Aviation buffs, hobby pilots and professional pilots enjoy an elite world of specialty timepieces that are inspired by aviation history and yet offer cutting-edge appeal. Let's face it, the worlds of aviation and of wristwatches have long been intertwined, as both arenas really started taking flight (pardon the pun) in the beginning of the 20th century. The first wristwatches went into serial production just about the same time the Wright Brothers were making history at Kitty Hawk.
Since then, many watch brands have gotten involved in the world of aviation and pilot's watches. Some even work side by side with pilots to create aviation-inspired watches that offer discerning customers exactly what they want. As such, today's pilot watches are not just nice to look at. They are functional, precise instruments that can actually help determine altitude, longitude, time-zone differences, fuel consumption and more.
So what exactly constitutes a pilot's watch? Typically, today's pilot and aviation watches are rugged instruments housing several necessary functions. Generally, a pilot's watch is a COSC-certified chronometer. Examined by the Swiss observatory, Controle Official Suisse des Chronometres (COSC), these watches undergo rigorous testing over a period of time in extreme temperatures, changes in gravitational forces, water, shock and pressure tests, and other stringent conditions. To be certified as a chronometer, for instance, when exposed to temperature change, a chronometer wristwatch cannot vary in accuracy more than plus or minus 0.6 seconds per day.
In addition to chronometer precision, pilot's watches are usually anti-magnetic - an important element when flying the friendly skies (or even when walking into your kitchen with the magnetic influences of microwaves and other appliances). Such anti-magnetism is achieved in a variety of manners, including soft inner iron cases or utilizing anti-magnetic materials for watch components. Additionally, pilot watches frequently offer functions such as compass abilities, alarms and multiple time zones or GMT indication. Sometimes, measurement devices are incorporated into a pilot's watch, with functions such as slide rule bezels to calculate fuel, altimeters for height, telemeter scales (to measure distance), tachymeter scales (to measure speed), or chronographs (to measure continuous or discontinuous intervals of time).
Easily the most important factor in a pilot watch, however, is readability. It is vital to be able to glance at the watch and know the time instantly. As such, many of today's vintage-inspired pilot watches blend the best of both worlds: the Old-World look, with New-World technology. This often translates into bold, easy-to-read, non-glare renditions of time that recall original pilot watch looks. Such features include large dials, large numerals, anti-reflective sapphire crystals and SuperLuminova hands and markers. Often these watches incorporate leathers traps that have a well-worn look, or a steel bracelet. Sometimes, even NATO straps work on pilot watches. Indeed, while the concept of synchronizing watches before flight has taken a back seat to today's cockpit instrumentation, the look and quality of a true pilot's watch remains steadfast and coveted.