As 2016 draws to a close and we all prepare for the launch of new watches in 2017 — starting in January at Geneva’s SIHH watch fair — we take a look back at some of the most notable timepieces launched at this year’s SIHH and Baselworld, in several popular categories. Today, we spotlight eight notable pilots’ and aviation-influenced watches that made it onto our radar.
Bell & Ross, already experienced in making watches for pilots, has now created a mechanical chronograph for astronauts. The Bell & Ross BR-X1 Hyperstellar has been engineered to withstand the rigors of outer space missions. Bell & Ross used a combination of grade 5 titanium and blue anodized aluminum for the square, 45-mm case. Both tough-yet-lightweight materials are used widely in the aerospace industry; aluminum is prized for its ability to generate an impermeable, corrosion-resistant oxide layer and titanium for both its corrosion-resistant properties and biocompatibility. The combination of colors also are symbolic of space exploration: blue for the Earth, gray for the moon. The case cover, middle, and center are made of the micro-blasted and polished titanium, while the aluminum is used for the protective bezel insert. Adding to the case’s near-impermeability is a bumper made of titanium and rubber that acts as a protective shell. Ergonomic rubber-grip chronograph push-buttons are easily handled even by hands wearing thick gloves, and the dial design emphasizes easily readability in all conditions. The skeletonized, automatic Caliber BR-CAL.313, beneath the grey-tinted sapphire dial, has an “X”-shaped upper bridge treated with black DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon) and a chronograph function with a central 60-second counter and a 30-minute subdial at 9 o’clock that uses an aluminum disk reminiscent of turbine blades, rather than a conventional hand. The satin-finished titanium caseback is secured by screws, and has a small “planetary observation porthole” in the upper half, providing a glimpse of the movement’s balance.
The Breguet Type XXI 3817 — descendant of the brand’s early-20th century aviator watches worn by the French air force — boasts an all-new slate-gray dial and this collection’s first see-through sapphire caseback. Equipped with a flyback chronograph function, the watch has a 42-mm steel case with the vintage-influenced fluted caseband that is characteristic of Breguet’s luxury pilots’ watch collection. The case’s bidirectional rotating bezel, a fixture of classical pilots’ watches, has engraved Arabic numerals and a smooth, brushed finish; the screw-locked crown aids in the case’s water resistance of 100 meters. The crystal is sapphire and the lugs are elegantly rounded. The dial details include luminescent Arabic hour numerals, luminescent hour and minute hands, a 24-hour day-night indicator subdial at 3 o’clock, date window at 6 o’clock, and small seconds subdial at 9 o’clock. Two center-mounted hands count off the chronograph seconds and minutes (indicated on a 60-minute track on the dial’s outer ring), while the subdial at 6 o’clock tallies up to 12 elapsed chronograph hours. The self-winding movement that powers the watch, the numbered and signed Breguet Caliber 584Q/2, is on display through the sapphire caseback. The watch comes on a vintage-style brown calfskin strap.
With the launch of its own in-house base movement, Caliber B01, in 2009, Breitling earned its place among the ranks of true watchmaking manufactures. With this year’s launch of the Breitling Avenger Hurricane — featuring a case made of a new, proprietary alloy called Breitlight — it joined the even more exclusive club of watch brands that have created their own case materials. Breitlight, used here for the first time on a watch case, is a high-tech material that Breitling says is four times lighter than titanium but significantly harder. Among its other listed attributes are exceptional resistance to scratches, traction, and corrosion; thermal stability; and antimagnetic and non-allergenic properties, in addition to being warmer to the touch than other metals and, aesthetically, having a somewhat mottled surface texture. The 50-mm case is water-resistant to 100 meters and has a unidirectional rotating bezel with rider tabs. The screw-locked crown and chronograph push-pieces have a grooved checkerboard pattern for a non-slip grip. The movement is Caliber B12, a variation on Breitling’s B01 base caliber, with the 24-hour time display added to that movement’s other notable attributes, including automatic winding, a high-frequency balance, a 70-hour power reserve, and an integrated 1/4 second chronograph. For more details and photos, click here.
IWC incorporated a handful of design revisions in the new Pilot’s Watches it introduced at this year’s SIHH. Most of these were aesthetic revamps, but one new watch boasts a major new technical advance as well: the IWC Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph, with its easy-to-use time zone function in which the wearer can set a new zone simply by using the bezel. The wearer simply presses the city-ring bezel down, turns it so the city representing the desired time zone is at 12 o’clock, and release. Both the hour hand and the small, red-tipped 24-hour hand will move synchronously with the turning of the bezel, and the date display will also change accordingly, either forward or backward. The 24-hour hand, which indicates the time on an inner ring, ensures that the wearer always will know whether it is day or night in his selected time zone. The advance of the minute hand, and all the watch’s other functions, are unaffected while changing time zones. The sprung-rotating bezel moves only when pressure is exerted on it from opposite sides (thumb and index finger), releasing the lock and protecting the ring from inadvertant rotations. When the pressure is released, a spring mechanism returns it to its original locked position. The watch, which has a 45-mm steel case, also features a chronograph function; its movement is IWC’s Caliber 89760, which boasts a 68-hour power reserve. More on the Timezoner here.
