Invented in the early 1900s, the pilot watch was a handy replacement of the pocket watch for aviators, as they needed a reliable way to tell the time without having to take their hands off the aircraft controls and serch in their pockets for the watch.
Over the years, and especially during the two world wars, pilot watches were much improved, with many innovations and intricate complications to help the pilots even more with their in flight calculations. Some pilot watches became impressive flight instruments, with various bezels and markings that would help a pilot calculate data such as wind correction angles, elapsed time, air speed, rate of descent, flight distances, or fuel burn.
Aircraft cockpit technology eventually made pilot watches redundant, but their heritage and prestige in the watchmaking industry remained a big selling point. Watch enthusiasts and adventurers from all over the world began using and collecting them for their iconic reputation, and today’s market of pilot watches is more of a luxury one, with price tags that few can afford.
But not all pilot watches are unaffordable luxuries. There are quite a few timepieces from various watch brands that skip the lavishness of big watchmakers to offer affordable reliability in a nice package that the average watch enthusiast can get their hands on without emptying their wallet.
Let’s take a closer look at the best affordable pilot watches:
- 20. Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer
- 19. Bulova Special Edition Moon Apollo Lunar Pilot
- 18. Bulova Pilot A15
- 17. Steinhart Nav B-Uhr 44 Handaufzug
- 16. Borealis Icarus Cerakote Pilot Watch
- 15. Marathon Black Pilot’s Navigator w/ Date
- 14. Seiko Prospex Eco-Drive
- 13. Undone Aero Commando
- 12. Laco Augsburg 42
- 11. Laco Neapel 39 Pilot’s Watch
- 10. Orient Pilot’s Sport Watch
- 9. Seiko 5 Sports SRPG35K1
- 8. Kienzle Flieger Automatic
- 7. Avi-8 Hawker Hurricane
- 6. Parnis Big Pilot Automatic
- 5. Casio Edifice
- 4. Stuhrling Original Aviator
- 3. Fossil Pilot 54
- 2. Invicta Aviator
- 1. Mil-Tec Luftwaffe ME 109 Pilot Vintage
Hamilton are renowned for their excellent value at affordable prices, and the brand’s Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer watch doesn’t make an exception. It’s a pilot watch, it’s stylish, and very promising.
It comes with a nice and sleek 41 mm stainless steel case, inside which the black dial with bronze colored hands and hour markers is right at home. The movement is quartz, but that doesn’t make it less of a pilot watch. Water resistance rating is 100m, so no need to worry when you go swimming.
The price rises around $645, which may be a little bit high for some, but still on the affordable side.
With a rich pilot watch history behind, Bulova is not to be skipped over. They’re famous for their involvement in the Apollo 15 mission back in 1971, in honor of which they created the Special Edition Moon Apollo Lunar Pilot.
It’s a 45mm watch, so too much watch for small wrists, but those it fits, it looks great on. The tonneau shaped stainless steel case hides inside a quartz 262 kHz movement that’s super precise. Though not in production anymore, it can still be found on the used market for around $550, which is a great price for the value of the watch.
18. Bulova Pilot A15
Even more interesting is the Bulova Pilot A15, a tribute to an older U.S. Air Force issue watch from 1944. The piece features two internal rotating bezels, one for the minutes and the other one for hours.
The hour bezel can be used as a GMT function, through the two crown buttons at 2 and 4 o’clock. The watch is powered by an excellent Miyota 8S26 automatic movement, and comes with a leather strap with a vintage look.
It’s only rated at 30 meter water resistance, but it should be enough for the occasional rain. The price is decent, around $520.
The Steinhart Nav B-Uhr 44 Handaufzug is a wonderful $490 option for those who love to admire the intricacies of a hand wound movement through the case back. The Swiss made caliber Unitas 6497-1 runs at 2.5 Hz, or 18,000 vph.
The 44 mm case protects the movement, while the gorgeous dial impresses from under a domed sapphire glass with double anti-reflective coating, no matter the angle its viewed from.
