The very first pilot’s watch was developed by Cartier in 1904. It has been said that Alberto Santos-Dumont, an aviator friend of Louis Cartier, requested for an efficient watch that would allow him to keep time without having to reach in his pocket (during this time, wristwatches weren’t a thing yet, and men would keep their watches in their pockets). Today, the “Santos” is recognized as the first pilot watch ever made.
Since then, the popularity of pilot watches has continued to grow, and today there are so excellent brands to choose from.
While many websites showcase pilot watches from luxury brands that sell for thousands of dollars (such as Breitling or Rolex) or the classic Omega Speedmaster Professional that was the first wristwatch on the moon worn by Buzz Aldrin for the Apollo 11 moon landing, we want to provide options that offer good value for money within a reasonable budget for most of our readers.
So, in this article, we’ll review some of the best pilot watches under $500 including this Eco-Drive Promaster Nighthawk.
(Please note, at the time of publishing, all watches were selling for $500 or less. Prices may have fluctuated since then, possibly pushing them over the original budget. We’ve also tried to include watches at the lower range for decent pilot watches ($150-$200) to provide value options for everyone.
What makes a pilot watch?
There are no clear criteria that make up a pilot watch, but one of its most important features is legibility. The pilot wearing it should be able to easily see the numbers at any time, under any weather condition, so the numerals are usually bold and the case is big.
There are also pilot watches that have extra bezel markings for calculations, as well as Dual Time features that allow them to track different time zones.
Over time, more features were to the watch faces, such as altimeters, compasses, chronographs, and slide rules that allow pilots to measure and do calculations easily.
Below, we’ll also be focusing on watches that have these features.
Best Pilot Watches Under $500
Citizen Promaster Skyhawk A-T
Let’s start off strong. Named after the Navy’s elite flight demonstration squadron, the Citizen Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T is a pilot watch that delivers in both look and functionality.
It also boasts of the “Timekeeping Technology with Synchronized Time Adjustment,” which is available in 44 world cities.
The yellow stitching accentuates the blue leather strap and stainless steel case, giving the watch both sophisticated and fun look (there is also a Blue Angel’s insignia that is replicated on the caseback).
One of the best things about this watch is that it does not need a battery. It can be charged by any light, thanks to the Eco-Drive technology. Other features include a digital backlight, a countdown timer, dual time, and a calendar. It’s also water resistant up to 200m, so you can take it with you to your water activities.
You can also check out the Citizen Eco-Drive Promaster Nighthawk, if you’re looking for a more affordable model with the same functions.
Seiko SND255P1 Flightmaster Pilot Slide Rule Pilot Watch
For those looking for a pilot watch that can also be worn as a dress watch, the Seiko Flightmaster Pilot SND255P1 is an excellent choice.
This stainless steel chronograph has Lumibrite markers, so you will be able to see the time even in extremely dark areas. It also has a stopwatch and a 12-hour totalizer. It has a Hardlex crystal that assures durability, and it’s water resistant up to 100m. If the stainless steel strap is not your thing, you can also change it to other materials like leather.
Seiko is a trusted watch company, so you’re sure that this was made by experienced watchmakers. The best part? This is relatively affordable, considering its functions and material. This one’s actually one of the most affordable items on this list. The watch looks extremely sophisticated (and even a bit intimidating, if you’re using it as a regular watch), but the price tag says otherwise.
The case is big, so the watch looks heavy, but many buyers—pilots included—have pointed out that the watch is actually lighter than other models. If you want a watch that has a professional look but won’t break the bank, this one is a great model to consider.
Jack Mason Men’s Chronograph Watch Aviator
Born in Texas, Jack Mason offers tasteful, contemporary watch designs. A functional everyday watch with a leather strap (interchangeable), the Jack Mason Aviator Chronograph 42mm—a part of its Aviation collection—pays tribute to the classic pilot watch design.
Some of this chronograph’s best features include the SuperLuminova-powered dial and water resistance of up to 100 meters. Some great details on the watch must be pointed out as well: it pays homage to the Texas flag, with subtle red, blue, and white colors, as well as a Texas Lone Star etched on the crow. The textured leather strap also makes the watch look rugged and sophisticated.
Take note that while the dial and blocks are lumed, the numbers are not. The triangle on 12 o’ clock, is lumed as well, so you will be able to use it as a reference.
If you’d like to explore more designs, check out Jack Mason’s website to see more watches from their Aviation collection.
Seiko Men’s Silvertone Solar Alarm Chronograph
While the Seiko SSC007 Chronograph is not specifically marketed by as a pilot watch (like the Flightmaster above) it is something that many pilots recommend and has useful tools including a slide rule. Some of this Seiko model’s other features include a stopwatch, a date window, luminescent hands and markers. It’s also solar-powered, scratch-resistant and is water resistant for up to 100m. The case material is stainless steel with a black ion plated bezel.
One of the great things about Seiko watches is the quality and high-end functions. The company is able to make watches that look like a thousand bucks but only cost less than $500.