The Perrelet Turbine Pilot Grand Raid, a limited-edition watch with a military-aviation flavor from the brand’s flagship Turbine collection, was a showcase piece at the Perrelet booth. It is distinguished from other Turbine watches by the circular slide rule bezel that rings its moving, turbine-inspired double-rotor dial. Composed of concentric circles with different graduated scales, with an inner ring that rotates in both directions, this instrument, controlled by the crown at 3 o’clock, enables a pilot to quickly make numerical calculations and convert measurement data, two useful functions while in flight. The watch has a black-PVD-coated steel case that measures an ample 48 mm in diameter and 13.65 mm thick. Beneath the 12 black, anodized aluminum turbine blades of the upper dial is a black under-dial with beige streaks, which reveals its face when the wearer’s wrist motions activate the five tungsten counterweights under the blades, spinning them for a dynamic optical effect of shifting colors. The watch contains the in-house, automatic Perrelet Caliber P-331, and comes on a beige nylon strap, which matches the dial’s numerals.
The Tutima Grand Flieger is the revised and modernized re-edition of the historical Fliegerchronograph that the German brand introduced in 1941 (and later released in a replica edition in 1990).The original Fliegerchronograph was, Tutima says, the first German-made chronograph outfitted with a flyback mechanism. The contemporary version has a larger case (43-mm diameter) but maintains much of the original’s vintage details, such as the stark, black-and-white dial, the notched, bidirectional coin-edged bezel with red reference marker at 12 o’clock, and the vintage-style hands and Arabic numerals. The chronograph’s sweep seconds hand is bright red. The subdials at 12, 6, and 9 o’clock display, respectively, 30 elapsed chronograph minutes, 12 elapsed chronograph hours, and running seconds. The watch is powered by Tutima Caliber 320, an automatic movement with an “antique gray” rotor and a power reserve of 44 hours. The black leather strap with white contrast stitching is also a nod to the early days of aviation watches.
Britain’s Speake-Marin is known more for its forays into high-end complications, but the brand also offers sportier options in its Spirit line, which uses many of the same iconic Speake-Marin design elements, including the familiar Piccadilly case and the “Foundation” hands, but adds a distinctive aviation-watch influence. The Speake-Marin Spirit Wing Commander has a 42-mm case made of grade 5 titanium and a matte black dial with contrasting indexes and hands. The self-winding movement, which Speake-Marin calls Caliber Timeless 1024, provides a very interesting layout and displays useful indications, including a big date at 12 o’clock, small seconds at 9 o’clock (represented here by a white wheel in the ‘topping tool’ shape that is now emblematic of the brand) and a power-reserve indicator at 6 o’clock — in the style of a cockpit dashboard’s fuel gauge — which displays a bright, Super-LumiNova white when completely wound (full, at 48 hours), then turning black (half-full), and finally red (running on empty) as the mainspring winds down. The indexes and numerals are made of white elements in Super-LumiNova, in 3D relief and inserted into the dial, creating a contrast with the black dial and thus excellent legibility. The watch is on a reddish brown, stitched calf leather strap with a titanium pin buckle.
The Zenith Pilot Type 20 GMT — one of two new editions from the popular aviation-inspired collection that are exclusive to North America — sports a 48-mm-diameter case made of black DLC-coated titanium with a domed sapphire crystal. The numerals on the deep blue dial are treated with cream-colored Super-LumiNova for a “vintage” look. Bright red is used for the tip of the central GMT hand and the numerals on the 24-hour scale on which the dual-time function is displayed. Small seconds appear on a subdial at 9 o’clock. The movement is Zenith’s automatic Elite 693, with a frequency of 28,800 vph, 26 jewels, and a 50-hour power reserve. The watch’s case is water-resistant to 100 meters and features a solid, engraved caseback depicting the Wright Brothers’ historic “Flyer” glider launching over Kitty Hawk in 1903. It features all the characteristics of Zenith’s modern-day Pilot collection, whose looks are heavily influenced by the watches the company produced in the early days of aviation, including a large, ratcheted crown, broad luminescent Arabic numerals, and period-appropriate stylized hands. Limited to only 50 pieces, the watch has a dial-matching blue alligator strap and a black titanium pin buckle.