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Throwback Sundays: Six Recommendations for an Aviation Themed Watch, from Our Archives

by Robin Lim on January 17, 2016

When we were little kids, we are pretty sure that some of us aspired to be a fighter pilot at some point of our lives. While a minority have managed to achieve their aspirations, a majority of us had to give up on this due to certain circumstances that came along the way. 

But, fret not! While many of us are not able to fulfill our childhood dreams, we can probably do something to make ourselves feel a little better. And how does purchasing an aviation themed watch sound? Well, it definitely sounds legit and sane to us, and it is probably one of the more wallet-friendly options (if you select the more affordable ones, of course!).

So, before we continue to dream and climb to cloud nine, we shall take-off and begin our selections for six aviation themed watches that we think one should look at, if he is interested in this category of timepieces.

 

Breitling Emergency II

The Breitling Emergency II. A watch that one should have, if they are out for an adventure.

The Breitling Emergency II. A watch that one should have, if they are out for a dangerous adventure.

When it comes to aviation watches, we reckon Breitling is by far one of the most popular watchmakers in the industry. It is not a surprise, considering its aggressive marketing and the functionality of their timepieces. And the Emergency is possibly one of the most iconic pieces in the company.

The watch, developed in conjunction with many major scientific institutions, was fitted with many revolutionary technologies. Now, after further development, Breitling has launched the Emergency II. The Emergency II, notably, had several improvements from its predecessor. Some of these include the rechargeable battery, a miniaturized dual frequency transmitter and an unprecedented integrated antenna system.

While all these may be seemingly unnecessary, but the Emergency is definitely a timepiece that is capable of delivering when it is required to do so. Apparently, in 2003, two chopper pilots from Britain were rescued when they had crashed in the Antarctic, all thanks to this particular timepiece. Now, with the addition of a dual frequency transmitter, the Emergency II is capable of launching a distress signal, no matter where you are in this world. Now, with this watch, we think that there is no way that one would not be able to make it if he or she is lost somehow.

 

Sinn 903 Navigation Chronograph

The Sinn 903 Navigation Chronograph. Now does it look familiar, somehow?

The Sinn 903 Navigation Chronograph. Now does it look familiar, somehow?

Hang on, does the Sinn 903 Navigation Chronograph looks familiar? That’s right, your eyes are definitely not playing tricks on you! The watch, at the first glance, certainly reminds us of Breitling’s Navitimer. And no, Sinn did not copy the design of the Navitimer.

So, you might be wondering, how did Sinn come up with this identical design for the 903? Well, in 1979, Breitling went bankrupt and parts of the company were liquidated. Helmut Sinn, founder of Sinn, then bought the rights to use the dial layout of Breitling’s 806 and 809 Navitimer watches. And that, my friends, was how the Sinn 903 follows the design of the iconic Breitling Navitimer.

We can guess the next question you have in mind: Do we prefer the Breitling Navitimer, or the Sinn 903? To be honest, we would prefer the latter. No doubt, the Navitimer is the true icon and it is fitted with an in-house movement, but we reckon the Sinn 903 completes the same job at nearly a third of its retail price. Of course, there are some compromises like the use of a stock Sellita movement, but we still think that the Sinn offers a wonderful price proposition with an excellent built quality.

 

IWC Pilot Chronograph “Top Gun”

The IWC Pilot Chronograph "Top Gun".

The IWC Pilot Chronograph “Top Gun”.

We then take a journey back to the 80s, when there was a particular movie that made young men dream of becoming a fighter pilot when they grew up. It was none other than “Top Gun”, which featured a stellar cast with the likes of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer.

Two decades later, in 2007, the first IWC Pilot watch that bears the “Top Gun” name joined the foray. One of our particular favorites was the Pilot Chronograph that was based on the Reference 3777. The greatest difference, aesthetically, is no doubt the ceramic casing. It gives the watch a stealthy feel, and it adds some character to this aviation themed timepiece. There are also several interesting touches too, such as the red plane motif for the chronograph seconds hand counter balance, as well as the “Top Gun” logo that is fitted on the watch’s caseback. While it does not value-add to the functionality of the timepiece,  we feel that it is an interesting touch that might have stolen the heart of “Top Gun” fanboys (and fangirls, of course). And of course, if you are a graduate of the prestigious “Top Gun” Fighter Weapons School, it will make this watch even much more special than it already is.

