Published on January 8th, 2021
Aviator watches, also known as “pilot watches,” have been among the most popular and recognizable wristwatch styles on the market today, and for many years. These types of watches are easily recognizable for their size, which is quite large, as well as their black dial.
Aviator watches are also notable for their oversized ratcheted crown, or “onion,” and the triangle marking 12 o’clock. Over time, these features have tended t evolve from the first aviator watches, which became a vital instrument in virtually every cockpit in the early days of flight, when pilots were true pioneers.
A Short History Of Aviator Watches
What we now refer to as the “aviator watch” was born during flying’s “golden age,” which refers to the period during the 1920s and 1930s. That said, the very first “aviator watch” was the one made by Louis Cartier for his friend, Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1904.
The watch was originally commissioned following Santos-Dumont’s successful dirigible flight around the Eiffel Tower. Apparently, one pilot found it too clumsy to use a pocket watch while also operating the dirigible’s difficult controls.
The Santos-Dumont wristwatch was the solution. The original aviator watch featured a square dial, and had a clear white face with Roman numerals in what has been described as a practical basic case because that was exactly what was needed. More than a century later, these watches have the same basic look, except for a round watch face instead of square.
That change came about as the First World War changed both the needs and demands of pilots, and therefore, pilot watches. Starting with the War, the demands placed on aviator watches changed, and so did the design. These watches were considered essential equipment during wartime, and military specifications meant watches had to be round.
Which Watch Did World War I Aviators Wear?
Another famous brand name associated with the category during the early days of flying was Zenith. Back in 1909, Frenchman Louis Blériot swam across the English Channel wearing a Zenith wristwatch and won a £1,000 prize as a result.
Before the First World War broke out, aviator watches were largely used to time the duration of flights. However, the war demanded more from planes and pilots, so the watches, through necessity, became a lot more sophisticated. Aviator watches from that period were used to aid navigation and coordinate attacks, making them essential military equipment.
Aviation Watches After The First World War
After the war, when aviation became more commonplace, aviation watches became exponentially more sophisticated. The watch used by Charles Lindbergh in his historic 1927 transatlantic flight was quite advanced.
However, Lindbergh then helped with the development of the “Angle Hour Watch,” which allowed any pilot to adjust the crown while listening to a series of short beeps, thus virtually eliminating navigational errors while adjusting their watch..
The Lindbergh Angle Hour watch also featured a rotating seconds hand and it had a rotating seconds dial in the center. Models of the Lindbergh Angle Hour Watch are still in production, and Longines also released a commemorative version of the watch for the 90th Anniversary of Lindbergh’s flight.
World War II Aviator Watches
The aviator watches used during the Second World War were far more precise than those that came before, and they came with a double strap that was very long; long enough for pilots to slip over the cuff of their thick flying jackets.
Because the watches were so precise, there was no need for constant corrections and they had a very easy-to-read black dial with luminous white markings and sword-like hands, which allowed the pilot to read it in practically any light, including the deepest time of night.
Aviator Watches Today
As flying became increasingly advanced, watchmakers tried to keep up. These days, aviator watches tend to combine the classic lines and style of aviator watches from the classics with modern features that keep up with the modern technological features common with other watches.