The Best Pilot Watches for Every Budget

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If keeping time is an important part of your EDC, you’re gonna need a solid watch to do it. And of all the watch options out there, few rely on precision timing as much as pilots do. Fliegers, or pilot watches, are popular EDC options because of their legibility, durability, and accuracy. In this guide, we’ll explain where the flieger comes from, some standout features to look for, and 10 of our favorites for any budget.

A Brief History of the Flieger

The “flieger” (German for “flyer”) style of watches originated in Germany during World War II. The prevalence of air combat demanded a timepiece that was legible, accurate, durable, and anti-magnetic. The flieger watch was commissioned by the German military by 5 original watchmakers that still produce them to this day. The traditional pilot watches measured in at a huge 55mm to accommodate the pocket watch movements that were readily available at the time. Movement technology and manufacturing have come a long way in the past 75 years, allowing these watches to become smaller and therefore better for everyday wear.

Standout Features of a Flieger Watch

  • Clean, Legible Dial: Flieger watches are easy to read at a glance thanks to their large, clean dials. Most have minimal (or zero) branding. Large, sword-shaped minute and hour hands, and a legible second hand ensure that the time can be easily tracked. Most examples feature white text on a black dial for increased legibility.
     
  • Large Crown: The cockpit of WWII planes lacked temperature control. When you see photos of WWII pilots, they’re seen wearing leather jackets lined with shearling fur, heavy gloves, and hats. The large, onion-shaped crown seen on these watches allow the operator to make adjustments even when wearing thick gloves.
     
  • Triangle 12 o’clock Marker: The triangular marker seen at the 12 position helps the wearer orient the watch when flying. It draws your eye towards the top of the watch, making it easy to quickly read the time. In a pinch, it can also be used as a basic solar compass. 

Now that you've got the basics of pilot watches down, check out our favorite flieger recommendations for watch newbies and seasoned collectors alike:


Best Affordable Pilot Watches


Parnis Flieger

The Parnis Flieger is one of the few true fliegers on a budget. The design is a spot-on representation of a classic pilot watch: a large, clear dial, sword-shaped hands, and big legible Arabic indices (watch speak for numbers, as opposed to Roman numerals or tick marks). This manual-winding watch has a large, easy-to-operate crown and a unique seconds sub-dial at the 9 o'clock position. As far as affordable pilot watches go, this may be your best bet.

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Orient Flight

Orient has earned a reputation for producing quality watches at an affordable price point. And their entry into the pilot watch category, the Flight, is no exception. It has all the vintage looks of a flieger with a few modernized updates. The navy blue dial is a slight step away from the traditional pilot watch, but you still get the triangular “12” marker, legible sword-shaped hands, and stainless steel construction.

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Seiko Flightmaster

Some pilot watches, like the Seiko Flightmaster, don't follow the traditionally pared down dial design of a classic flieger model. Instead, the Flightmaster trades some legibility for more information, like calculating speed, flight time, and other metrics thanks to its integrated slide rule system. Although it's busy, you'll appreciate the chronograph function and interesting aesthetic.

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Citizen Nighthawk

Another popular pilot watch amongst the EDC crowd is the Citizen Nighthawk. This Eco-Drive powered watch is charged via an internal solar cell so it always stays ticking. Similar to the Seiko Flightmaster, the Nighthawk has a slide rule bezel for calcuations. The stainless steel construction, impressive water resistance, and aggressive black, white, and red accents make for a watch worthy of the rest of your EDC.

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Best Mid-Range Pilot Watches Under $500


Maratac Mid Pilot

The Maratac Mid Pilot is one of the best mid-priced fliegers out there. This beefy watch's sterile dial is free of a date function, and branding — made only to tell the time. At the 6 o'clock position, a seconds sub-dial breaks up an otherwise clean face. For under $500, you get a super durable stainless steel case, a domed sapphire crystal, superluminova treatment on the indices and hands, and a reliable Miyota movement made by Citizen.

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Steinhart Nav B-Uhr Flieger

The Steinhart Nav B-Uhr is a slight variance on the classic flieger. In addition to the the standard 1-12 hour markers, there's a smaller minute scale around the middle of the dial. The “B-Uhr” is short for “Beobachtungs-uhren” which translates directly to “observation watch.” The addition of a minutes scale makes it easier to tell how much time has elapsed at a glance. Steinhart's B-Uhr features a clear caseback that lets you take a closer look at the handsomely decorated movement inside.

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Laco Type B

Laco is one of the five original makers of the flieger style watch, and they're still doing it today. The Laco Type B features a modernized automatic Mioyta movement which is ideal for daily wear. They've also updated the crystal from mineral glass to sapphire for extra scratch resistance. The Laco Type B has a modest 42mm case that wears comfortably on the wrist.

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Grail-Worthy Pilot Watches


Sinn 556A

Sinn's 556A is a more modern take on the classic flieger. The 556A's aesthetic is as clean as it gets. A large, clear dial with arabic numerals at 12,3,6, and 9 positions is easy to read, even with your arm fully extended. The bead-blasted stainless steel case measures in at a conservative 38.5mm, which will complement any size wrist. Sinn is known for their impressive construction, as each watch is precision made in Germany from premium materials.

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Archimede Pilot 42

The Pilot 42 from Archimede stays true to its WWII roots. The sterile dial features blued hands that give just a little bit of contrast to its black and white face. To get their blue color, each hand is held over a flame to oxidize the steel to a deep blue. The large, onion-shaped crown is easy to turn, making it a breeze to set the time. The Archimede Pilot 42 is a vintage homage that deserves a spot in your collection.

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Damasko DA 36 Black

Damasko's DA 36 in black is one of the most technically advanced watches on the list. Although it leans toward the modern side, this timepiece's vintage heritage is easily seen. Instead of a standard stainless steel case, the Damasko is made from hardened stainless and then coated in black “Damest” DLC coating for extra scratch resistance. Inside, there's a reliable ETA movement surrounded by an anti-shock and anti-magnetic cage. If you appreciate the small details, head over to their site and read more about the DA 36.

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Do you wear a pilot watch in your EDC? Tell us about your flieger in the comments below.

#aviator-watches #pilot-watches #buying-guides #watches see all



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Discussion (19 total)

Great collection.
I've got an amsler razor. Awesome. Pray tell, What is the brass/bronze gadget with Sweden stamped on it ?
It's called a snap shackle, and is generally used in boating. Here is a link to one on Amazon by a company called Ronstan, which probably the brand of the one in the picture, based on the Sweden stamp. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HJTI4MK/ref=cm_sw_r_other_apa_vf5fzbS0HXY10?tag=bg999-20
Does anyone know what the make of the knife is to the right of the watch.
Its called the VAL I made them a few years ago.. Titanium handles either titanium body or s35vn body... I'm going to make some more soon..
I'd like to buy one if you start making them again. Keep me posted.
I miss the Citizen BM8180 as pilotwatch inspired true EDC watch.
So no IWC or Breitling ... are you guys serious?
Great selection !
Not sure if my citizen is a pilot watch BUT I just absolutely love the simplicity and the total build http://www.citizenwatch.com/en-uk/watches/watch-detail/?model=BN0110-06E&mobile_switch=desktopquality. Great watches here, enjoyed the article.
What's the watch with the nato strap in the headline?
That looks like the Maratac Mid Pilot, the 5th one in the description.
What is the tool in the kydex holder on the key ring? Awesome knife too. I'd like one if he starts making them again.
That was a bottle defense tool 1st gen. I make them here and there.. What I have available is on my etsy..
Is the braided stainless band on the Citizen an aftermarket purchase? I really like that watch but the band on amazon is not like the one pictured.