 

Rolex GMT-Master II

The Rolex GMT-Master II. This one is known as the "Coke", thanks to the color of its bezel.

The Rolex GMT-Master II. This one is known as the “Coke”, thanks to the color of its bezel.

The Rolex GMT-Master II, technically, is not an aviation themed timepiece. But its provenance is a little special, and we thought that it is iconic enough to deserve a place in this list.

Launched in 1954, the GMT-Master was a collaboration between Rolex and Pan American Airways (Pan Am). The watch was meant for Pan Am’s pilot and navigators, in which it allowed them to tell the time for two different time zones. Many years later, in the later iteration known as the GMT-Master II, the watch is further improved. It is now capable of telling time for three different timezone, as its hour hand can be adjusted independently from the 24-hour GMT hand.

Over the years, we have seen many variations of the GMT-Master II. One of our favorite examples would be the “Pepsi”, in which the timepiece features a blue and red bezel. In our opinion, we feel that the “Pepsi”  is a little more interesting than the other variants, like the “Coke” or the black bezel variant. But honestly, no matter what combination you are choosing, you can’t go wrong with the GMT-Master II.

 

Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Bronze

The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special, in bronze.

The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special, in bronze.

We then move on to Zenith, and one of the most popular pieces in their collection: the Pilot Type 20 Extra Special, in Bronze.

In the past few months, we have seen this particular watch gracing the pages of various social media outlets. Its popularity is not unwarranted though, as many of us have agreed that this is actually a rather handsome and masculine timepiece. The watch, as we have mentioned in our review article previously, is a homage of the military pilot watches that Zenith produced in the 1930s. These include design elements such as the dial, the case, as well as the giant “onion” crown. Interestingly, Zenith used Bronze as one of the case materials for the Type 20, and we think that it adds a bit of rustic charm and vintage feel towards this aviation timepiece.

Beside its good looks, we reckon that the Type 20 is rather popular thanks to another compelling reason: its price point. The Bronze variant retails at US$7,600, and it is much cheaper than its counterparts (such as the IWC Big Pilot). Its retail price is relatively affordable for the younger crowd, considering that this model is also fitted with Zenith’s Elite 679 movement. Honestly, for a luxury timepiece with such features, you cannot get much better than this.

Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time

One of the most controversial watches from Patek Philippe: the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time.

One of the most controversial watches from Patek Philippe: the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time.

We end the article with one of the most controversial and surprising timepieces from BaselWorld 2015: the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time.

When one thinks of the Calatrava collection, or most of Patek Philippe’s creations, we picture classic and elegant watches that pairs nicely in suits and office attire.  When Patek Philippe launched the Pilot Travel Time at last year’s BaselWorld, the entire horological industry was taken by surprise. The Pilot Travel Time, to put it bluntly, is like an illegitimate child of the family. It is so different, so deviant from the other members of the family. But to be fair, it is not a bad watch. The finishing, we think, was done rather beautifully as per all Patek timepieces. In terms of aesthetics, we were rather divided. Some of us feel that it was a bit odd for a Patek timepiece, but many of us think that it is a breath of fresh air. We would like to believe that if the same watch bears a different watchmaker, the collectors would have perhaps been more receptive towards it.

We feel that Patek Philippe is probably testing the waters by designing watches with more modern aesthetics, and if successful, we might be seeing more interesting designs from the venerable watchmaker. Well, the answer may lie in this year’s BaselWorld. But till then, we think that this is one extraordinary Patek Philippe timepiece, and it is worth a shot if a collector has got some spare cash lying around.

 

Afterthoughts

We have wrapped up with this week’s Throwback Sundays article, and as an airman, the author personally has a soft spot for aviation themed watches.

While most of us will probably not wear one of these watches and pilot a plane with it, we think that an aviation themed watch is something interesting to have in one’s watch collection. Many of them look rather gorgeous, and there is this “cool factor” that is attached to these sleek-looking timepieces.

As usual, we hope that you have enjoyed this week’s Throwback Sundays article. Please share with us some of your thoughts, as well as your favorite aviation themed watches. Have a great week ahead, and till the next article, ciao!

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