The History of Aviation Watches & the top 5 Pilot’s watches at CHRONEXT



March 02. 2017 - by CHRONEXT

Admittedly, aviation watches have a certain charm to them, they are not just portrayed as simple ornaments, rather as instrumental timepieces which were specially designed to meet the demands of pilots whilst also being able to reliably function in adverse conditions. Aviation watches have now been in existence for more than a hundred years. Read ahead to discover more about the history of these watches as well as the intriguing models that were produced as a result of the aviation industry.

It all began with Cartier

The Aircraft had only recently been developed when aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont disclosed his heart's wishes to his good friend Louis Cartier in 1904. As Santos-Dumont required both his hands to control the aircraft, it proved difficult for him to check the time on his pocket watch; what he needed was a wristwatch. Louis Cartier was the answer to his wishes. In 1906 – only two years later– he presented the pilot's watch which could be worn on the wrist. It was named after the designer and was officially known as the Cartier Santos.

The Cartier Santos is not your typical aviation watch as we know it today. With its stylised dial and slender size, it gears more towards a dress watch according to the current standard of fashion. What was extraordinary was the innovative idea: the development of a pocket watch into a wrist watch in order to cater to the necessities of a pilot.

Breakthrough and Establishment

As the popularity of aviation watches rose, it was not long before other manufacturers started developing their own aviation watches. One of the reasons for this was not limited to, but included the two World Wars that were fought significantly in the air. During this period, the aviation watches became known as how we are familiar with them today: a large diameter with a simplistic layout of the dial to provide the best possible readability. The movements with its high shock resistance enable maximum functionality. Furthermore, the leather straps were particularly long so that the watch could be worn over a pilot’s jacket.

Following the post-war period in the 1950s, the civil aviation started to boom; when iconic watches such as the Breitling Navitimer or the Rolex GMT-Master came into the market, the history of aviation watches reached its final milestone: a military appearance gave way to useful complications such as the slide rule or the practical GMT function. In the years following the Second World War – when even diving watches were rising in popularity –  it finally became trendy to carry tool watches.

The Top 5 Aviation Watches at CHRONEXT

1.     Breitling Navitimer

The Breitling Navitimer is one of the most recognised wrist watches in the world and is simultaneously known as the king of airspace. This timepiece was officially recommended as an aviation watch by the International Pilots Organisation (AOPA) in 1952, which was also the year this watch was released. The Breitling Navitimer is distinguished by its striking slide rule, which allows for numerous as well as challenging arithmetic operations to be made; not only can these be helpful on board a flight, they can in certain situations prove to be essential for survival. Breitling has single-handedly developed and built the calibre 01 movement in the Navitimer for several years now.

2.     Rolex GMT-Master II

The year 1950 marked the beginning of the GMT-Master, when the American Airlines Pan Am instructed Rolex to create a wristwatch that enabled two time zones to be read at the same time. This featured a hand that showed the second time zone, and a revolving 24-hour bezel. A milestone was achieved in 2007 with the launch of the six-digit reference: The 116710LN is the premium quality GMT-Master and possess a ceramic bezel. Upon placing both the first model and the GMT-Master II together, one can instantly recognise the close association between the two.

3.     IWC Big Pilot

As early as 1936, IWC delivered its first specialist watch for pilots. Today, the Pilot's watch line is one of the cornerstones of IWC's portfolio. The Big Pilot is characterised by an authentic aviation watch and has a large 46mm stainless steel case which warrants for maximum time reading precision. The current reference 5009 has been reduced down to the essentials and retains features of the historical aviation watches that IWC built.

4.     Breitling Chronomat

There is no doubt that the Breitling Chronomat is very closely linked to the aviation industry. The first version of the Chronomat came to the market in 1941, visually resembling the Navitimer due to its slide rule. These features also explain the name of the watch, which is composed of the words “chronograph” and “mathematics”. Since the re-launch in 1984, the chronograph upholds an image that is still significant for its design today. The number of different dial and bracelet variations along with the different materials in which the Chronomat is available makes it one of Breitling's bestselling watches.

5.     Zenith Pilot

The Zenith Pilot watch guarantees to exhibit a high degree of eminence, particularly due to its exceptionally distinctive dial design and aesthetic pointer hands. Both the dial and the pointer are modelled after the historical aviation clock of 1939. The text on the dial "Montre D'Aéronef" therefore means nothing less than "flight clock". Even the diameter of the watch – which is 45mm – is authentic and appropriate for the current circumstances. The high contrast on the dial and the munificently dimensioned crown ensure the good readability and functionality that is very typical of aviation watches.



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