History of the Aviator Wristwatch

Having just recently covered the history of the Omega Moon Watch, we thought we would descend in altitude a little and cover the ever-popular aviator style wristwatch. So, if you've ever wondered where they came from and wanted to know about their history please read on to find out more!

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First designed in the early 20th Century the aviator, or pilot’s wristwatch, evolved from a practical need to check the time whilst piloting an aircraft mid-flight. Surely the practise of checking a pocket-watch at this time was impractical, at least aviation pioneers at the time thought so. One such pioneer, Alberto Santos-Dumont, approached his friend, and jeweller, Louis Cartier with the problem, and the first aviator wristwatch was born.

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The aviator was, therefore, one of the earliest types of watches, and soon became part of mainstream fashion as we know today. Originally designed to be worn on the outside of flight jackets, aviators came with large leather straps to accompany their large easy-to-read dial, often marked with Arabic numbers, for further ease of use. This was critical, as before on board computer systems everything would have to be timed manually, which is why the aviator wristwatch became so intertwined with aviation.

Additionally, with the advent of new technology, complications were soon added to the aviator, such as 24 hour hands, which will tell the time in two time zones, rotating outer bezels, and chronometers, used in some cases to time precise flying movements, as for example is common amongst test-flight pilots.

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One of the first well recognised watches to sport such complications was the Rolex GMT ‘Pepsi’ watch (pictured above), so named because of its red and blue rotating bezel which resembled Pepsi’s brand colours and logo, and allowed for measurement of time in two time zones. This watch was designed in the 1960s at the request of Pan AM founder Juan Trippe, and soon other brands such as Omega and Brietling were involved in development of ever improving aviator watches, becoming evermore popular amongst aviators at the time. It was these brands which would ultimately be shortlisted for NASA’s first space-watch, featured in our article here (https://www.boutiquevonburg.com/news/the-moon-watch).


That's it! Another short overview. If you have any thoughts leave us a comment below!