The dial features blue highlights on the hands, luminescent coating on both hands and hour markers, while the sub-dial at 9 o’clock shows the seconds.
16. Borealis Icarus Cerakote Pilot Watch
An elegant and very wearable pilot watch, at 38 mm in diameter, the Borealis Icarus Cerakote Pilot Watch brings a simple and classic looking dial, with X1 Old Radium lume on the dial’s numerals, indices, and hands.
There’s a nice and handy date display a 3 o’clock, and the classic pilot watch 12 o’clock triangle with two dots. The dial is protected as you might expect by sapphire glass.
On the back, you can watch the Swiss made Ronda 150 automatic movement through the case-back. The movement runs at 4 Hz and comes with a decent 40 hour power reserve, and is protected with a case with a 100 m water resistance rating.
All of this for around $470, which are well worth the investment.
Lightweight and stealthy in its design, the all black Marathon Black Pilot’s Navigator with Date function proves to be a very interesting option priced around $450.
The black dial is simple, with a double hour layout, luminous hands and markers, plus a date display. There’s an additional rotating bezel for keeping track of elapsed time or showing another time zone. The composite 316L stainless steel case is 41 mm in diameter is large, but it feels good on the hand.
Powered by the Eco-Drive technology, the Seiko Prospex uses solar energy. The movement comes encased in a 44 mm stainless steel case with rotating external bezel with compass indications.
Under the sapphire crystal glass we’ve got the dial in a nice blue tone, with three sub-dials and a date window a 3 o’clock. The power reserve for this watch lasts for 6 months when the battery is fully charged, which means you’ve got little chances of depleting its power.
13. Undone Aero Commando
Founded in 2014 in Hong Kong, Undone doesn’t have a rich history and heritage, but its Aero Commando is a promising pilot watch, thanks to the Seiko NH35A automatic movement that powers it.
The watch can be easily personalized on the brand’s website, with a good range of dials, hands, and straps, plus the option to have your initials engraved on the dial.
The dial itself sits behind a Lexan polycarbonate glass, and the case has a water resistance rating of 10 bar, and a transparent case-back. All this is offered for around the price of $410.
12. Laco Augsburg 42
For around $400, the Laco Augsburg 42 is a superb aviation watch option. The straightforward and clean dial might not be on everyone’s liking, but in our eyes the Augsburg looks astonishing.
The 42mm stainless steel case paired with the classic brown leather strap make it look very elegant, but the most important part is obviously inside.
The movement is the Laco 21 automatic caliber movement, a very good movement. It comes with a power reserve of 42 hours, and has the hacking seconds function. The price of $400 is also very good considering the automatic movement.
11. Laco Neapel 39 Pilot’s Watch
A smaller Laco, the Neapel 39 Pilot’s Watch, this time with bright orange hands, hour markers, and indices, makes for another stunning timepiece.
It’s powered by the same Laco 21 automatic movement as the above Augsburg 42, but the size matches smaller wrists better, and the bright orange looks more playful than the usual Laco green. The price is similar to the one above.
The Orient Pilot’s Sport Watch has the original pilot watch dial style, with the large external minute ring and a smaller inner hour layout, making it easier to read the minutes, which used to be an important feature of pilot watches in the past.
The 42.4 mm stainless steel case is nice and sleek, with a single crown on the right, a 100 m water resistance rating, and protecting the Caliber F6722 movement inside. It features a power reserve of 40 hours, and the dial comes with a small date window located on the inner hour ring, with a slight offset.
The Seiko 5 Sports SRPG35K1 is a nice overall model, though a bit crowded on the dial, which features two sets of hour numerals, from 0 to 12 on the outside ring and from 13 to 24 on the inside ring, the day and date functions, the Seiko name and logo, and the thick hour and minute hands.
