A beginners guide to aviator’s watches

An aviator watch, also known as a pilot’s watch, is a type of tool watch designed specifically for pilots and other aviation professionals. These watches were first developed in the early 20th century, when pilots needed a reliable and accurate way to measure flight times while navigating through the air.  One of the first known of which, is the Cartier Santos-Dumont, named after the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont.

In 1904, Cartier designed a wristwatch with a square case and a leather strap that Santos-Dumont could wear on his wrist, allowing him to easily check the time without having to fumble with a pocket watch.  The Santos-Dumont is significant because it was not only the first pilot's watch it was also one of the first wristwatches that departed from the traditional pocket watches that were popular at the time, and paved the way for the development of other wristwatches that were designed for specific professions or activities.  

This is why most pilot’s watches are typically time-only devices that employ a number of features that make them useful for pilots.  One is a high resistance to magnetism; another is a large, simple, and straightforward easy-to-read dial with high luminosity on clearly marked hour markers and minute indicators.  This allows pilots to quickly and accurately read the time, even at night or during turbulent conditions.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, and Laco Flieger Pro are wonderful examples of this.  They were both designed for pilot’s use with oversized crowns for easy manipulation while wearing gloves and oversized cases to accommodate large dials with extremely legible hour markers and minute indicators.  

Other pilot’s watches, however, also feature a chronograph, or a tachymeter, which can be used to calculate speed over a measured distance; a rotating bezel, which can be used to track elapsed time; and a slide rule such as the Breitling Navitimer, which allows pilots to make a variety of calculations, including airspeed, fuel consumption, rate of climb, and descent, and even currency conversion.

Overall, aviator watches are highly specialized timepieces with classic and functional designs that meet the specific needs of pilots and aviation professionals.  They are known for their accuracy, durability, and ease of use, and remain popular among collectors and enthusiasts to this day.