Primer: What is a pilot watch?

Until the first world war wristwatches were unheard of, everyone used pocket-watches.

This meant that the very first pilots had to fumble and take their pocket-watches out of their -you guessed it- pockets while still trying to keep the 'heavier-than-air’ contraptions in the air.

That is until Alberto Santos Dumont asked his friend Louis Cartier, a watchmaker, to make a watch that he can strap to his wrist. Voila! The first pilot watch is born - the Cartier Santos-Dumont.


The first pilot watch is born - the Cartier Santos-Dumont.

Over the next several decades, timekeeping in the cockpit matured and developed alongside developments in human flight. And during the second world war, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) laid out standards for timekeeping instruments that are to be used by their pilots. Thus, modern Pilot's watches were born.


One can identify a Pilot's watch with some distinct characteristics:

  • A clear dial for readability.

  • Large, luminous Arabic-numerals for easy time-telling.

  • An oversized crown that is easy to wind while wearing Pilot's gloves.

From then till now, Pilot's watches are collector's delight and rage amongst the watch enthusiasts. Many famous Swiss watch houses like IWC and Breitling thrive on the general public's interests in Pilot's watches while enthusiasts find fascination in the true-to-original renditions by German watchmakers like Stowa, Laco, and Sinn.

If you're interested to learn more about the history and origin of Pilot's watches, we suggest you give this five-part series by Monochrome a read.

Over and out.