2020, The Watch Year in Review: 7 High-Flying Pilots’ Watches


It goes without saying: 2020 was far from an ideal year for most of us. Looking back, however, it was also a year that brought many noteworthy watch launches despite the huge obstacles posed by the pandemic and its effects on the world economy. As we look ahead hopefully to 2021, it’s time for our annual look back at some of those timepieces, in various popular categories. Today, we showcase 2020’s most intriguing aviator-style watches.

Bell & Ross completed its Flight Instrument family — based on the designs of cockpit instruments — with the BR 03-92 H.U.D. (Heads Up Display), a limited edition of 999 pieces. The Heads Up Display in a plane’s cockpit is a transparent windshield that displays essential data in a digital form; the watch, housed in a 42-mm square case made of matte black ceramic, re-creates this high-tech screen on its three-layer dial. The top layer is a green-tinted sapphire crystal with four luminous brackets at the corners, representing the HUD’s line-of-sight frame. The minutes and seconds hands occupy the middle level, their central parts hidden to emulate the digital displays on the instrument panel. At the base level is the main dial, with a triangular marker to indicate the hours, and hour and minute numerals and indices on concentric scales, all glowing bright green thanks to an application of Super-LumiNova C3. More info and price here.

Bell & Ross BR 03-92 H.U.D.

For the 80th anniversary of the historic Battle of Britain, the epic aerial conflict that turned the tide of World War II, Bremont released as part of a special commemorative boxed set the BOB Spitfire, a chronograph-equipped wristwatch whose dial is modeled on the Smiths clocks found on the instrument panels of Spitfire planes that fought in the Battle of Britain. The tricompax arrangement features subdials at 12, 6, and 9 o’clock, a date window at 4 o’clock, and a central GMT hand. The 43-mm “Trip-Tick” case is in black DLC-coated stainless steel. The 30-minute chronograph subdial at 12 o’clock is designed in the “Time of Trip” style of vintage dashboard clocks and imprinted with “1940.” Adding to the historical references, the watch’s solid caseback is stamped with a rendering of the timepiece’s namesake warplane, the Supermarine Spitfire. Behind that caseback ticks the automatic, COSC-certified Caliber BE-54AE. Click here for more on Bremont’s Battle of Britain commemorative set.

Bremont Spitfire Battle of Britain

The highly technical dial of the Citizen Promaster Nighthawk takes its cues from instruments in the cockpits of U.S. military helicopters. The watch’s 42-mm case is made of blackened stainless steel and its black dial is packed with aviator-friendly scales in contrasting white, including the circular slide rule printed on the ion-plated rotating bezel. Two luminous central hands display the current time, while an airplane-tipped smaller hand shows the time in another time zone on a 24-hour scale; the date appears in a rectangular window at 3 o’clock. Powering the Nighthawk is Citizen’s quartz-powered Caliber B877, which runs on the Japanese brand’s proprietary Eco-Drive technology, enabling constant recharging of power via any light source. Click here for more.

Citizen Promaster Nighthawk

Like its predecessors, the first of which hit the market in 2012, the newest version of the Longines Avigation Watch Type A-7 1935 pays homage to a model ordered by the U.S. Air Force in 1935 (we review a previously released model here) and engineered to meet rigorous specifications in terms of aesthetics, durability and precision. The black dial, shifted 40 degrees to the right, is a nod to the pilots who would wear the watch on the inside of their wrist over thick gloves to read the time quickly and easily without having to release the aircraft’s control yoke. The big, fluted crown at 12 o’clock, enabled the wearer to control the watch’s chronograph functions by simply pressing the single push-piece inserted in its center. Inside the 41-mm steel case is a column-wheel chronograph-equipped movement, Caliber L788.2, based on the reliable ETA Valgranges A08.L11 and developed exclusively for Longines. Click here for more details and photos.

Longines Avigation Type A7 1935

IWC extended its partnership with the U.S. Naval Aviation community in 2018 with the development of its first “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” watch, which was awarded exclusively to graduates of the Navy Fighter Weapons School “Top Gun” program. This year, the brand unveiled a version of the “SFTI” for the rest of us — with a matte black, tactical-look case and an in-house-made chronograph caliber. The 44-mm case uses a combination of materials: black zirconium oxide ceramic for the bezel and case middle and Ceratanium for its caseback and chronograph pushers. The black dial’s central chronograph seconds hand has a jet-shaped counterweight. Behind the Ceratanium caseback, engraved with a Top Gun logo, is IWC’s manufacture Caliber 69380, whose double-sided pawl winding system, an IWC technical hallmark, enables it to amass a power reserve of 46 hours. More details can be found here.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun SFTI

Texas-based Tockr expanded its pilot-watch portfolio with the Air Defender Lume models, distinguished by their “hydro-dipped,” fully luminescent cases, available in black-and-white lume, green marble lume, and camouflage lume. The thick, 45-mm, cushion-shaped steel case is designed to be eye-catching in broad daylight and highly luminescent in the dark. Inspired by chronograph watches from the 1970s, it has elongated chronograph pushers and conical crowns at 3 o ‘clock and 10 o’clock for adjusting the time and rotating the inner bezel, respectively. The ever-reliable Valjoux 7750 automatic caliber beats inside, behind an exhibition caseback. Even the stitching on the American-made “Stealth” straps, produced in partnership with Oklahoma’s HIX Design studio, glows in the dark, in a color matching that of the case. More details here.

Tockr Air Defender Lume

For the latest addition to its vintage-inspired Pilot Type 20 collection, Zenith re-created in miniature the blueprints of early Aeronefs, the aircraft flown by flight pioneers like Louis Bleriot, who used a Zenith watch to time his flight over the English Channel. The Pilot Type 20 Blueprint, housed in a 45-mm steel case, features a unique, double-layered dial, composed of a matte blue base inscribed with technical schematics, and above it a sapphire crystal layer with traditional hour and minute markers and Zenith logo that cast subtle shadows on the base. The superimposed combination creates a deep and captivating 3D effect on the dial, making it appear that the markings are floating over the blueprints. Zenith’s Elite 679 caliber powers the timepiece, with automatic winding and a 50-hour power reserve, caliberthat holds a power reserve of 50 hours. The watch is mounted on a blue calfskin strap with the large rivets characteristic of early aviators’ watches. Click here to find out more.

Zenith Pilot Type 20 Blueprint
3 Responses to “2020, The Watch Year in Review: 7 High-Flying Pilots’ Watches”

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  1. Tom Divilio

    Would be helpful to know which, if any, of the chronograph in the article have fly-back function.

    Reply
  2. What no G-Shock RAF. I have one it is a fantastic watch , great accuracy and function.

    Reply
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