Five Plus One is our weekly series of buyer’s guides. We pick a specific category and dig up five great options along with one that’s a little outside the norm.
In 1904, newly minted pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont commissioned Louis Cartier to make a watch specifically for his needs flying a plane: bold contrast numerals, large dial, simple design. Cartier’s original design has undergone some modifications in the past century, but the core elements remain.
Today, pilot watches are one of the most reproduced styles of watches out there, and that means you have a ton of options regardless of what case material, movement type, and design elements you are looking for. Today we’ll explore pilot watches with automatic movements below the fairly-modest $500 price point.
While that might seem like a ridiculously high price to some of you, $500 is pretty solidly in the entry-level category by most watch enthusiast standards. Unfortunately, this price point precludes us from featuring many traditional pilot watch makers, such as Breitling or IWC, but we hope that our list still has a little something for everyone.
1) Tisell: 40mm Pilot
We’ve talked about Tisell before, and while I don’t want to seem like a fanboy I couldn’t justify leaving them off this list. Their 40mm Pilot Watch comes in two styles: Type A and Type B. The more minimalist Type A features a dial that is labeled 1 – 11 with the iconic triangle-double-dot symbol at 12 o’clock, while the Type B’s dial features two concentric circles: the outer labeled 5 – 55 (in increments of 5) with an upwards facing arrow at 12 o’clock and the inner labeled 1 – 12.
Regardless of which classic style you prefer the rest of the watch’s elements stay the same — blue tempered sword hands with interior BGW9 lume and matching lume on the dial, an oversized diamond crown, domed sapphire crystal, and a mineral crystal see-through back. The movement on this model is the Miyota 90S5, which is essentially the no-date version of the well respected 9015 movement.
Available for $199 from Tisell.
2) Seiko: SNK805 in Green
Automatic watches aren’t for everyone, and it’s silly to invest in an expensive piece if you aren’t even sure you’ll find yourself wearing it. And that’s just one of the reasons why Seiko’s SNK805 is such a great option. While the price on this watch varies dramatically it can usually be found on Amazon in the $50 to $100 range, and you get a lot of watch for the money. It features a modified Type B dial (olive green in this case) with a day/date complication and the 7S26 movement, which is a non-hand-windable automatic movement that lacks hacking.
Available for $53 from Amazon.
3) Laco: 42mm Pilot
Laco is one of the oldest manufacturers of pilot watches, and while we’re happy to include their 42mm Pilot Watch, it is far from their best offering. This model features a Laco 21 movement, which is a modified Miyota 821A. While there is nothing wrong with this movement it certainly isn’t the high quality movement you might image when you think about Laco watches. That said, this watch is still a quality, made-in-Germany timepiece with a sapphire crystal, SuperLuminova lume, and all the build qualtiy you’d expect from a watch of its caliber.
Available for $410 from Amazon.
4) Steinhart: Nav B-Uhr 47mm
Steinhart makes some great repro watches, and their Nav B-Uhr 47mm is just the type of the iceberg. It is an oversized 47mm pilot watch with a Type A dial, Superluminova C1 lume, a domed sapphire crystal, and, perhaps best of all, an ETA2824-2 automatic movement. While I believe this watch’s price-point dictates that it is an entry level watch, I loath to consider the ETA2824-2 to be an entry level movement. It is seen in watches priced in the thousands of dollars, although the actual reason that many of these watches cost so much goes well beyond the movement that they carry.
Available for $480 from Gnomon Watches.
5) Orient: Flight PVD
When it comes to watches I generally prefer traditional styles, but it is hard look past how fantastic Orient’s PVD Flight Watch looks. t features a Type B dial with a date complication at 3 o’clock, but the main thing that sets this watch apart from other is the black PVD coated stainless steel case. While the dial might be a bit more complicated than many would like, especially due to the ornate Orient logo and water resistant rating that takes up much of the face, it’s hard to not appreciate how cool this piece looks. It is worth noting that that only the outer circle of the dial features lume, which makes this piece all that more unique when the lights are off.
Available for $149 from Long Island Watch.
Plus One – Ventus: Black Kite B-02 Carbon Fiber
Much like Tisell, I’ve mentioned Ventus its fair share — but that’s just because their watches are so cool. Their Black Kite B-02 pilot watch is a 42mm Type A with a “darkwood” patterned carbon fiber case. This gives the watch a super unique look while keeping it light, and their inclusion of an inner steel construction gives this watch some heft that it would otherwise lack due to the carbon fiber case material. It features a sandwich dial with vintage-style green lume, an AR coated domed sapphire crystal, and screw-down crown. The movement is a Seiko NH35, which is a step up from their baseline 7S26 movement that we saw earlier.
Available for $499 from Ventus.