Just in time for National Aviation day in the USA, we delve into our top pilot’s watches of 2018: Breitling Navitimer, IWC Pilot’s Watch and Rolex GMT-Master II.
Aviation and wristwatches have been entwined in each other's history since the very beginning, both contributing to the glamour and prestige of the other. Aside from motorsports, perhaps, there has been no activity more important to the development of watches. The first serious wristwatch for men, the Cartier Santos, was worn by (and named for) the first serious aviator, at least in Europe: Alberto Santos-Dumont. From the beginning, pilots were dashing and adventurous - qualities that transferred to horology while they in turn were made more classy and elegant by their watches.
After Cartier, Zenith, Hamilton, IWC and others were among the first watch companies to cater to this growing partnership. Today, that intangible distinction that makes pilots' watches so alluring is still a major force within the industry, and many watches made famous by aviation remain very popular. August 19th is National Aviation Day in the US, an annual opportunity for the public to celebrate their undying love of airplanes and flying. It's also the birthday of Orville Wright, one of the first to build a working aircraft. That makes it an excellent opportunity to review our top 5 best selling pilot watches at CHRONEXT of 2018 with Baselworld novelties including the Rolex GMT-Master II 126710BLRO and Breitling Navitimer 1 and 8 collections newly added to our ranking.
1st place: Rolex GMT-Master II
Rolex is not traditionally known as "a pilot's watch brand", but it's certainly no stranger to aviation. Perhaps the best example is the legendary GMT-Master series, which was first conceived in the 1950s in collaboration with now-defunct airline Pan Am. The watch introduced extra features useful for pilots on long flights - firstly, the groundbreaking second timezone hand, and secondly the 24-hour rotating bezel divided into night and day for convenience. The red and blue colours chosen for this purpose have since become iconic, and were a big sensation when they were re-released in a new version at Baselworld this year with the reference 126710BLRO - read more about it here. As always for Rolex, the in-house movement is also a major draw. The current best-selling Rolex GMT-Master II at CHRONEXT for 2018 is the reference 116710LN.
2nd place: Rolex Air-King
The Air-King is often sadly overlooked within the Rolex family. It's at the lower end of the company's range, making it comparatively affordable among the brand's prestigious luxury watches, and potentially an excellent entry piece for those interested in Rolex, pilots' watches, or both. There's some real history here too - it's said that Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf himself created the series after he found RAF pilots were using his Oyster Perpetual instead of their standard issue watches. Today, the Air-King is a versatile Rolex timepiece with superb manufacture movements and flawless finishing. The current best-selling Rolex Air-King model at CHRONEX for 2018 is the reference 116900.
3rd place: IWC Pilot's Watch
Beginning with the 1936 “Spezialuhr für Flieger” (Special Pilot's Watch), IWC was one of the first to forge what would become the quintessential pilot's watch "look" - a design aesthetic that remains clear in today's gorgeous Pilot's Watch series. Featuring large Arabic numerals (semi-gothic font optional) on a black dial, along with big hands and a protruding crown, these timepieces were built to be easily legible in dark cockpits and easily operated by gloved hands. The versions sold today have been somewhat modernised, especially on the inside, but the classic design DNA and vintage aviation appeal remain front and centre. The current best-selling IWC Pilot’s Watch at CHRONEXT for 2018 is the reference IW377709.
4th place: Breitling Avenger
Launched like a jet engine in the early 2000s, the Avenger series is Breitling's most boisterous and heavy-duty collection of military and tool watches. There's a lot of variation among Avengers (some, like the Seawolf, are intended for diving or other professional purposes), but the core distinctive elements they share are large cases that make a real statement on the wrist. Many are made in advanced materials from ceramics and titanium to proprietary "Breitlight", and some receive awesome black PVD coatings - like the Avenger Blackbird, inspired by the aircraft of the same name. Whichever model you go for, you can guarantee it will be robust, very well-built and highly functional. The current best-selling Breitling Avenger model at CHRONEXT for 2018 is the Chronomat Avenger II Seawolf reference A1733110.I519.152S.A20SS.1.
5th place: Breitling Navitimer
Possibly the most recognisable pilot's watch in history, the Navitimer was born in 1952. It soon found endorsement from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, cementing Breitling's reputation as the premier watch brand for aviators, adopted by both military and civilian pilots around the world. The watch represented a culmination of technologies from Breitling's previous tool watches, including the Chronomat's famous slide-rule bezel. Functioning as an on-the-wrist computer of sorts, the Navitimer would go on to house the first automatic chronograph movement, and today it is available with superb in-house calibres that have made Breitling a true manufacture. 2018 marked a slight change in direction for the new Navitimer 1 and Navitimer 8 collections - read more about it in one of our latest CXT Magazine articles. The current best-selling Breitling Navitimer model at CHRONEXT for 2018 is the reference A2432212.B726.453A.
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