Summer Rewind: Our Favorite Pilot Watches of 2023 (So Far)
When it comes to watches for those who dare to soar to the highest heights, more traditional design cues are now being joined with thoughtful, modern reinterpretations and new definitions of what a pilot watch is, was, and can be. Ready for take-off?
If this quartet of our favorite high-flying timepieces is any indication, pilot watches don’t necessarily have to have an onion crown, chronograph, or GMT function. Nor do they have to have details that harken back to aviation’s white-silk-scarf golden era. But it can help.
Here you will find a thoroughly modern redux from a maker with beaucoup de pilot watch heritage, a vintage-inspired timepiece for the “ultimate pilot” that is more space-age era than biplane era, and two more traditional flyers’ wristwatches that range from a modern, tactical approach to pure, high-horological vintage romance.
The Zenith Big Date Flyback
Sometimes it’s almost easy to forget about Zenith’s esteemed legacy of fine pilot watches, but that would be a big mistake because Zenith’s aviation history runs deep (flies high?). In fact, as far back as the late 19th century, Zenith’s founder Georges-Favre Jacot could see the game-changing role the budding field of aviation was about to play in human history.
Luckily for us, the 42.5mm Pilot Big Date Flyback released at Watches & Wonders 2023 is an elegant modern re-write of Zenith’s deep-heritage pilot watch design codes, kind of like how a stealth fighter is a modern re-write of the bi-plane.
Moreover, the new version of the El Primero 3652 calibre that gives “lift” to both of the new Pilot Big Date Flyback models not only empowers the useful chronograph function, it also folds in another flyer-friendly feature: a very legible big date aperture at 6 o’clock, with lightning-fast date disc jumps, just above the dial’s “Pilot” badging.
The 42.5mm Pilot Big Date Flyback is available in either…
To check out more of our original imagery or to learn more, including pricing and availability, read our Fly Me, I’m Zenith: The New Pilot Collection Debuts at Watches & Wonders 2023 from March.
The Bulova Lunar Pilot
Unless you swing in the same financial circles as Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, or Elon Musk, chances are that space travel is still inaccessible to you. But, thanks to the good people at Bulova, having a moon watch is within your reach because this year, the brand utilized its Archive Series to launch a reissue of its legendary Lunar Pilot.
Actually, Bulova launched TWO new Lunar Pilot chronographs. One features a striking two-tone blue and white chronograph dial, while the other has a classic black colorway to honor the original 1971 version worn by Apollo 15 Mission Commander David Scott after the crystal of his NASA-issued Omega Speedmaster when the crystal popped out during a moonwalk...
To see more of our original imagery or to learn more about the 2023 Lunar Pilot, including its fascinating history, pricing, and availability, check out our Oh, My Stars! Meet the Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph from February.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 5924G Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Chronograph
However, in its Complications Collection, the Geneva maison has created its first chronograph model in its Calatrava Pilot-style watch line. The Ref. 5924G also combines the brand’s signature Travel Time dual time zone function, a date display synced with local time, plus a day/night indication for local and home time.
To check out more of our original imagery or to learn more, including pricing and availability, read our Live Pics! Patek Philippe Gives the Calatrava New Complications and a Touch of Color at Watches & Wonders 2023 from March.
The Longines Spirit Zulu Time
I can’t think of a better way to say it, but pilot watches are just, well, cool. Similarly, one of the coolest concepts associated with pilot watches is the idea of “Zulu Time.”
That said, a timepiece with Zulu in its name needs to pack in beaucoup authenticity and appeal. Thankfully, Longines’ new 39mm Spirit Zulu Time checks all the boxes, including a flight plan plotted more toward a certain purity and wearability.
After debuting last year in 40 and 42mm sizes, the new 39mm case size not only opens up the wearability world to those who prefer a smaller watch, but the new size is also a visual step or two more vintage-inspired and authentic on the wrist, ditto on lug-to-lug length (21mm) and thickness (13.5mm). However, even as the size has gone down a bit, the next-generation enhancements have increased…
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)