This is extremely versatile, too, thanks to the classic, traditional look—you can wear it as a pilot watch, take it diving, wear it as an everyday watch, use it for sports, or wear it as a dress watch. It has also earned a lot of praise on the accuracy of the time.
AVI-8 Men’s AV-4011 Hawker Hurricane Watch
The design of this vintage-inspired AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane watch is both unique and familiar.
It has the classic-looking genuine leather strap, a round stainless steel case, and a white dial, and at the same time, has relatively bigger numbers (especially compared to most watches on this list). Whether you’re using this for aviation or as an everyday watch, you’re sure that you will have a clear view of the watch any time, thanks to the bold hands and numbers.
This one’s called the Hawker Hurricane as it takes inspiration from the fighter aircraft, as well as the men who flew them, from World War II, which is said to be one of the most successful aircraft of the Allied Forces.
AVI-8, a UK company, is changing the game of pilot watches.
Their products are relatively affordable, and you’re sure that the makers are pay close attention not just to design, but functionality as well.
If you are in the UK, AVI-8 offers free shipping.
For other options, see other Hawker Hurricane models here on Amazon. This is a great option if you’re looking for something edgy, functional, and affordable.
Casio G-Shock GA-1100 Gravitymaster
The number of excellent G-Shock models may get dizzying, so let us help narrow things down for you. If you’re looking for an aviation-friendly watch by trusted brand Casio, the G-Shock GA-1100 Gravitymaster is something that deserves a closer look.
The GravityMaster was specifically developed to be an aviation timepiece, with pilots in mind. Some of the most important features of this watch include large and legible numbers/buttons, an LED display light that boasts of high luminosity (you will have any problem if you’re reading in the dark), and a World Time function that allows you to see a second time, in addition to the time in your current location.
Customers are also praising the luminosity, with many users saying that the watch is brighter than other G-Shock models.
Like other G-Shock models, the Gravitymaster is more on the sporty side. This model is available in four colors, so you will have a number of great designs to choose from.
Glycine KMU 48 Kriegs Marine Uhren Stainless Steel Watch
Glycine, a family-run company, has been around since the 1940s and is considered a pioneer for aviation, producing watches with pilots and travelers in mind.
This Swiss watch, like the AVI-8, has bold and big numbers and big seconds subdial at 6 o’clock position. The stainless steel case is extra large too, so if you’re looking for something legible, this is a great choice.
This 48mm watch does not have a crowded face, but it is big (the company actually refers to it as being part of the “Big Size” collection). A number of customers have expressed that it was too big for their wrists, so it’s best that you try this on first before purchasing, to see how well it fits on yours.
This model is one of the priciest on the list, but if you’d like to check out their other aviation watches, specifically the Airman collection (most of which are past the $500 mark), visit their website here.
Hamilton Men’s Khaki Pilot Watch
This Hamilton 42mm Khaki King Pilot watch pays homage to timepieces that early aviators wore. Made of stainless steel case and an anti-reflective sapphire crystal dial window, this watch has bold, Arabic numerals, luminous markers, and the day of the week at the 3 o’clock position.
It’s also water resistant up to 200m, so you will be able to take this watch swimming or other water sports activities.
Swiss-made Hamilton has been making watches—concentrating on pilot watches—for over 100 years, so you know you’re in good hands. The vintage-inspired look makes this one look excellent as either a dress watch or an everyday watch.
Hamilton watches are known for Swiss quality at a relatively affordable watch and a good entry point for anyone buying their first swiss watch that doesn’t want to spend thousands.
Their Khaki Field Watch is now considered a classic.
Laco Augsburg Type A Dial German Automatic Pilot Watch 861688
If you’re into classic pilot watches, you’ve most probably already heard of this brand:
“With a Laco pilot watch, you are not only wearing a precise and robust watch on your wrist, but also a piece of history.”
We’ll be featuring two Laco timepieces, both of which have classic flieger watch designs.
Laco watches have been around since the 1940s. The company has a long tradition of creating watches for pilots—they were asked by the German Airforce to make watches for their pilots in World War II. Today, it’s a favorite among aviators and watch fans alike because of its clean design and functionality.
The Laco Augsburg 42 has a stainless steel, sapphire crystal case, has numbers with Superluminova C3, and a high-quality brown calf leather strap with rivets. This one’s waterproof up to only 5ATM or 50 meters, so it is advised that you do not take it swimming.
This watch is uncluttered: just bold numbers and a simple branding in the middle of the case. This was made like so for pilots to be able to read it easily.
If you’re looking for a simple, classic pilots watch that has excellent finish and a good history, and a well-praised performance consider getting this one.
You can also consider getting the Laco Aachen 42 (it also comes in a smaller size of 38mm if you want a smaller one), another classic and robust model which has a long minute hand that goes around the outer track (take note that both watches do not have date windows).
If you’d like a watch design that has been around since the 1920s and continues to deliver in design and functions, these Flieger watches are the ones that you should take a closer look at.
