Technical Pilot Watches | Cigar Aficionado

Technical Pilot Watches

As the horological legend goes, the adventurous aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of checking his pocket watch while flying. In 1904, Cartier responded with the compact, square Santos-Dumont wristwatch, which is hailed not only as the first pilot’s watch but the first wristwatch designed for a man. The rest, as they say, is history.

With a focus on legibility, reliability and robustness, pilot’s watches span the gamut from minimalist pieces with black dials and vintage flavor to technical tools that perform calculations and other aviation-related functions. This year, three novel timepieces caught our eye at the technical range of the spectrum, going above and beyond the typical slide rule or tachymeter features.

Powered by the brand’s first in-house quartz movement, Breitling’s Cockpit B50 ($6,320 on rubber strap and $7,200 on bracelet) marks a major milestone for the Swiss brand that has specialized in aviation timepieces for a century. Developed and built by Breitling, the “SuperQuartz” Caliber B50 is reportedly 10 times more accurate than a typical quartz movement. The titanium Cockpit B50 features both analog and digital displays and can be operated in either sport or pilot modes. The latter includes a flyback and split-time chronograph, dual time zones, perpetual calendar, two alarms, lap timer, electronic tachometer, a countdown/count-up system and more, using UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, the aviation reference time) as its base time. Legibility is enhanced with two white-on-black liquid crystal (LCD) screens with a tilt feature that activates the backlighting when you bend your wrist by 35 degrees or more. The lighting system stays powered up with a rechargeable battery that you can boost by plugging into the grid or using the USB port on your laptop. 

Hamilton, another brand with a century-long aviation watch legacy, has released the Khaki X-Wind Limited Edition ($2,395), which speaks to aeronautical gear heads with a drift-angle calculator in addition to chronograph timing functions. Hamilton will produce four variations, each limited to 1,999 pieces, with a choice of two dial designs paired with either a black rubber strap or stainless steel bracelet. A multilevel dial with contrasting finishes enhances legibility and creates a three-dimensional effect, and the automatic H-21 movement, which is based on a Valjoux 7750, delivers 60 hours of power reserve.

And Oris, which produced its first pilot watch in 1938, has introduced the Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter ($3,800 on textile strap, $4,100 on steel bracelet), claiming a first-ever innovation with its patented mechanical barometric altimeter. The watch features a second screw-down crown at 4 o’clock that operates the altimeter, which is activated when the crown is adjusted to Position 1 and calibrated when set to Position 2. Once set, the altitude is displayed with a yellow indicator, while air pressure is shown with a red indicator. The altitude scale around the outer dial ring goes to 15,000 feet, making the watch a handy gadget for mountaineers and modern-day Santos-Dumonts, alike.

Visit breitling.com, hamiltonwatch.com and oris.ch