The gear that we love the most, from essential everyday carry picks to a do-anything work jacket, has the right mix of modern utility and real-world history behind it, and that’s the case with the pilot watch, too. Even the name calls to mind larger-than-life adventures high above the ground, and that makes it one of the best watches for men to add to your collection.
Like other menswear staples that we now know and love on the daily (like the military roots of the field jacket or the chino), the style has a backstory that’s admirable, and yet serves a purpose even if you’re not an aviator yourself.
Modern technology has changed the way pilots fly, sure, but the style still stands alone as supremely rugged and downright useful — kind of like our favorite field watches, which you can now find on the wrists of stylish guys everywhere.
Pilot watches at times mimic the design of cockpit instruments and are designed for maximum legibility while withstanding pressure and time zone changes. You could consider a stylish GMT watch — with its ability to tell time in two time zones at once, thanks to a fourth hand — a sort of pilot’s watch in its own right. However, the best pilot watches are a bit more streamlined, subtle and rugged. They sometimes feature multiple chronographs or added time zone tracking, but the main key is legibility, toughness and usually, a sporty fabric or leather strap.
Whichever one catches your eye, you can’t go wrong with the best pilot watch. We think these are the ones you’ve got to buy now.
1. Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical Watch
Tried-and-true all-American watch brand Hamilton built its brand on watches made for men of action, including its famed field watches and this highly useful, rugged-as-can be pilot watch. The H-50 hand-winding movement boasts an astounding 80-hour power reserve, while the overall style itself is modeled after vintage British military watches of the 1970s. The stainless steel case features impressive, bold construction, set on a go-anywhere fabric (or NATO) strap — all the better to swap in another slide-thru watch strap if you so choose. The dial is old-school in a handsome, easy-to-read way, while the sub-$1,000 price tag makes this an agreeable addition to your collection.
2. Timex Navi XL Automatic Leather Watch
Timex has a knack for consistently churning out styles its customers love —and we count ourselves among that crew — and it only seems the American-founded watch brand has leaned even harder into that ethos over the years. The Navi XL Watch is a souped-up option compared to other more subtle Timex watches, with a contrast-color rotating bezel and 24-hour markings set on the dial itself. You could also call this more of a diver-style watch, but we think the crisp, rugged case design and 41mm case diameter push it into the realm of pilot watch territory. Best of all, it clocks in at under $300 for excellent value — as you’ve come to expect from Timex over the years.
3. Seiko Chronograph Pilot Watch
Pilot watches, as we said, sometimes lean a bit more simple and streamlined, but there’s a category of pilot watches that toss in everything but the kitchen sink when it comes to useful functionality. Seiko leads the way in that regard, as far as we’re concerned, with a bold and visually striking chronograph with sub-dials for minutes and seconds, plus a useful alarm. It’s as cool a pilot watch as there is right now on the market, with a design that immediately calls to mind the cockpit of a plane. It’s also water-resistant down to 660 feet, making it a true go-anywhere sport watch, but the dial design tracks your direction, your MPH, your fuel lbs. in relation to time, and more. It’s an astounding watch for a standout deal right now. If you want a pilot watch that gives everything it’s got, this is the one to buy.
4. Casio Slide Rule Aviator Stainless Steel Watch
For under $100, you can indeed find the best pilot watch for your wrist, with a rather astounding number of features built-in for the price. In fact, this watch goes for just $55 right now, which makes it perhaps the most affordable pilot’s watch on the market. The bezel itself features a slide rule, making this a super-handy watch for projects, travel and beyond. Three chronograph dials track hours, minutes and seconds, all of which pop nicely against the black dial itself. The vertical watch links are sleek and streamlined, adding to the sporty appeal of this watch. And the best part is, it looks much more expensive than the final price tag. You can’t go wrong there if you want to upgrade your wrist game with a pilot watch.
5. Bulova A-15 Pilot Watch
BEST LEATHER PILOT WATCH
There’s stiff competition out there as far as the best pilot watch is concerned, not least when you consider leather watch options alongside trusty, reliable stainless steel options. If you’re seeking a watch you can readily wear on a flight and then to a business meeting, consider the versatile, well-made Bulova A-15 Pilot Watch. The company has plenty of refined dress watch options, naturally, but there’s something more functional and useful about this sunrise-to-sunset sort of pilot watch (plus, it doesn’t look out of place alongside rugged style staples, too).
The black dial contrasts nicely with the brown leather strap, while hits of yellow on the dial help with legibility. In fact, it’s got the technical specs to match, too. As Bulova says on their site, the three crowns on this watch power two different movements and two ways of telling time: The “2H crown rotates elapsed time while the 4H crown indicates dual time.” Paired with three rings on the dial to tell time with a quick glance, it’s an ingenious pilot watch even a non-aviation enthusiast can appreciate.
6. Bell & Ross Black BR V1-92 Stainless Steel Watch
BEST INVESTMENT-LEVEL PILOT WATCH
The Bell & Ross journey actually began with the company’s launch in the early 1990s, but its striking and impressive pilot watches and other tool-minded timepieces have a classic, well-worn air about them, the kind that should make them a mainstay if you want to add an investment-level watch to your rotation. The military-inspired roots of the V1-92 are everywhere throughout this expressive, carefully and yet impossibly rugged watch, from the sharp, clean dial design to the precise, Swiss-made proprietary movement and the eye-catching hours and minutes hands (they call to mind streamlined planes, to us). It all comes together in a throwback-minded 38.5mm case diameter set on a surprisingly elegant leather strap.