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Throwback Sundays: Six Watches for the Aviation Enthusiasts, from Our Archives

Flight of Fancy
by Robin Lim on July 28, 2019
Reviews

Mankind have often been fascinated with aviation and the idea of flying. Since eons ago, Man have devised ways to keep themselves airborne. Of course, the idea had progressed even further with technological and engineering capabilities – notably with the space program that various countries and corporations have partaken, or are currently partaking.

As the author is writing this whilst in flight, he can’t help but to appreciate and marvel at the wonders. This is perhaps why many younger individuals have always cited that their ambition is to become a pilot. It is just incredible.

While there are some who are able to pursue a career in aviation, many of us have this dream unfulfilled. But that does not mean that we are unable to enjoy flying, or even items or instruments that are associated with it. Watches, for instance, is a critical flight instrument that comes to mind. It has often been used for timing purposes, while complicated timepieces such as the Breitling Navitimer is used for navigation as well. It is certainly mind-blowing to know that such a small device can serve such important purposes as well.

Hence, for this week’s article, we will be taking a look at some of the watches for a flight enthusiast. This can come in the form of pilot’s watches, or watches with an interesting provenance that is related to flying. What have we selected? Let’s find out!

Cartier Santos

The first watch that we have is the Cartier Santos.

At the first glance, it is pretty difficult to put two and two together. The Santos is known to be an iconic timepiece from an equally legendary brand, but the history of the watch is much more than that. The watch, notably, is known as the first pilot’s wristwatch that was ever produced. It is designed after a pilot friend of Louis Cartier wanted a timepiece that can be strapped on the wrist, and hence the Santos was born.

Over the years, the Santos had subtle updates to its design. However, its DNA remains, especially with its rounded square case and exposed screws. The model was revamped recently in 2018, with a sleeker case profile and fitted with an in-house automatic movement. There are various iterations to the new Santos, with the base model (stainless steel, in a medium-sized 37mm case) priced at S$7,600. The new timepiece is rather tantalising, and it is a versatile watch that is we think is perfect for different occasions.

Omega Speedmaster Professional

When it comes to flight-related timepieces, it is difficult not to include the Omega Speedmaster Professional. Also affectionately termed the “Moonwatch”, the Speedmaster is known to many collectors as the first watch on the Moon.

The “Moonwatch” is one of the most recognisable watches in the industry, but it is interesting to note that the watch was not created with the intention of getting into the NASA space program. The Moonwatch was selected, amongst the various candidates, as the timepiece of choice for the space mission after rigorous testing. The rest, as we know, is history.

Over the years, Omega had created many different iterations of the Speedmaster. For us, the Speedmaster Professional is the quintessential timepiece in any watch collection. Its design is timeless, but more importantly, it follows the original timepiece that was first worn on the Moon. The watch retails at S$5,600, and it is relatively reasonable for a luxury watch with such a great story behind it. Oh, and did we mention, it is one of the rarer few watches that is fitted with a manual-winding movement as well?

Sinn 903 Navigation Chronograph

The Sinn 903 Navigation Chronograph has an interesting history, but it is a timepiece that played a very significant role in the horological industry as well.

One of the first things that comes to mind when one sees the Sinn is the watch’s resemblance to that of Breitling’s. There is an intriguing anecdote to that. It was noted that back in the 1970s, Breitling was in financial difficulties – and Sinn decided to buy over the rights and design of the Navitimer for a princely sum, which eventually kept Breitling afloat. That also marked the birth of Sinn, which had eventually diversified into producing a variety of brilliant tool watches like the U1 and EZM1.

Whilst it is a lesser known alternative to Breitling, but the Sinn Navitimer is a rather compelling option with its relatively more accessible price point. The 41mm watch is fitted with a Sellita SW500 movement, which offers a power reserve of approximately 48 hours. It retails at S$3,120 for the leather strap model.

IWC Mark XVIII Pilot’s Watch “Le Petit Prince” Edition

IWC’s Pilot’s Watch collection is one of the most notable collections from the Schaffhausen-based watch manufacturer. Launched in mid-1930s, the Pilot’s Watch collection is now in its Mark XVIII iteration.

The “Le Petit Prince” Edition is one of our favourites from the extensive Pilot’s Watch series. The blue dial is exceptionally captivating, but its association with “Le Petit Prince” captured our hearts as well. The whimsical storyline is one that many of us are familiar with, but the fact that Antoine De-Saint Exupery had a passion for flying (which he incorporates into his novels extensively) makes it rather incredible as well. The whole thing just ties up so perfectly. 

Fitted with a robust Sellita-based movement, the self-winding Mark XVIII boasts a date indicator and a power reserve of around 42 hours. The watch is priced at S$6,250.

Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition

When it comes to watches that most of the pilots swears by – regardless of whether they do use its function – is the legendary Navitimer from Breitling. While the Sinn that we’ve featured above might come in as an interesting value proposition, but the Breitling is certainly the undisputed king of Navitimers.

In this year’s Baselworld, Breitling launched a remake of the Reference 806 – the original Navitimer that graced the wrists of pilots in the 1950s. It was this particular model that first adopted the “Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association” (AOPA) emblem on its dial – as seen by the winged logo on the dial of this timepiece. It is a faithful recreation, with great attention paid to even the tiniest detail on both the case and dial.

The homage piece now features some modern touches to it, in particular the movement. It is now fitted with Breitling’s in-house Calibre B09, a hand-wound COSC-certified movement that was developed specially for historical re-creations. The 39-jewel calibre beats at 28,800 vph, and it has a power reserve of around 70 hours.

Priced at S$11,750, the Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition is a special timepiece that certainly captures the heart of many aviation enthusiasts. Breitling will only produce 1959 pieces of this timepiece, and each will be individually numbered and engraved on the caseback.

Breguet Type XX Aeronavale

Finally, we round up the article with a pilot’s watch that pretty much flies under the radar: Breguet’s Type XX Aeronavale.

Created originally as a commissioned piece for the French Naval Air Army, the Type XX is an incredibly functional timepiece that survived the test of time. The watch stayed true to its roots too – with an appropriately sized case (39mm, an increment of a mere 1mm from the original piece), fly-back chronograph function, and a classic dial layout with the “Breguet” logo in cursive font.

The Type XX is fitted with the Calibre 582, a self-winding Lemania-based movement that has a power reserve of around 48 hours. It features an additional piggy-back fly-back chronograph module (on top of the Lemania 1350 movement), and it is decorated as per Breguet’s superlative standards. The watch retails at S$15,200, and we think that it is a darn good timepiece for someone who wants a timepiece that is a little different from the usual.

Concluding Thoughts

In the past, watches are produced for specific functional purposes. For instance, diver’s watches are used for diving, while timepieces with pulsometer are used to calculate pulses. The same goes for pilot’s watches as well, although there are multiple variations to that (think of the slide rule function, chronographs, anti-magnetism, or simply the large pilot’s watch that boasts great luminescence).

When it comes to aviation-related watches, we reckon our selection only covers the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other great options out there – such as the Rolex GMT-Master II, Bell & Ross’ Instrument Series, or Bremont’s Air Collection. Each of them have their own merits, and some have rather interesting stories behind it as well (such as the GMT-Master, which was a collaboration between Pan-Am and Rolex).

As an aviation enthusiast, what are your thoughts on our selection? What are some of the watches that should have been on the list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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