A moment of clarity came over me as I sat down to write about Aviator Watches. I suddenly realized all the Astronauts we’re familiar with, were all Air Force Pilots in their previous careers. That means every time we talk about Aviators Watches we are really talking about Astronauts and their Watches. How cool is that? This is really the top of the tree in terms of having the best professional accessories and aspirational lifestyle items.
What Makes A True Aviators Watch?
The Aviators Watch is something tailored to the needs of the pilot. One of the first true examples of an Aviator Watch was produced by Cartier, who called it ‘The Santos’. This watch was built by Louis Cartier in 1906 for his aviator friend Alberto Santos-Dumont.
The movement was created by Jaeger and mounted in a small rectangle case which broke an unbreakable rule of the time. With this one major rule broken, things would never be the same again. Overnight, everything changed and it was acceptable for Gentlemen to wear a timepiece on the wrist, not carry it in his pocket. The wristwatch was born.
The characteristics of the aviator’s watch are difficult to define as most watch makers and customers have their own ideas. Amazingly, the characteristics aren’t recorded or defined as you would expect, but there is a general consensus which goes something like this:
They will sport a chronograph possibly Flyback or Double, with a manual or automatic movement. Some having a bi-directional rotating bezel for the measurement of intermediate. Some may have no rotating bezel at all, like the navigation watches of Longines and like the Lindbergh or Weems that allow the calculation of positions. In some cases, watches also have logarithmic slide rules that allow the pilot to calculate flight distances like the Breitling Navitimer.
It seems clear that if you were trying to define an aviation watch with any kind of clarity or definitive authority, only failure will be forthcoming. Perhaps the only way to understand this is accepting Aviation Watches are defined more by their wearers than their design characteristics.
There are other watches used in space. Remember I mentioned Astronauts earlier, right? These beauties including the legendary Moon Watch Omega Speedmaster Professional or the Official Cosmonauts Chronograph by Fortis illustrated below.
Fortis Cosmonauts Chronograph
Omega Moon Watch
With the space watch, things start to get serious and extra protection never goes amiss. But it’s fair to say most watches won’t make it to space so design for the aviator watch mainly incorporates more earthbound requirements. Additions like shielding against magnetic influences by constructing the housing from soft iron. And let’s not forget the many complications available. Just as a matter of comfort some models have extendable bracelets, allowing the wearer to watch outside the aviator jacket.
There are some manufacturers well known for specializing in pilot’s watches or at least putting the main focus of their marketing in the aeronautics field rather than the actual practical side. Breitling is probably one of the largest and most visible and Fortis running close behind. Other specialized manufacturers, you would have heard of in this field are Laco, Bell & Rossand Zeno.
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