Another Friday, another list! After last week’s list of our favorite field watches of 2023, it’s time to move on to another popular tool-watch category. In this week’s article, we will be sharing the 10 best pilot’s watches released this year. Pilot’s watches are a genre with a tremendous amount of history and sentiment. That makes it a joy to look back on some of this year’s best in the category.

Back in September, Thomas wrote a nice article asking whether pilots still wear pilot’s watches. It’s a legitimate question as there are watches like the Apple Watch that provide much relevant information that a mechanical watch simply can’t. But beating a pilot’s watch’s traditional functionality and charm is hard. Often steeped in the rich history of military aviation, these watches offer great historical stories combined with modern-day technology. But we have also seen more modern pilot’s watches arrive on the scene. That’s why this list of 10 favorites is surprisingly varied in terms of looks. Now let’s jump right in!

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 Top Gun Mojave Desert

We’ll start the list with a Fratello favorite. As always, IWC has plenty of pilot’s watches to choose from for a best-of list. But when the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 Top Gun Mojave Desert landed on Lex’s desk, we agreed that this was the best of the bunch. The Pilot’s Chronograph was the missing model among the permanent Mojave Desert models, which always felt unfair. Sure, there was the bigger 500-piece limited edition from 2019, but that should not be a reason to leave it out. On top of that, it was a 44.5mm version of the same watch.

So we were happy that IWC announced the smaller 41mm version in October. IWC nailed the desert look with the Mojave Desert line of watches. The sand-colored ceramic case with the darker brown dial and lighter lume that matches the case looks stunning. The textile-filled rubber strap completes the stylish look. In terms of dimensions, the case is 41.9mm wide, 15.5mm thick, and 51.8mm from lug to lug. Inside it, IWC uses its caliber 69380, an automatic column-wheel chronograph movement with a 46-hour power reserve. This surprise release is easily one of the year’s best. Watch for Lex’s hands-on review next week to find out more.

Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback

This year also marked the revamp of the famous Zenith Pilot series. The Zenith El Primero Rainbow Flyback from the late 1990s is a Fratello team favorite. Many of us were happy that the brand from Le Locle revived its colorful aesthetic in a modern stainless steel case for the new Pilot Big Date Flyback. It’s one of two versions. The other is an all-black ceramic one that looks stealthy, with only the white luminous parts immediately standing out during the day and in the dark. Among them is the big date display at 6 o’clock that changes the date at a lightning-quick speed of 0.07 seconds.

The horizontal groove pattern on the dials of both watches is inspired by the design of old Junkers airplanes. A fun detail is that it’s a motif that also inspired the design of the famous Rimowa suitcases. As Robert-Jan explained in an installment of Sunday Morning Showdown, “Pilot” is a trademarked name that only Zenith can use on the dial. For both models, the case measures 42.5mm in diameter, 51.4mm in length, and 14.3mm in thickness. Inside the case, you’ll find the El Primero 3652 caliber, a high-beat flyback chronograph movement with 60 hours of power reserve. Our favorite stainless steel version comes in at €12,300, while the black ceramic version is €14,500.

Longines Pilot Majetek “1935”

Another immediate standout this year was the Longines Pilot Majetek “1935.” The watch was modeled after the original watch that the Czechoslovak Air Force commissioned. For that watch, the specific requests were plenty of lume for great readability and a rotating bezel with a large triangular marker to indicate the starting time of a mission. The design that Longines created was registered on April 1, 1935, at the IPO office in Bern, hence the “1935” in the name. On the case back of the original watches that were handed out to the Czechoslovak pilots, the text “Majetek Vojenské Správy” was engraved. Translated, it means “Property of the Military Administration.”

Longines Majetek

As Robert-Jan explained, the new version of this historical classic features a 43mm case that is 13.3mm thick. The case design was slightly modernized with the addition of crown guards. But the watch does have the characteristic rotatable bezel with the large triangular marker. It hovers over the black dial with large, raised Arabic numerals and small seconds at 6 o’clock. Powering the watch is the modern Longines caliber L893.6 with a 72-hour power reserve. The standout Pilot Majetek “1935” is €4,150. You only have to choose from a brown leather strap, a dark green leather strap, or a khaki-green NATO strap.

Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Chronograph 5924G

During Watches and Wonders this year, Patek Philippe released two versions of the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Chronograph 5924G. Both watches have a 42mm × 13.5mm white gold case with a beautiful high-polish finish. The first features a gorgeous khaki-green lacquered dial, whereas the second has a stunning blue sunburst dial. Both distinctively differ while featuring the famous Patek Pilot aesthetic with a round case and oversized pushers. Add the dials with large applied white gold numerals and sword-style hands, and you have a style you can recognize from a mile away.

Patek Philippe 5924G-001

Besides the instantly recognizable style, both watches are powered by the automatic CH 28-520 C FUS caliber. The movement combines a flyback chronograph, a pointer date, and a travel-time complication. As we are used to from Patek, the different functions are all cleanly integrated, so great readability is guaranteed. When picking a favorite, the khaki-green version oozes pure class. The blue version is sportier and offers more variation with its white elements on the dial. Still, it’s a hypothetical choice for me because these two beautiful pilot’s watches come in at CHF 64,000 each.

Breguet Type 20

Breguet Type 20 and Type XX

Regarding pilot’s watches, the two biggest releases this year undoubtedly came from Breguet. The brand released the Type 20 and Type XX simultaneously. As Robert-Jan explained, there are some significant differences between the two. The Type 20 Chronograph ref. 2057 is based on the military original Type 20 with just two registers on the dial. The second model, the Type XX Chronograph ref. 2067, is based on the civilian ref. 2988, which first came about in 1957. Both watches have the same 42mm × 14.1mm case, but as you can see, the bezel and crown designs are slightly different. Furthermore, the black dials have different lume colors, handsets, and layouts.

Watch Fans

As they are two different watches, they also house different movements. Both are new in-house-developed automatic calibers. The Type 20 is powered by the caliber 728, while the Type XX is powered by the caliber 7281. Both are column-wheel chronograph movements with a flyback function. They tick at a high-beat 36,000vph frequency and provide 60 hours of power reserve. The 7281 utilizes 11 more components due to the 12-hour totalizer at 6 o’clock. These two new renditions of Breguet’s iconic pilot’s watches are priced at €19,300 and are among this year’s favorites.

Praesidus PAC-76

The next one is in a completely different price league, but it’s a pilot’s watch with plenty of vintage charm. As Mike explained, the classic Lemania Royal Navy pilot’s watch from the 1970s inspired the new PAC-76 model from Praesidus. It’s another great addition to the brand’s catalog of military reissues with great historical stories. For this watch, Praesidus decided to go for a 38.5mm case that is only 11.3mm thick with the domed mineral crystal. These are nice dimensions that fit a variety of wrist sizes. As you can see, the black popcorn-textured dial features a set of numerals in two sizes and colors. The numerals at 6 and 12 o’clock are bigger than the others and are yellow instead of white.

But the yellow comes back with the dots located at the other hour markers and in the lume on the handset. It’s a nice dynamic that makes this dial colorful but easy to read. The two chronograph registers are placed at 3 and 9 o’clock, replacing the hour numerals and creating a balanced dial design. Praesidus decided to use a VK64 meca-quartz movement that allows for a slim case profile. This great-looking watch is available on a Bonklip-style bracelet for US$395 or a sand-distressed leather strap, black leather strap, or a one-piece NATO strap for US$345. Once again, Praesidus offers great value for money with its first pilot’s chronograph.

Bremont Vulcan

Another brand that can’t be left off this list is Bremont. The British brand offers a great variety of pilot’s watches. The immediate standout for 2023 was the remarkable MB Viper with its unique case shape and bright colors. However, we opted for a more traditional pilot’s chronograph. The Bremont Vulcan pays tribute to the iconic Avro Vulcan B-1 jet bomber of the Royal Air Force, which flew from the 1950s to the 1980s. This 250-piece limited edition is a charming monopusher chronograph with plenty of nice details to make it stand out. The watch has a hardened stainless steel case that is 42mm wide, 51.5mm from lug to lug, and 14.9mm thick.

The black dial features a clean layout with a date window at 6 o’clock and two registers. Sitting at 9 o’clock is the running seconds sub-dial, which is decorated with a camouflage pattern. The chronograph’s minute counter at 3 o’clock features a nuclear symbol. It indicates the arsenal carried by the Vulcan B-1 bombers during the Cold War. Blue details come in the form of a central chronograph seconds hand and the “1952” text on the lower half of the dial. Inside the case, Bremont uses its Sellita SW510-based BE-51AE automatic movement, providing 56 hours of power reserve. Lastly, the brilliant camo sailcloth strap makes this €4,480 Bremont Avro Vulcan B-1 one of the best-looking watches on this list.