Seiko SNA411 Flight Alarm Chronograph Watch
Wrapping up the list is another Seiko watch that all pilots will find extremely useful.
The Seiko SNA411 Flight Chronograph Watch looks extremely complicated—having an almost dizzying amount of detail, but this is something that pilots will greatly appreciate.
Some of the functions, as enumerated by this review, include the following: multiplication, division, rule of three calculation, square root calculation, time/speed/distance calculation, fuel consumption rate, required fuel quantity, climbing altitude/rate/time, and so on. There is also a conversion scale for nautical miles, kilometers, feet, gallons, kilogram, pounds/fuel pounds, miles per hour, etc.
All these functions and more at below $500 is a deal that is not easy to match, so if you’re a pilot or are planning to give this to one, this elegant timepiece will be extremely useful.
What is a Pilot watch?
In the most literal sense, an aviator watch is any watch worn by a pilot (or, an aviator). Since the years of the earliest flights, pilots have had watches as a matter of necessity. Over time, watches with certain accessories and a common style came to be known as “aviator watches,” but there is no longer one single type that fits the label.
The original aviator watches were field watches, or military watches, with generally simple white on black designs and easy to read, large dials.
The first specifically designed aviator watches were the 1930’s Flieger style from Luftwaffe which had large numerals on the face. This style of a watch could have a face with diameters as large as 55mm, absolutely giant compared to most modern styles.
Though the minimal Flieger watches are still made by numerous high-end brands, these days, watches that are marketed as aviator watches usually have a plethora of accessories.
These new accessories started appearing at the height of the space race in the 1950s and 60s when advances in flight technology allowed pilots to fly longer and farther.
Pilot Watch Features:
The first adaptation to the traditional “aviator” watch was the addition of a second 24-hour hand that allowed pilots to track their flight time against the standard Greenwich Mean Time while also updating the 12-hour hand for local time zones.
Worn by Air Force pilots and NASA astronauts, these aviator watches became must-have fashion items for the general public, with the Omega Speedmaster becoming a genuine sensation in the 60s.
Over the years, aviator watches have gotten increasingly busy on their faces, with the addition of chronographs, tachymeters, altimeters, compasses, and other navigation tools. These features or “tools” also land pilot watches in a group of timepieces called “Tool Watches” used by special forces, divers, sailors and other enthusiasts who use their watch for navigation or other measurements.
Citizen makes a line of “Hawk” aviator watches that include a circular slide rule that can be used for doing mid-air calculations of fuel and distance.
All modern planes will have similar types of dials or displays for measuring and tracking relevant data, but it never hurts to have a back-up.
Even if a pilot never has a need to use any of the features of their watches (and they probably hope they don’t), at least these timepieces are impressive to look at.
Do pilots really wear pilot watches?
There are a lot of stereotypes associated with pilots, the professed playboys of the sky. Whether flying commercial flights or working privately, pilots have a reputation for being roguish figures and risk-takers with style to burn.
This reputation is owed a great deal to the mid-20th century when the industry was even more of a boys’ club than it is now.
Nowadays, even though the profession has changed dramatically both demographically and in terms of regulations, some stereotypes persist. For instance, pilots still tend to be thought of as stylish, well-heeled travelers with a lot of flash and sophistication.
The picture of a pilot in a pair of mirror sunglasses, a leather jacket, and a flashy aviator wristwatch remains popular in the public imagination.
In truth, while aviator watches remain a trendy style of timepiece, pilots are no more likely to wear them then they are any other type of watch.
Even though the modern aviator watch is often marketed as the ideal tool for pilots, in reality, these watches probably find a greater audience with regular, non-flying purchasers. There are a couple of different reasons for why you often won’t find an aviator watch on a pilot’s wrist.
The first is, as we said above, even though the accessories are cool and useful, it’s rare that a pilot will ever be in a situation where they will actually need them.
Planes are so high-tech and sophisticated these days, aviator watches are little more than quaint throwbacks to a simpler, less computer-oriented time.
That doesn’t mean some pilots couldn’t still find a use for an aviator watch, but most will never use them for anything but timekeeping.
The second reason pilots aren’t the primary target for aviator watches is that all of those accessories and fancy designs usually come with a hefty price tag.
Like most professionals, air pilots have seen their wages decline over the last couple of generations, with their pay not keeping up with inflation. Under these current economic realities, a high-priced wristwatch is a luxury in every meaning of the word.
Still, even though aviator watches are more about style than a necessity these days, they’ll always be a welcome accessory for that special pilot in your life.
Whatever your budget and timekeeping needs, the best aviator watches find a way to blend classic looks and styles with modern technology. They also appeal to a lot more than just aviators, so whether you’re the pilot or a passenger, consider an aviator watch for your next timepiece and enjoy the friendly skies.
We hope this list was useful!
Today’s watchmakers continue to provide new and innovative models that pay focus on both technology and aesthetics, so while today’s pilots can still use these models, this type of watch has grown in popularity among regular users. All of these watches are of excellent quality— explore them further to see what suits your lifestyle best!