Aviator Watches: The Coolest Wrist Watch?

Aviator watches are just downright cool.

They evoke an image of heroism, adventure, and they’re also pretty darn functional to boot, even if you’re not piloting your own fighter jet or 747.

fighter pilotYou may be wondering if you even need an aviator, what with all of the features that are often found on them. You know what, who cares. If you like the look and you want to spend your cash on a great watch, then that’s up to you. Of course, if you are a pilot or work in the aviation field, then you’re in the right place.

This guide will help you decide which watch is best for you even if you’ll never need to navigate your way out of the Bermuda triangle using the built in slide rule and chronograph.

Watch Comparison Guide

Included in the below table are the following 6 attributes:

  • Picture
  • Watch
  • Material
  • Band
  • Face
  • Overall Rating out of 5
ImageWatchCaseBandFaceOverall Rating Our of 5
front view of the Seiko SNAE97 with green numerals and calf skin bandSeiko Men's SNAE97Stainless SteelLeather calfskinSapphire4.6
Citizen Men BL5250 front view with sub dials and chronographCitizen BL5250-02L Titanium WatchTitaniumPig skin leatherCrystal4.3
image of the Citizen Mens AO9030-05E Avion with analog face stainless steel case and brown calfskin bandCitizen Avion AO9030-05EStainless SteelLeather calfskinCrystal4.7
Hamilton men's black face aviator with white numeralsHamilton KhakiStainless SteelLeatherSapphire4.7
front view of the casio lineage with platinum case and atomic timekeeping capabilitiesCasio LineagePlatinumStainless SteelSapphire5
Torgoen T18301 T18 swiss made aviator with black face and orange numeralsTorgoen Swiss Men's T18301Stainless SteelPolyurethaneHardlex4.9
front view of the seiko aviator analog gold watchSeiko SNA414Stainless SteelStainless SteelHardlex4.5
invicta mens 1750 aviator with sub dialsInvicta 1750Stainless SteelPolyurethaneFlame Infused4.5
picture of the invicta 1756 aviator with white numeralsInvicta 1756Stainless SteelPolyurethaneFlame Infused3.5
Invicta Mens 9212 speedway with analog face and 18k gold plated case and bandInvicta Men’s 9212 SpeedwayStainless Steel with 18k Gold PlatingStainless SteelCrystal4.2
the garmin D2 can help navigate your route all over the worldGarmin D2 Pilot WatchStainless SteelLeatherMineral Glass3.8

What’s So Special About Aviator Watches?

Pilot watches are more than just a sparkling large face loaded with more dials and tools than most people will ever learn how to use or ever need. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that.

If I had to pick one watch to watch for the rest of my life it would be an aviator without a doubt. They’re the perfect watch for a night out on the town, to wear to work, or for your next adventure. They’re versatile and they look amazing. It’s a hard combination to beat.

front view of the Seiko SNAE97 with chronograph and slide ruleEven if you won’t be flying anywhere anytime soon it’s still a good idea to know what your timepiece is capable of. Keep reading to learn more about what makes pilot watches so cool and for a few recommendations.

The Bezel Slide Rule

Aviation watches became increasingly popular around World War II, when the US military began issuing them to all of their pilots, primarily because they were equipped with a bezel slide rule, which was there to help them make crucial calculations that came with the job – everything from determining the heading you need in order to land the plane safely to figuring out how many ounces are in a shot of whiskey.

You know, the essentials.

But there were other uses for it as well, you could employ the slide rule to calculate a distance between two points, track fuel consumption rates, even convert MPH to Kilometers if need be. They were really an invaluable tool to have in case some of the major instruments on your panel suddenly stopped working for whatever reason.

Today, they’re used for all of those things and more, like figuring out how much to tip the waiter, or converting Fahrenheit to Celsius. This can be a very useful feature to have on your watch…or it may be entirely superfluous. That’s really up to you. But then you probably should have some kind of grasp on basic math to properly work the thing.

Chronograph and Tracking Timezones

mens chronograph watch with leather bandAnother benefit of watches designed for pilots is the chronograph, or stopwatch, which most analog watches don’t have. Pilots use it for navigation, to track ground speed, and to time turns.

For example, if you know you spent 15 minutes on a specific heading at a given speed then you can easily identify your location and determine if any course changes are necessary.

A chronograph can also help you determine how long a turn should last to get you on your desired heading. If it takes you two minutes to turn 360 degrees and you need to do a 180 then you know your turn should take approximately 1 minute. It’s a useful and easy way to help with course corrections.