The movement is the manual winding Seiko 4R36, and it’s visible through a display case-back. The watch is rated for 10 bar water resistance, and the dial is protected by a Hardlex mineral glass, which isn’t as good as a sapphire crystal one, but it should be enough for most people.
8. Kienzle Flieger Automatic
The Kienzle Flieger Automatic is a modern take on the classic pilot watch. It features a minimalist dial, with luminescent hands and indices, and a simple date window at the 3 o’clock position.
The stainless steel case comes with a nice gray PVD coating, and pairs well with the nylon strap. With a 10 bar water resistance, this is a good watch to take on every sport adventure. And the cost of around $260 makes it affordable enough.
Created as a tribute to the legendary fighter aircraft Hawker Hurricane from the early days of World War II, the Avi-8 Hawker Hurricane pilot watch is a beauty.
The dial of the watch borrows little details from the airplane’s design, giving it a lovely vintage style. There are 3 sub-dials and a date window, which is surrounded by the watch’s name and the airplane silhouette seen from the front. On the outside it features a rotating bezel with tachymeter scale for distance calculations.
The 42 mm watch may not be as technically impressive as other more established names, but it certainly is a nice option, especially for only $235.
Powered by a Seagull Automatic movement, with an oversized 47mm case, the Parnis (or Fanmis) Big Flieger Automatic is on the more affordable side, with a price below the $200 mark.
The watch has a simple dial, with large hour markers, and a date window at the 3 o’clock position. The watch is rated only to 30m water resistance, so it’s not recommended for water sports of any kind.
The Casio Edifice is a multi functional watch that probably has too many features, but some people prefer it this way, especially at the $175 price point.
The watch also comes with various interesting innovations, like wireless connectivity. But what’s going to capture anyone’s attention is the dial design, filled with sub dials and various instruments and bezels, from time zone dials, to tachymeters and fuel consumption.
Though the case is considered large at 45.5 mm, it doesn’t feel it’s got enough space for all the features on its black dial.
With an intriguing but very good looking dial design, the Stuhrling Original Aviator should be on every pilot watch enthusiast’s bucket list. With its recognizable large 41mm steel case, oversized crown and the signature triangle marker at 12 o’clock, it makes for a classic pilot watch.
What sets it apart from the more traditional pilot watches is the day display, which shows the entire 7 days of the week, marking the current one with a red dot. The black dial is well contrasted with the bold yellow hand tips and hour markers.
Going way down in price, we’ve got a lovely and elegant looking pilot watch from Fossil, the Pilot 54. Though it may not be on every pilot watch’s enthusiast’s lips and may lack some obvious features, Fossil has managed to make this timepiece quite close to what it needs to be.
The simplicity and high legibility of the dial is what captures attention first. The big black hour markers on the cream dial make for a very good contrast, while the brown leather strap ensures a classic and elegant look.
The movement is a quartz, and it’s got 3 sub-dials and a date window between the 4 and the 5 o’clock positions. Despite not being a true pilot watch, it does the job, and it does it in a budget friendly way, just below $130.
Modern looking and powered by a Japanese Quartz Movement, the Invicta Aviator brings several interesting features at a cost below the $100.
It’s a chronometer with 3 sub-dials, large push buttons above and below the middle placed crown, tachymeter scale around the bezel and a compass ring just outside it.
The glass is mineral crystal, but water resistance rating goes down to 100m, which is nice considering the very low price.
Obvious for a $85 watch, the Mil-Tec Luftwaffe ME 109 Pilot Vintage is powered by a quartz movement, but it does offer the authentic look of a true pilot watch from the old German Luftwaffe for a very low budget.
It features the smaller hour ring, with the exterior reserved for the large clear minute numerals, big white hour and minute hands, and a good looking brown leather strap for that vintage look.
An impressive feat is the water resistance rating of 200 m, which allows pretty much anything when it comes to water sports, including diving.
From established brands like Hamilton or Laco to the more unknown ones in the world of watchmaking, there’s a pilot watch for anyone. It all depends on how much you’re prepared to pay for it.