From new luxury takes on classic offerings to interstellar creations ready for the final frontier, Avril Groom finds the most incredible timepieces in 2023 are taking inspiration from the skies and beyond for the next generation of faultless, impeccable designs. The big question though? Which of these will make the grade for space travel?
The World's Best Aviation Watches
25th July 2023
Feast your eyes on 15 of the world's best aviation watches. We have curated the most fascinating watches available now, in all their exquisite detail.
Take a look at Richard Mille’s new RM 62-01, the brand’s latest aviation-inspired timepiece. In Grade 5 titanium and carbon TPT, favourite materials of the aerospace industry, it resembles the cockpit of today’s computerised, connected aircraft, seen through the rounded rectangle of a plane window, rather than a classic pilot’s watch.
The timepiece is based on the materials and testing regime used for modern aeroplanes, with the premise that, despite the difference in scale, it is subjected to similar stresses and also needs to run faultlessly.
Functions include a new tourbillon movement, the first mechanical vibrating 24-hour alarm, a five-function selector, large date, UTC setting, am/pm indicator and power-reserve indicator. Developed over five years, with 816 components and driven by two fast barrels, the RM 62-01 is Richard Mille’s most expensive timepiece at almost £1 million, and shows just how wide the scope of aviation watches now is.
Zenith's Pilot Big Date Flyback
The classic pilot’s watch model emerged in the early days of aviation, when pilots did their own route-finding. It features an open-dialled, pocket-watch-style case with Arabic numerals, bold hands, and luminescence for night visibility. The design has been a hit for a century and most luxury brands have a version.
Zenith was one of the earliest, supplying Louis Blériot for the first flight across the English Channel in 1909. It is the only brand entitled to put the word “pilot” on its dials, and both the new Pilot Big Date Flyback chronograph and Pilot Automatic are contemporary classics.
Longines Pilot Majetek
Oris's Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter
Oris’s Big Crown Calibre 473, based on a 1938 original, has a similar updated vintage look, especially with the new Calibre 473’s Wedgwood-blue dial and brown leather strap, and the brand also flexes its aviation credentials with tool watch models that include flight functions.
The Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter is a thinner, lighter and slicker version of a 2014 model, now in carbon fibre with a titanium caseback and easy-set (via a crown) altimeter that goes up to nearly 20,000 feet.
Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Boeing 747
Breitling’s newest pilot’s chronograph Navitimer (first designed in 1952), the B01 Chronograph 43 Boeing 747, celebrates the last of the long-haul workhorses being delivered this year. It has a bi-directional bezel with pilot’s slide rule for in-flight calculations, chronograph, date window and open back that shows off the famed in-house, COSC-certified, 01 movement. It’s a limited edition of — surprise — 747.
Bremont MB Viper
Aviation watches can also emulate an aircraft’s physical details rather than its function. The new Bremont MB Viper is based on a test instrument watch used in the brand’s collaboration with ejection-seat maker Martin-Baker, and its design reflects standard test instrument colours. In carbon fibre, titanium and anodised aluminium, and housing an exclusive Bremont movement, it is an elegant development of an item not originally intended for sale.
Tudor Black Bay GMT
Tudor’s new version of its Black Bay GMT also cuts across two interpretations of the aviation theme. With its pale opaline dial, white indicators, bezel divided between burgundy and deep blue, and a subtle tonneau case, it recalls the jet-set era. And, with a travel timer showing the hour in three time zones, it is useful for passengers as well as airline personnel.
Montblanc 1858 Geosphere 0 Oxygen The 8000
Some models have the traditional clear numerals, despite different functions. Patek Philippe’s first Pilot chronograph with Travel Time function (5924G) effortlessly combines two time zones, a day/night indicator and date on a beautiful blue-grey sunburst dial. Montblanc’s 1858 Geosphere 0 Oxygen The 8000 has a chronograph movement with world timer addition, two turning hemisphere globes with day/night indicator and a grey glacier pattern dial.
Bell & Ross BR 03-93 GMT
It celebrates the 14 8,000-metre-plus peaks, climbed recently in record time by Nimsdai Purja — landmarks that people are far more likely to view from a plane than set foot on. The BR 03-93 GMT by aviation-founded brand Bell & Ross places the pilot-style dial, in deep blue with a second time-zone hand and date, and 24-hour day/night bezel, on its signature square case with bold screws.
Frederique Constant Highlife Worldtimer
Frederique Constant’s Highlife Worldtimer has a globe motif dial etched with lines of latitude and longitude, a date dial, and more city names than an airport departures board. The latest addition to IWC Schaffhausen’s ceramic Pilot’s Watch Chronograph range is the 41 Top Gun Oceana. The model is slightly smaller than other pieces in the collection and its deep-blue Pantone colour, Oceana, is based on US Navy overalls worn by pilots working on aircraft carriers.
Chanel J12 Cosmic
Cartier's Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-Rotor
Taking aviation watches out of their pilot-style comfort zone is nothing new. In 1904 Louis Cartier designed a flight watch at the request of his aviator friend Alberto Santos- Dumont, which was very different to the round versions that have come to dominate the style. It was smaller, dressier, and square; its numerals — enamelled in black on white — equally clear but Roman. It was probably influenced by a square pocket watch Cartier designed as he experimented with the first stirrings of Art Deco geometry.
By 1911 the Santos model had been commercialised and has remained in the house’s repertoire ever since. The newest edition charmingly focuses on its aviation roots: the skeleton movement has a micro-rotor in the form of a tiny Demoiselle plane, designed by Santos-Dumont in 1907, which moves with the rotor.
Ulysse Nardin's Freak One
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional
There is one watch, however, that has become synonymous with space since it landed on the moon in 1969 — Omega’s Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional. It is a functional chronograph with a speed-measuring tachymeter, but that doesn’t explain its popularity. Its latest upgrade, in black with white details and a nylon strap, is very close to the original style. The wait is on to see which model takes off for space tourism.