Other standard features include tracking multiple times zones and a large easy to read face. Knowing what time it is in your destination city helps you easily keep track of your progress so you know if you’re scheduled to land on-time. The large face is easy to read in instances when you only have a second to check the time.

While these features were designed specifically to benefit pilots they’re useful for people who will never set foot in a cockpit. Oh, and they look pretty damn awesome too.

Choosing the Best Aviator Watch

Hamilton men's black face aviator with white numeralsThere are a myriad of things to consider when you’re selecting an aviator watch. Not just price and look, but you should keep in mind how you plan on actually using it. The aspects of the watch itself that are going to be most useful to you, which includes materials, functionality and overall reliability.

If you are a pilot and you intend to use it for its stated purpose, then you may want a certain brand or model of watch over someone else who may just like the way an aviator looks on their wrist, and therefore, all the fancy gadgets may not be necessary.

So give it some thought first and check out these different major components that are vital to the make up of your watch, then decide what’s best for you:

Find the Right Case

Stainless steel is the most common choice. Unlike plastics or resin, it’s more resilient and can handle rough environments without bending or breaking.

If you’re looking to spend some extra dough, you will also find titanium is used with some of the more high-end options, which results in a watch that is lighter in weight and more durable overall.

The Glass is More Important Than  Most People Think

Given that aviation style watches have larger faces than standard watches, the face material is very important. Here are the three main materials that are most often used in the manufacture of high quality aviator models:Citizen Men's JY0050-55L watch with subdials and chronograph and flight tracker

  • Plastic: Obviously the option that is cheapest and the most lightweight. Since it offers more flexibility than something like glass or sapphire you can really put a hurting on it and the worst you’ll probably do is scratch the thing. Luckily, those scratches can be removed either by buffing them out or just replacing the window altogether without spending much. On the flip-side, it can be cheap looking as well. You won’t find much plastic in the more expensive brands.
  • Mineral Glass: Harder than plastic, mineral glass is often used in watches that are priced in the medium range of the spectrum. It’ll be harder to scratch and, because it’s more flexible than sapphire, you probably won’t crack it either. This is a good choice for consumers who have a little bit of a budget to work from when choosing the right face material for their watch.
  • Sapphire: For most serious watch enthusiasts sapphire is their go-to choice. It is extremely strong making it nearly scratch proof. The only downside is it’s inflexibility which makes it susceptible to cracks, although you really have to dole out some punishment for that to happen.

The Right Band for Your Wrist

The two most popular types of bands are leather and stainless steel, each one with its own distinct appeal. You can also find rubber or canvas bands, but neither one is all that visually appealing to have on an aviator watch, so they are harder to come by.

But they’re out there, if that’s what you really prefer.

  • Leather offers a much more classic and refined look. Because it’s susceptible to scratching it’s normally not a good option if you plan on rock climbing or working in your workshop while wearing it. Leather bands are easy to adjust meaning you’ll always be able to get a good fit and they’re less likely to agitate the skin than other materials.
  • Stainless steel is more durable than leather and is also an excellent choice. The only gripe most people have is that adjusting the band is a little more difficult than with other materials and if you don’t get it quite right it can pull the hair off your wrist which is annoying.

picture of the invicta 1756 aviator with white numeralsIllumination is a No Brainer

Almost all watches come with glow in the dark faces meaning you won’t need to push any buttons to see what time it is. Taking both hands off the yolk while you’re in the air to check the time is frowned upon in most cockpits.

What About Water Resistance?

Should you find yourself submerged in deep water when you’re supposed to be up in the air, all good aviator watches offer some form of water resistance. They’re not all rated for complete immersion, but if you’re caught in a heavy downpour or you’ve had a drink thrown in your face, the watch will survive.

There is a difference between “water resistant” and “waterproof”. No watch is entirely waterproof. So if you see that in a description, you’re getting your crank yanked.

Water resistance means your watch can withstand being under large amounts of water for extended periods of time. But if you exceed these limits, you can bet your butt that watch will suffer seepage and small leaks.

So, to stay safe, look for a watch rated for 200 meters of resistance and you’ll be all right. If you want a watch that can withstand greater depths and longer periods of time under water, then you may be looking for a dive watch.

Top Gun Trailer

Still not convinced an aviator is the watch for you? Check out this trailer for Top Gun to get totally pumped!

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