Light Fantastic: Timepieces for the Private Aviator

  • James D. Malcolmson

Military Procurement
Not everyone has the same idea of what constitutes standard military-issue equipment. Consider France’s naval air service, which, during the 1950s, commissioned a watch from none other than Breguet (877.520.1735, www.breguet.com). The Type XX watches stand out among Breguets because they are so different from the more classically oriented designs that define the brand. Nevertheless, the Type XX TransAtlantique’s ($13,500) handsome modern style and flyback chronograph (a benefit for performing aerial search patterns) have earned it a following. 

 

Magnetic Personality
The International Watch Co. (800. 432.9330, www.iwc.ch) claims one of the longest traditions in pilot’s watches. Made by the only major watchmaker in the German-speaking region of Switzerland, IWC’s Flieger watches have a pronounced technical flavor that attracts serious pilots. IWC specializes in producing pilot’s watches that resist magnetism, something that can affect accuracy. The Spitfire UTC ($3,695) is fitted with an inner case made of soft iron to ensure that while you may fall under the spell of your plane, your watch will not. 

Old Timer
Today, technical pilot’s watches are longer on nostalgia than necessity—given how reliable and comprehensive modern aircraft instrumentation is, there is little call for performing calculations on your wristwatch. Still, their technical aesthetic appeals to fliers as well as watch enthusiasts. Few companies understand this as well as Breitling (203.762.1178, www.breitling.com), which has just released a commemorative reissue of its Navitimer Chronomatic ($3,820). This watch—with its characteristic left-side crown and right-side pushers—was the first Breitling automatic chronograph. The modern digital cockpit may be a reality, but the spirit of flight remains strictly analog. 


Twelve O’Clock High
Few fliers can resist the allure of military aviation’s golden age: World War II. This sense of history is one of the appealing qualities of German watchmaker Tutima (888.462.8721, www.tutima.com), an original supplier of Flieger chronographs to the Luftwaffe. The F2 Gold ($8,600) is an automatic chronograph with a knurled crown, bezel, and black dial that should satisfy anyone’s appetite for military nostalgia, even the most ardent viewers of the History Channel. 

Altitude Buzz
Who would not appreciate a reminder, while in the middle of a transcontinental leg, that it is time to call home and say goodnight to the kids? Fortis (800.358.9212, www.fortis-watch.com) has mixed this utility into a classic pilot’s format. The B-42 Pilot Professional Chronograph Alarm ($4,900) takes its design cues from the classic Flieger watches of the past—black dial, sober numerals, and the little white triangle at 12 o’clock. And the alarm aperture’s on/off indicator lets you know whether life’s demands on the ground need intrude on your time in the sky.

Panel Beater
Ernst Benz (910.792.9802, www.ernstbenz.com) watches have a link with aviation that leads directly to the cockpit. As a maker of instrument panel clocks, Benz saw the need for wristwatches that were just as legible and more convenient for confined spaces such as the cockpits of his own gliders. Today, Ernst Benz wristwatches are a far cry from the company’s first model, which comprised a clock with two rubber bands. Though, with cases measuring 47 millimeters in diameter, the ChronoSport series retains the size and luminescent markers needed for maximum legibility. Such practicality, however, has not stopped Ernst Benz from dressing up the ChronoSport in a handsome 18-karat limited edition ($15,000) that commemorates last year’s centennial of powered flight.

See feature article, "Private Travel: Light Fantastic"

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