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Thread: What makes a Pilot Watch a Pilot Watch?

  1. #1

    What makes a Pilot Watch a Pilot Watch?

    It seems like a diver's or dress watch has definitive attributes. Dress watches are defined differently by many but for the most part we all agree to the basis of what is a dress watch. A diver's watch for the most part has certain features such as a rotating countdown bezel (not all the time) but certainly a screw down crown and a certain amount of water resistance...but for pilot's there are so many looks. Some are chronographs, some are not. Some have tachymeters some do not. Some have a high magnetic resistance, some do not. They are all different with different features and case sizes.
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    The Zenith Pilot Chronograph is probably one of my favorites. Other then saying "Pilot" on the dial, I can't help but to think what makes it a pilot watch? At first it bothered me that it said that on the dial but now I just see it as the name of the watch as Rolex is known to but their names of their models on the dials sort of thing....but still makes me wonder.

    So what do you guys think make these and other watches that go by the name or style of "Pilot Watch?" Is it history, a certain feature or more marketing then anything else? Please discuss your thoughts.

    My thoughts are the feature of high legibility. Bold indices and well lumed hands such of that found on diver's watches perhaps without the high water resistance and screw down crown seems optional.
    Last edited by -JP; Aug 31, 2015 at 02:42 AM.

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  3. #2
    Porous Membrane skywatch's Avatar
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    I could go with any larger dial, clear to read, good lume, no bezel, and the rest is extra. But really, to me it means A or B dial, and maybe a Glycine Airman or Poljot Aviator thrown in. The rest is marketing... at least, in my mind. Basically A or B dial, meaning this:

    Quote Originally Posted by -JP View Post
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    or this:

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    Too many watches, not enough wrists.

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  5. #3
    That Zenith really seems o be pushing the limits of the definition of a pilots watch. One of the common themes of a pilots watch regardless of whether it has indices or numerals is the presence of a clear reference at 12 o'clock to allow quick orientation and reading of the time. Most pilots watches have a triangle at 12 or some variation thereof.

    Highly visible markers is a necessity as well.

    My opinion on the Zenith is that they didn't know what else to call it and since they apparently control the rights to put "pilot" on the dial, they marked it as such and dare anyone to question it.

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  7. #4
    Pretty sure over the years there has been a blurring between pilot and navigator too.

    One to easily read at a glance, one to use to map out. Prefer the A , never gone for B myself. Too much clutter would not be a pilot but navigator imo.

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  9. #5
    wind-up merchant OhDark30's Avatar
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    What makes a Pilot Watch a Pilot Watch?

    I'd go for a broad definition: watches that have been designed for/ have been issued to/ are used by pilots.
    Legibility is key, as the German fliegers exemplify - good contrast, distinct 12, lume.
    As we could be flying anything from Santos-Dumont's 14-bis to an Airbus A380, with fighters, helicopters and Cessnas in between, we might want to time different things:
    Simple 3-handers: getting to briefings/ the pub on time. Recording flight time, timing navigation legs, fuel endurance (this is easier with a stopwatch/ timing bezel)
    Hacking/ atomic time: starting displays/ dropping bombs together, keeping to airline schedule
    Chronographs: timing nav legs and holds, engine rundown times
    Timing bezels: good for marking events to count up or down from (takeoff time, min fuel)
    Tachymeter/ telemeter: To get a direct readout of groundspeed (handy before GPS); tell how far away the guns/ lightning is (more a novelty now, tbh)
    GMT hand/ bezel: useful if your airline/ military does everything in Zulu time, or you regularly travel between 2 timezones
    24hr display: astronaut Scott Carpenter found it easier to read off time direct from a 24hr watch. Ymmv
    Sliderules: student pilots learn to use circular sliderules to calculate unit conversions, bearings, fuel etc. Some later find it handy to have one in watch form. Also good for posing in the bar.

    As you can see, all this on one watch would be unmanageable, so we pick'n'mix what works for us doing a particular task
    Also, tough quartz and digital watches can combine a lot of functions in a manageable and readable package (with illumination too) - many (?most) pilots wear these.

    Mine:

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    Last edited by OhDark30; Aug 31, 2015 at 10:22 AM.
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  10. #6
    This is an interesting question. I would suggest high visability, good legibility, and an easily manipulated crown would be essential. But, I'm not a pilot. Also, a second time zone and some kind of chronograph could be useful I guess, along with some level of protection against magnetism.

    Interstingly this is my only "aviator watch". It has these characteristics and more. It is highly waterproof, shockproof and being solar powered it shouldn't let you down unexpectedly.



    However although the time is very legible and well lumed, I'm not sure how easy it would be to operate in gloves or if the additional information is that clear at a glance.

    To me, it's the ideal watch for running and swimming etc though.
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  12. #7
    El bot. geoffbot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeSport View Post
    easily manipulated crown would be essential.
    This is all I was going to add - historically something that could he operated with gloves - a big onion crown with deep knurling for grip.
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    As has been mentioned, an easy-to-grip-with-gloves-on winding crown would be another feature. I cannot, for the life of me, recall which brand it was that brought out a vintage-styled pilot's watch that came with a spare, very extra-long strap. It was based on a wartime practice of pilots being able to strap the watch to their thigh so that they wouldn't have to take their hand away from the stick in order to check the time.
    May have been the first reissue IWC Big Pilot from around 2001.

    EDIT/ 5 mins later...Actually, scratch that. I just remembered that it was one of the Sales Reps who told me that this was sometimes done by pilots in WWII, but I don't think I ever saw an extra-extra-extra long strap.
    Oh, wait a sec, yes I did, but it was on an Hermes Cape Cod. Not quite a pilot's watch.
    Last edited by Teeritz; Aug 31, 2015 at 10:33 AM.

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  16. #9
    El bot. geoffbot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Teeritz View Post
    As has been mentioned, an easy-to-grip-with-gloves-on winding crown would be another feature. I cannot, for the life of me, recall which brand it was that brought out a vintage-styled pilot's watch that came with a spare, very extra-long strap. It was based on a wartime practice of pilots being able to strap the watch to their thigh so that they wouldn't have to take their hand away from the stick in order to check the time.
    May have been the first reissue IWC Big Pilot from around 2001.

    EDIT/ 5 mins later...Actually, scratch that. I just remembered that it was one of the Sales Reps who told me that this was sometimes done by pilots in WWII, but I don't think I ever saw an extra-extra-extra long strap.
    Oh, wait a sec, yes I did, but it was on an Hermes Cape Cod. Not quite a pilot's watch.
    I think Omega did/do a speedy pro with an extra long strap to go over your space suit
    /tangent

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  18. #10
    OhDark30, great post!

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