The first-ever pilot watch was created by Cartier in 1904 and named Santos, after Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aeronautical inventor who contributed greatly to the development of hot air balloons, airships, and airplanes.
As the legend goes, Alberto Santos-Dumont, after he made his first flight and received a German Prize for the stunt, told his friend, Louis Cartier, that it was difficult for him to check the time during his flight using his pocket watch. Cartier took that as an inspiration and developed the first pilot watch, that he named after him. It also was one of the very first wristwatches for men ever created.
Till today, the Cartier Santos is famous not just for its historical background but also its unique square case shape. The other important piece in pilot watch history is the Zenith Louis Bleriot. Louis Bleriot was the first man to fly across the English Channel in 1909, shortly after the Wright brothers and Santos.
These are the main features of a pilot watch:
1. Big Legible Hands And Markers
Perhaps the best-known feature of aviator watches is the easy-to-read dial due to its oversize hands and markers. Pilot watches use full numeral markers instead of index markers as it’s easier to read the time. Many pilot watches have large, dark dials with contrasting numbers or indices. They also are bigger than normal watches having big crowns for easy-to-operate using gloves.
2. Luminous Dial
Pilot watches offer a good amount of luminosity to enhance readability for night flight.
3. Anti-Magnetic Case
Another important feature of a pilot watch is an anti-magnetic case. Since an airplane cockpit is filled with instruments that can emit strong electromagnetic force, it is important for the pilot’s watch to have a good anti-magnetic case to ensure its movement is working precisely.
4. Timekeeping Precision And Accuracy
Pilot watch also needs higher than the average accuracy in its timekeeping.
5. Impact/Vibration Resistance
Airplanes are subjected to high G-force while taking off so it’s very important for the watch to have a good-impact resistance built into it.
6. Dual Time or GMT/UTC Function
Some pilot watches also have a dual time or GMT complication to track multiple time zones or coordinated universal time (UTC).
Longines, Breguet, Zenith, and IWC, among others, are famous watchmakers who make high-quality pilot watches. Johnson Watch Company, Connaught Place, New Delhi, has a huge collection of Pilot watches, in case you wish to see them in flesh.