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Guides - Top Pilot Watches to Buy Under $500


Spitfire airplane
The Spitfire

Pilot watches were created in the early 20th century as specialized tools, finely tuned for the needs of those navigating the expansive skies. These watches had to incorporate features crucial for accurate navigation and readability, as the success of the flight often depended on them. Today, they remain a source of fascination for both professional aviators and watch enthusiasts.


Before diving into this guide, we recommend you click here and read our post covering the history of pilot watches. However, if you are a veteran enthusiast, you can skip the lesson and get started.


What Makes a Good Pilot Watch

Below we have some key factors to evaluate when looking for a high-quality pilot watch, even if you don't plan to leave the ground with it.

  1. Reliable Movement: Pilots need their watches to be robust and accurate, as they often rely on them for critical tasks like precise navigation and flight coordination. Therefore, it is imperative to have a resilient movement, capable of maintaining precision even in the face of potential shocks or magnetic field interference.

  2. High Legibility: One of the most crucial aspects of a pilot watch is its ability to provide clear and easily readable information at a glance. This includes large, high-contrast numerals and markers on the dial, ensuring that time, as well as other relevant data such as elapsed time or navigational information, can be quickly and accurately interpreted, even in challenging lighting conditions or turbulent environments.

  3. Aviation-Specific Features: A pilot's watch should offer functions and features tailored to aviation needs. These may include:

    1. Chronograph: This allows for the measurement of elapsed time, which is critical for navigation, flight planning, and various operational tasks.

    2. Slide Rule or Flight Computer: Some pilot watches feature a slide rule bezel or a specialized dial for performing aviation-related calculations, such as fuel consumption, airspeed, and distance.

    3. GMT or Dual Time Zone Function: This feature allows pilots to easily keep track of multiple time zones, which is crucial for coordinating flights across different regions.

Recommended Pilot Watches Under $500


1. Laco Augsburg 39

Laco Augsburg Automatic
The German Classic
  • Movement: Automatic - Miyota 82S0

  • Materials: Stainless steel case and bracelet, sapphire crystal

  • Water Resistance: 50 meters

  • Dimensions: Case 39mm, Thickness 11.5mm, Lug width 18mm, Lug-to-lug 46.5mm

  • Average Price: USD 460



Why it's great:

This model gives you access to one of the most traditional German watch brands for a reasonable price. The movement is nothing special, but the construction is solid and the simple design makes it quite versatile.


Where to buy:

Laco / Jomashop


2. Orient RA-AC0H03B10A

Orient's entry level pilot watch
Orient's entry level pilot watch
  • Movement: Automatic - Orient F6722

  • Materials: Stainless steel case, leather strap, mineral crystal

  • Water Resistance: 100 meters

  • Dimensions: Case 42.5mm, Thickness 11.5mm, Lug width 22mm, Lug-to-lug 49mm

  • Average Price: USD 265



Why it's great:

The case size might be a problem for those with smaller wrists, as this model wears quite flat. Having said that, it does a decent job replicating the classic type II design. It is a shame it doesn't have a sapphire crystal.


Where to buy:

Amazon US / Long Island Watch / Orient US


3. Bulova A-15 Pilot - 96A245

Bulova 96A245
One with pedigree
  • Movement: Automatic - Miyota 82S6

  • Materials: Stainless steel case, leather strap, sapphire crystal

  • Water Resistance: 30 meters

  • Dimensions: Case 42mm, Thickness 14mm, Lug width 20mm

  • Average Price: USD 320




Why it's great:

This watch is a revision of a test model produced by Bulova in 1944, but never released. It has two internal rotating bezels that can be used to track a different time zone, but it is not very practical to use. At this price, it is a very good option, even with a lame 30m water resistance and a basic movement.


Where to buy:


4. Citizen Promaster Nighthawk BJ7138-04E

Citizen Nighthawk BJ7138-04E
One of the Nighthawk versions
  • Movement: Solar Eco-Drive - B877

  • Materials: Stainless steel case, leather strap, mineral crystal

  • Water Resistance: 200 meters

  • Dimensions: Case 42mm, Thickness 13mm, Lug width 22mm, Lug-to-lug 47mm

  • Average Price: USD 395



Why it's great:

Citizen offers a couple of interesting modern versions of pilot watches, with the Nighthawk being one of the most affordable and wearable. This model has a slide rule bezel, which can be very useful if you are willing to learn how to operate it, and a GTM function that allows you to track a second time zone.


Where to buy:

Amazon US / Citizen US / Jomashop


5. Dan Henry 1945 WII Chronograph

Dan Henry 1945 WII Chronograph
Dan knows his stuff
  • Movement: Quartz - Miyota 6S20

  • Materials: Stainless steel case, leather strap, sapphire crystal

  • Water Resistance: 50 meters

  • Dimensions: Case 41.5mm, Thickness 14mm, Lug width 22mm, Lug-to-lug 48.7mm

  • Average Price: USD 280




Why it's great:

We usually focus on larger brands that have been around for a while, but this offer from Dan Henry is quite unique, so we decided to make an exception.


The model we are highlighting has a distinct look, certainly inspired by the Jardur Bezelmeter Chronograph from the early 1940s. You will have a hard time finding anything similar in the market, as even Jardur doesn't offer the original design anymore. You can find chronograph models from WWII, like the ones sold by Hanhart, but it will cost you around 2,000 Euros.


Where to buy:

 

If you want to learn more about the history of pilot watches, take a look at this post.

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