Fortis Flieger F-43 Bicompax

Of course, Fortis is another brand that has to be on this list. With an extensive Flieger collection, the brand has many options for fans of modern pilot’s watches. We worked with Fortis on our version of the F-43 Bicompax, which was a step away from the usual, more straightforward dial designs. Either way, the F-43 Bicompax is a very competent and modern pilot’s chronograph that looks amazing. The watch has a 43mm brushed stainless steel case that is 15mm thick and 55mm from lug to lug. So it’s certainly a large watch, but despite its substantial size, it wears very well.

It has a 24-click bidirectional bezel, and you can choose from three regular dial colors. The Black, Petrol Indigo, and Liberty Blue dial options all have a vertically brushed finish to give them extra depth. There’s also the Original version with green lume and orange accents on a matte black dial. But if you want something even more different, that’s where our Fratello × Fortis Flieger F-43 Bicompax Umber Brown Capsule Edition comes in. The umber dial with its vertically brushed finish gives the feeling of a wooden panel of a luxury car’s dashboard. Inside the F-43 Bicompax, you will find the caliber UW-51, an automatic Sellita SW510 that also powers the Bremont we discussed. The F-43 Bicompax starts at €3,800 on the bracelet and €3,450 on a strap, which will get you a modern and competent pilot’s chronograph.

Sinn 356 Pilot Chronograph

In September, Sinn released three new versions of its classic 356 Pilot Chronograph to celebrate 25 years of its 356 model. The three versions are all completely different thanks to their dials. The first of the three is a 500-piece limited edition with a stunning matte anthracite dial and silver sub-dials at 3 and 9 o’clock. Additionally, the large numerals and syringe-style hands are filled with white lume that nicely contrasts the gray dial. If you ask me, this is the best of the three, and you can still get it on the Sinn website. The second is a more retro-inspired version with an anthracite vignette dial and dark beige lume. It turns the vintage charm up to 11.

The third and last one is a panda-dial version with black numerals and black hands with white lume. I have to give it to the designers at Sinn; they knocked it out of the park with the aesthetics of these three models. They all feature a case with a 38.5mm diameter. The limited edition’s case is slightly slimmer at 15mm, while the unlimited models have a 15.6mm thickness. Inside the cases, Sinn uses the same Sellita SW510 that the previous two watches on this list and also offers a 56-hour power reserve. The limited edition is available at €2,990, while the regular models (here and here) go for €2,390 on a leather strap, €2,600 on rubber, or €2,615 on a bracelet.

Breitling Avenger B01 Chronograph 44

Breitling Avenger B01 Chronograph 44

Closing out our list of this year’s 10 best pilot’s watches is the revamped Breitling Avenger B01 Chronograph 44. Lex took the Land Rover green 44mm model for a spin just recently and was greatly impressed. I tried the watch on quickly and was pleasantly surprised by its colors and how comfortable it feels on the wrist. Compared to the previous 45mm Avenger Chronograph, the new case is smaller at 44mm wide, 53mm long, and 15.2mm thick. So it’s still a big boy, but it’s no longer an over-the-top big chunk of steel.

Inside the case, Breitling uses its in-house COSC-certified automatic B01 movement. This much-respected chronograph caliber operates at 28,800vph and has a 70-hour power reserve. The three sub-dials on our review model were executed in black and contrasted nicely with the powdery green dial color. The blue- and the beige-dial variants follow the same principle with black sub-dials, while the fully black model is much more straightforward. The green, blue, and beige versions come in at €7,600 on a strap, while the black version is €7,900 on a bracelet. Breitling did a great job updating the new 44mm Avenger Chronograph, and that’s why it closes out this list.

Breitling Avenger

Final thoughts on the best pilot’s watches of 2023

There you have it — our top 10 picks for the best pilot’s watches released in 2023. It has become a varied list that shows the many great options you have when looking for a pilot’s watch. That’s why I’d like to pass the question over to you. What are your favorite pilot’s watches that came out this year? Let us know your picks in the comments section, and we will see you next week for a new best-of-2023 list!