Aviate with Attitude

Aviaton watch history is a mixture of instrumentation and militaria. They began as wrist or leg worn instruments and later adapted to being back-up tools for pilots to wear if cockpit instrumentation went out. Truth be told, many of them were not very exciting looking. Today’s rich assortment of military and aviation themed timepieces attempt to take the best design features from a utilitarian legacy, and make them attractive. Below are five watches that are steeped in aviator history, and certainly have some sex appeal.

IWC offers more than its fair share of pilot-themed watches. A popular collection that has been newly updated for 2012 is the Spitfire. 43mm wide, this steel cased aviator watch is a perfect example of why the theme is so popular. The large dial has bold, legible hands and hour markers, and a masculine personality that communicates action. This is aided by using applied Arabic hour indexes. Using an in-house made caliber 89365 automatic movement with a power reserve of 68 hours, this is a solid watch from a design and brand perspective.

UK-based Bremont is a brand all about aviation. One collection celebrates a relationship with cockpit ejection seat maker Martin Baker, with the “Bremont Martin Baker MBII” watch. There are a few versions of this piece, with a few only available to those people who have actually been ejected out of a plane in a Martin Baker seat. Bremont wanted to design a watch that could easily survive this, so the Martin Baker watches have special high-durability cases and shock-absorbent systems around the mechanical movements. The dials are legible with design hints that recall the ejection seats – this includes the “pull strap” counterweight on the seconds hand and the orange ring around the 43mm wide steel case.

Steeped in tradition, Breitling has released a new version of its classic Navitimer now with an in-house made movement. Starting in what I believe was the 1950s, Breitling was a choice watch brand for pilots with its Navitimer collection of chronograph watches that contained slide-rule calculator bezels. The Navitimer 01 comes in a modern size at 43mm wide in steel, but captures of smooth instrumental look of the original models. Inside is the caliber 01 automatic chronograph movement with a 70 hour power reserve. Love that bold looking black and white dial with hints of steel and red.

Bell & Ross made a big name for themselves with a big watch called the BR 01 Instrument. At 46mm wide, the PVD black steel square watch was of the largest mainstream high-end watches available when it originally debuted. Now an icon for the brand, they continue to expand the BR 01 collection. Each year a few limited edition BR 01 timepieces are released, lately with dials inspired by cockpit instruments. For 2012 one of the finest pieces is the Bell & Ross BR 01 Altimeter. Using the look of an actual cockpit altimeter instrument, the watch tells the time with a big date indicator in what is arguably a very fun way. Inside the watch is a Swiss ETA automatic movement.

This Zenith Pilot Big Date Special is a slick looking watch that combines modern sensibility with a retro appeal. The beauty here is in the simplicity and attention to small details and correct proportions. It is in fact only a pilot watch by name and look, more being designed to be a good all-around timepiece. The steel case is 42mm wide with an in-house made Zenith high-beat automatic chronograph movement with a big date complication. You can view the movement through the sapphire crystal window on the rear of the watch. The Zenith Pilot Big Date Special is a great everyday timepiece with the spirit of a pilot watch.