A true definition of pilot watches is difficult to find. Pilot watches, in their first incarnation, were watches made specifically for pilots, such as the B-Uhr created for the German Luftwaffe in WWII. They were defined by several details including an easy to read face, generally a large case to fit over pilot jackets and a large crown that could be operated whilst wearing clothes. They also often had a rotating bezel and would be chronograph watches.
Nowadays, spotting a pilot watch is much more difficult as it is more of a design style rather than a vital survival tool it was once seen as. Some of the most famous and popular watches in the world, such as the Omega Speedmaster are actually pilot watches. Most pilot watches still do have large faces, however the only real way to correctly identify a pilot watch in 2017 is to actually look at the name.
To keep things simple, we won’t be differentiating between news/older models of timepieces, so for example a Tag Heuer Autavia will simply be classed as that, irrespective of their dial colour, material or type of strap. As the hashtag has been used over 45,000 times and each image must be reviewed individually we will be taking a small sample size of 2,500 images calculating the percentage from this, to decide which watch is the most popular across the whole hashtag. To keep things simple we have only included watches defined within the Perimeter of Fine Watchmaking. So without further ado, in ascending order, here is the most popular #pilotwatch on Instagram.
Percentage of total: 18.80%
History: IWC’s first ‘Special Pilot’s Watch’ was released all the way back in 1936 and was the first of its kind to feature an anti magnetic mechanism. THe brand has since become a pioneer of aviation timepieces.
Why: IWC are following a trend of late which has seen Fine Watchmaking brands extend their entry level ranges, whilst also nodding back to vintage trend. Their simple pilot watches are versatile, easy to read, and hard wearing (they were made for pilots after all). Because of these reasons the Pilot Range has grown in following over recent years and has becoming increasingly popular for new ‘watch-lovers’.
IWC Big Pilot
Percentage of total: 15.79%
History: In response to their demand after the release of the Special Pilot’s Watch, the brand released their first ever Big Pilot Watch 52 T.S.C with a central seconds hand in 1940. The ‘big device’ was supplied to German Luftwaffe pilots and was the biggest watch IWC constructed at 55mm. The Big Pilot watch made a resurgence in 2002 with another huge timepiece including a new high-performance Calibre.
Why: Their 2016 collection included the Big Pilot Heritage Watch 55, a nod at their first ever Big Pilot Watch and one that linked perfectly with the huge vintage trend in Fine Watchmaking.
Percentage of total: 12.78%
History: In the early 1930’s Breitling created several on board chronographs and championed themselves as builders or precise and sturdy timepieces. These onboard chronographs intended for aircraft cockpits were indispensible to many pilots including those in the Royal Air Force, where they were famously inputted into WWII propeller-driven fighter planes. The Navitimer itself was born in 1952 and was adorned with the ‘Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’ emblem on its dial.
Why: From reading online forums it can be seen that many pilots still wear Navitimers and the once famed Pilot’s Watch hasn’t yet been demoted to simply a fashion item. The revolutionary brand is, above all else, known for its aviation watches. So it’s really no surprise that many of them are seen across the hashtag.
Rolex GMT-Master II
Percentage of total: 11.28%
History: The GMT Master was originally created as a collaboration with Pan American Airlines and issued, by the airline to their crews on long-haul flights. Using the rotating bezel and ‘GMT hand’ meant you could offset your watch and create a second time zone. The original GMT Master was overtaken by the GMT Master II in the 1990’s and it been almost exclusively created in stainless steel.
Why: It’s a Rolex. Whatever type of watch, be it aviation, automotive or dive watches Rolex will always have its fans. It’s simple, it can be worn with any outfit and it’s almost indestructible. These watches are still tools that can be worn by explorers and businessmen alike… and there something about that Pepsi bezel, right?
Percentage of total: 11.28%
History: According the Omega, the Speedmaster is the most iconic chronograph ever, and it’s difficult to argue against that. The Speedmaster is sometime called the moon-watch as it is worn by every American astronaut that goes into outer space (apart from Dave Scott, of course). Originally released in 1957 as part of the Seamaster range, this watch was the first to have the now standard three counters and the timing scale on the bezel.
Why: The most iconic chronograph ever. The first watch on the moon. The black dial. The luminous ‘broad arrow’ hand. The stainless steel bezel with an engraved tachymeter. What’s not to love about the Omega Speedmaster? Across the years the Speedmaster range has gone from strength to strength and with the re-release of the 1957 trio at Baselworld this year, it’s no surprise that it’s being spoken about a lot on Instagram.