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I work with a lot of professional pilots and I have been observing what watches they wear. I have seen a two Rolex subs, two Seamasters, two Breitlings, a cheaper Tag

So far so normal...

But I see an awful lot more cheap digital watches and cheap quartz watches. Not many chronographs.

This got me thinking, what watch do pilots really wear? The watch industry/advertising would lead us to believe pilots are all wearing Breitlings and 'aviator style' watches, but this doesn't seem to be the case in reality. I know that not many of the pilots use their watch as part of the job. The aircraft all have clocks, GPS etc.

So....what watch do pilots really wear?
 

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When I was at the bourget exhibit 2 years ago, I have seen some pilots wearing specific limited edition of the chronomat, emergency and navitimer (those were mostly RAF and USAF pilots). I have also seen some wearing tutima, orfina, heuer and porsche design chronographs with the 5100 movement. I have also seen some speedmaster pro.
 

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I have grown up with pilots my whole life. The answer is whatever they want. Some of them are into watches, some of them don't really care. There is no specific type of watch they are into in general. It is an individual preference just like anything else.
 

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When I was at the bourget exhibit 2 years ago, I have seen some pilots wearing specific limited edition of the chronomat, emergency and navitimer (those were mostly RAF and USAF pilots). I have also seen some wearing tutima, orfina, heuer and porsche design chronographs with the 5100 movement. I have also seen some speedmaster pro.
They only wear those for show. When they're actually flying, they wear one of these:

 

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Well, I wore a chase durer flight commander for nearly 10 years. It was a good watch, but I never once used the E6B bezel on in. I see a few that actually wear their Breitlings, Rolex's or Omega's, but they are certainly in the minority. Pilots are notoriously cheap when it comes to most of their gear, and I see most wearing digitals, fossils, or timex expeditions. Some aren't wearing watches at all. There really isn't a need for all the fancy stuff associated with a lot of pilots watches out there. A watch that has a second time zone and alarms certainly comes in handy though. I have found that a basic digital Gshock fits my needs the best. Solar, atomic, stopwatch, backlight, world time, multiple alarms for those early wakeup calls, and it can take a beating. I would not submit my nicer watches to the harsh environment that comes with the territory. Cockpits are generally small spaces with lots of things to bang your wrists against. Pilots are always reaching for charts, paperwork, sun visors, etc. The watch will take a beating.

So I rotate between the GWM5600 and GW5600J. They are lightweight, durable, and very well suited to the job....



 

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When I worked at a small FBO, we had pilots come in flying everything from small Cessnas to Gulfstream G650s. I noticed a variety of watches on their wrists and had some nice watch related conversations while conducting business. Anyway, when they were wearing a watch at all or something nicer than an average Casio or GShock, I mostly noticed brands like Torgoen, Breitling, TAG and Rolex. The guys flying the Gulfstreams and the like usually had the nicer watches on. I don't think there was any one brand I noticed more than others maybe with the exception of Torgoen. I would go with Patrick on this one and say whatever they felt like or were into.
 

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I have a feeling pilots just wear whatever they have now and probably have since quartz hit the big time. I'm sure planes themselves now have redundant electronic chronometers, GPS, radio, and radar tracking - pilots no longer have to rely on their wristwatch to figure out where they are or how fast they're going.

There may have been standardized (or accepted standard) watches through the Vietnam war and into the 70s (fliegers for WW2, maybe original Breitling chronographs for the 70s), but that was when pilots relied on these things. Now, not so much.

Frankly I'd be just a little frightened if every modern navigation aid on my transatlantic airliner failed and my pilot had to whip out his mechanical chronograph, sextant, compass, and map to get me across an ocean...
 
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My cousin flies Lears for Walmart corporate and he wears a some kind of CBP (timex digital, I think). Several years ago I remember showing him my new Speedy Pro and explaining its historical significance and such and he seemed kind of "meh" about the whole thing, which actually surprised me. I thought he might have been distracted at the time (it was a family Xmas gathering), but when I showed him my new Citizen Nighthawk a few years back (we were just hanging out) and his response was still the same. And this is a guy who has a poster of a Nighthawk on his study wall!

One thing I have noticed is that most of the commercial/pro pilots that I know or have met are really into motorcycles. That seems to me to be more common than any kind of "pilots" watches.
 

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I've been a pilot for 45 years and to me a pilots watch is one that is very easy to read at a quick glance, especially in very low light(ie, cockpit at night). For my old eyes now, this one fits the bill nicely.
 

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This got me thinking, what watch do pilots really wear?
Whatever they feel like, just like everyone else. There is nothing about being a pilot in a modern plane that requires any particular watch, or any watch at all.
 
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