If you’re on the fence about seeing Top Gun: Maverick, I’d urge you to check it out for the watches and cars alone. The movie underscores the notion that analog instruments still have a place in our modern world, even though they’re sometimes reduced to a mere symbol. Sure, fighter pilots don’t need watches in the cockpit anymore, but take a look at @wingwatches and you’ll find that many still wear them.
To me, pilot’s watches evoke the fantasy of freedom in a way that other watches can’t. As we learned from Top Gun, sometimes you have to do the job the traditional way. This weekend, we’re looking at stories about high flying pilot’s watches that remind us how magical taking to the sky can be.
It’s hard to precisely define the pilot’s watch category, because over time the demands that advancements in aviation have created have changed how watches used in the cockpit are designed. Take the first pilot’s watch ever created, the Cartier Santos. Put it beside the Sinn 103 St and you’ll find little in common between the two, yet they were both built for sky-faring.
In the early 1900s we saw time-only watches in the cockpit, but as planes advanced, we started to see watches designed with functionality that aided in aerial navigation, like the Longines Hour Angle watch designed by Charles Lindbergh which was based on a technique that had been developed by Capt. Philip Van Horn Weems. That technological innovation in watches continued, and as planes got faster, watches responded. The Rolex GMT-Master, released in 1954, addressed the need for a pilot to track two (or three) time zones at once. Watches like the Breitling AVI Ref. 765 even kept track of aircraft-specific start-up procedure times.
The stories below outline why pilot’s watches once mattered, still matter, and will always be collectable. Maybe you went through TOPGUN and want to commemorate your achievement. Or maybe you were given a watch for 25 years of service in the aerospace industry. Or maybe you’re simply drawn to airline-signed dials. There’s so much ground to cover within the world of pilot’s watches. The list below is a great place to start.
Brian Shul, One Of The Fastest-Flying Pilots Ever, Brings Us Up To Speed On Watches And Spy Planes
You’ve probably heard the Speed Check story somewhere on the internet. If you haven’t, check it out. It’s one of modern aviation’s most enthralling tales. Then hear more tales straight from Brian Shul, the most celebrated SR-71 pilot, that have never been told before, except on HODINKEE.
Bulova’s Accutron Astronaut – The Watch Chosen By The CIA For Pilots Of The Fastest Plane Ever Made
Until the ISS came along, whenever the A-12 and SR-71 flew, the pilots were the people furthest from the surface of planet Earth. It’s fitting that they wore the Bulova Astronaut. Jack Forster explains how the watch was chosen in this HODINKEE classic.
Why The USAF Thunderbirds Still Use A Mechanical Stopwatch In The Cockpit
Up top I said pilots don’t need mechanical watches in the cockpit any more. USAF Thunderbird pilot Maj. Curran is here to prove me wrong.
The Man Who Flew From NYC To London Faster Than Any Civilian In History, And The Watch That Marks His Trip
The best thing to happen to avgeeks would be the Concorde entering service again. The next best thing to happen would be you reading this story about Capt. Leslie Scott’s historic Concorde flight and the watch he wears to remember it.
A Week on the Wrist: The 43mm IWC Big Pilot Automatic
IWC knows a thing or two about pilot’s watches, having supplied many forces throughout history. Plenty of real-life pilots wear them, too. For this Week on the Wrist segment, we tapped Jackson Hole-based pilot Jourdan Urbach for his take on IWC’s “Little” Big Pilot. And this isn’t the first time we’ve put the watches to the test in the cockpit; we can’t forget about the time Jack was allowed to fly a business jet in New York airspace.
Sometimes, flying feels too God-like to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see.
Charles A. Lindbergh
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You don’t have to be a pilot to wear a pilot’s watch, just like you don’t have to be a diver to wear a dive watch! If you’re naturally drawn to them, then check out our collection of pilot’s watches here. Remember, the sky isn’t the limit. It’s just the beginning.
The HODINKEE Shop is an authorized dealer for Breitling, Bulova, and Longines; we also feature a selection of pre-owned watches from Breguet, IWC, Rolex, and Tudor, among others.