first place. You can find these highlights in the Marathon Pilot’s Navigator Government Black Ref. WW194013-S-BK-B.

Marathon Pilot’s Navigator Government Black Ref. WW194013-S-BK-B

The story of this timepiece lays out when Texan's Air Force needed watches that could go through extreme conditions when used at high altitudes while remaining accurate and legible. That's when the demand came in.

One should be mentioned is what lies inside its heart, high-torque ETA quartz movement that will guarantee accuracy in timekeeping. The ETA FØ6 also includes an End of Life (EOL) indicator that will inform you when the battery change is needed.

Marathon Pilot’s Navigator Government Black Ref. WW194013-S-BK-B

As to how best pilot watches should be, the Navigator SGM is applied with tritium gas tubes and MaraGlo™ to ensure maximum legibility even when you are in the dark for more than 24 hours.

It's definitely the upgraded version of the conventional SuperLuminova. I would say this is the best pilot watches under $500 USD I could find, wondering to have one?

Steinhart Nav B-Chrono 42 Classic A-Type Black

Impressive practical functionality and stunning appearance are what make pilot watches as popular as ever. Let's dive deeper into one of its kind that has been part of aviation history since early years.

The Nav B-Chrono 42 Classic A-Type Black is one of the Steinhart best pilot watches under $1000 USD that features the latest pilot chronograph model in just the right size. 

Steinhart Nav B-Chrono 42 Classic A-Type Black

Constructed with a 42mm 316L stainless steel case, sapphire glass-domed with double anti-reflective coatings, and a double-rivet leather strap with a signed Steinhart engraved logo, this Chrono is more than ready as a complete set of a pilot watch. 

Not to forget it as a Swiss-made ETA Valjoux 7750 Elaboré, it comes in with a 48-hour power reserve that answers the needs of robust and reliable pilot watches.

Steinhart Nav B-Chrono 42 Classic A-Type Black

Along with the two main sub-dial, this timepiece provides BGW9 Superluminova to its hands and markers, resulting in different looks -- white in daylight and cool blue in the dark.

One of the essential keys to pilot watches is knowing the time at a glance. With all those being said, you may not want to miss this timepiece, would you? Or perhaps you are craving for another luxury pilot watch, below is for you. 

Read also: Squale vs Steinhart: The Comparison between The Compelling Ones

Engineer III Pilot Bronze Star Black Ref. NM2186C-L4J-BK

From its bronze case with a warm yellow gold tone, screwed-in crown, to an anti-reflective sapphire crystal. The Engineer III Pilot Bronze Star Black Ref. NM2186C-L4J-BK presents its robust and sturdy looks that would make its performance one of the best pilots watches on your wrist.

As a product of Ball Watch Company, the Ball Engineer III highlights the ability to withstand extreme shock that may damage the watch. How is that?

Engineer III Pilot Bronze Star Black Ref. NM2186C-L4J-BK

Thanks to the Springlock and Amortiser systems that absorb any kind of shocks from the surrounding environment up to 66% while also balancing the watch accuracy.

Further, the black dial with bold Arabic numeral hour markers and dark text for the day-date indicator offer an extra element, especially for night reading capability. Pilot watches are all about legibility, right?

Engineer III Pilot Bronze Star Black Ref. NM2186C-L4J-BK

And at the heart of the Ball Engineer III, you will find the Automatic Calibre BALL RR1102 and is based on an ETA 2836. It means that it will provide you with reliable readings for hours, minutes, sweeping seconds, days, and dates.

In all, the Engineer III Pilot Bronze Star Black Ref. NM2186C-L4J-BK provides a range of features with functionality most watch enthusiasts will appreciate. So, be one of the people who own this limited timepiece.  

Although its presence is no longer because of its functionality, the best pilot watches will remain its existence among watch lovers.

See also: Top Picks: Ball Dive Watch Collections that Offer You Quality

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