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The best pilot’s watches you can buy, as chosen by an actual pilot

From a timepiece that pays tribute to the golden age of flight, to a watch with its eyes on the future, we ask a real-life airman for his most trusted tools

We’ve all been there: coasting cooly at 600mph in the back of our private jets. Today’s newspaper in one hand, and a finely brewed coffee in the other, there’s no way we can raise our wrists to tell the time. So instead, we call up to our captains — the steady, unshakeable professionals with their fingers on the pulse and hands on the yoke — to ask them for a time check instead.

Because, if you can depend on one thing from a pilot — other than being able to safely take off, fly and land your plane — it is that around his wrist will be strapped one of the finest watches in the world. From Breitling to Bell & Ross, the most illustrious watchmakers have all been inspired by air travel at some point — and pilots are some of the strongest proponents of fine watchmaking you’re likely to find.

So, which of these air-faring watches are worth your time? We turned to seasoned and distinguished pilot Jonny Nicole — also the founder and CEO of private jet booking service Stratajet — for his recommendations.

For simplicity and style, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch

IWC Big Pilot’s Watch

The Big Pilot’s range from IWC is iconic among fans of both fine watches and flying machines. This iteration comes with a seven-day power reserve, indicated in the sub-dial at 3 o’clock. A classically designed military watch, that distinctive over-sized crown is featured so you can adjust the time while still wearing your flying gloves. Naturally.

Our pilot says: “Pilots develop a close bond with their watches since they are instruments in which you should be confident of trusting your life.

“I like the simplicity of this watch, with a big face that’s easy to read – the unfussy design is focused on the piece’s key role; telling the time. The black strap is stylish, complementing the watch and it is a nice touch to hark back to the Junkers JU-52, an aircraft of esteemed heritage.”

For world travellers, the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time

Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time

A characteristically handsome offering from Patek Philippe, this rose gold world timer gives a softer, more luxurious feel to its 2015 white gold model. Being able to check two time-zones is a real time saver when globetrotting, and that handy extra hour hand will quickly become a travel essential for any gentleman jet-setter.

Our pilot says: “A bold design in rose gold but with the added precision that you would expect from a Patek – and precision is everything in aviation.

“This watch harks back to the ‘old days’ of flying, paying tribute to Patek Philippe’s traditional timepieces but, with modern features, is equally suitable for the present day. For example, the ability to keep track of both home and local time is incredibly useful.”

For technical brilliance, the Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38

Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38

The Navitimer is a watch for serious pilots, giving you the ability to time several different metrics with the scales around the outside of the dial. This is actually one of the smaller and simpler Navitimers available — measuring just 38mm — and is a favourite of stunt and acrobatic pilots the world over as a result.

Our pilot says: “Breitling has done well to achieve a rare synergy of elegance and functionality in this watch. The classic Breitling style blends superbly with the incredibly helpful unit converter around the rim and the strap gives the piece a robust feel.

“You know from it being a Breitling that it’ll work under the most arduous manoeuvres, while its smaller size – and therefore lighter weight – make it more comfortable for the wearer in moments of heightened G-force.”

For a vibrant option, the Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Racing Bird

Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Racing Bird

Aviation is in the blood of Bell & Ross — so much so that it built a plane to go with this watch. With a bright white dial and orange and blue accents, it’s a striking timepiece — and that bold colour scheme will make reading it upside-down at 1000ft a lot easier as well.

Our pilot says: “A bright and vibrant piece in lighter colours than some of the other watches on the list, so a refreshing addition that boasts functionality as well as style in the form of a tachymeter scale.

“The second hand stands out to ensure precision timing and I love the minor detail of having one end of the hand in the shape of an aircraft!”

Want more watches? These are the best world timer watches money can buy…

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