Article By: Logan Hannen
What is up, watchfam?! Today, we’re going to take a look at the pilot or flieger watch and what makes this horological icon what it is.
So the original flieger watches were developed during World War II as a method of timekeeping specifically for fighter pilots. Many of the hallmarks that we’ll talk about in a minute feature heavily on even the modern versions, with perhaps one exception: the original fliegers were all roughly 55 mm in case diameter! There’s “big watches” and then there’s “wearing a clock on your wrist.” These are definitely more akin to the latter category.
Originally, there were five companies who produces a majority of the flieger watches used by WWII pilots: Lange (this one always fascinates me), Stowa, Laco, IWC, and Wempe. For a more detailed history of their contributions, check out this in-depth discussion over at Monochrome’s website, which goes into way more detail than we can here.
Alright, so we have a bit of history. Now let’s dig into the key features of a Pilot’s watch. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the need for extreme legibility. These are pieces that need to be able to be seen through flight goggles and at a quick glance. That means almost exclusively large, Arabic numerals, and very little else on the dial. IWC strays from this pretty substantially with their modern Big Pilots, including a power reserve and a date, but somehow they still manage to keep it clean and relatively clutter free otherwise. Another major feature is the presence of an oversized, typically onion-style crown, which exists to make the crown easier to grip with flight gloves. You also tend to see them being a bit on the bigger side, traditionally, through smaller pilot watches have been a trend for a while as the historical context of these pieces becomes just that – history. Frankly, most pilot watches won’t be used by real pilots these days, so it does give the brands a bit more freedom in the design department.
Aside from that, we typically see two main dial types. Type A dials are adorned with the Arabic numerals for 1-12, while Type B dials are a bit more complex, shifting the 1-12 to the inner part of the dial and reserving the outer portion for the minutes from 5-60. These days, your dial preference is pretty much limited to which you prefer aesthetically.
Well, that about does it for us! Hopefully now you have a better sense of what makes a watch a pilot’s watch. For more info on all things horology, keep your eyes locked on this space and, as always, keep it classy, watchfam.