The aviation watch sometimes called the pilot’s watch is one of the most popular watch designs you’ll find today.
The roots of this type of watch can be traced back more than a century, all the way back to 1904, when it was first developed by Cartier.
It all started when a friend of Louis Cartier, Alberto Santos-Dumont asked for a timepiece that allowed him to keep time without reaching into his pocket.
This is because back then, the only watches available to people was the pocket watch, so Cartier developed the “Santos” wristwatch that is considered to be the first aviation watch.
And up until today, these watches are considered some of the most functional and most stylish timepieces out there.
But I’ve found that when aviation watches are ranked, it’s more than likely that only the very expensive models from luxury brands like Rolex and Patek-Philippe are featured on the list.
In this article, we’re going to change things up a bit as we talk about the best aviation watches that you can get for under $500 (trust me, there are a lot).
So read on to find out more.
- The Best Aviation Watches For Under $500
- Reviews of the Best Watches Under $500 for Aviators
- Buying Guide For Aviation Watches
The Best Aviation Watches For Under $500
Related watch collections:
Reviews of the Best Watches Under $500 for Aviators
1. Citizen AT8020-03L
- Stainless steel watch with slide-rule bezel featuring blue dial with chronograph functions and date window at three o'clock
- 43 millimeters stainless steel case with antireflective-sapphire dial window
- Japanese quartz movement with analog display.All Reset:When the watch does not work properly, you can reset all the settings. If...
Kicking things off is this tough model from Citizen.
It’s also called the Citizen Promaster Blue Angles Sky Hawk A-T, and while that might sound like a lengthy title, it’s a very accurate one.
It gets the “Blue Angels” tag because it was named after the Navy’s elite demonstration squadron, which is where it gets its simple, yet very attractive blue and yellow colorway.
It also has an Atomic Timekeeping feature, which uses radio frequencies to sync it to the atomic clock, giving you the world’s most accurate time.
On top of that, it can keep that time in 44 different timezones, which is great for aviators, or simply people who find themselves traveling a lot.
However, one of the main highlights of this one is the fact that it doesn’t need a battery.
This is because, even though it’s technically a quartz watch, it runs on Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology, which uses solar power to charge and power it.
So not only will you always have accurate time with this one, but you’ll also never have to worry about the battery dying on you and it suddenly stops.
- Doesn’t need a battery
- Stylish design
- Contains a chronograph
- Has an atomic timekeeping feature
- The 43mm case might be too large for some
2. Seiko SND255P1
- Japanese Quartz Movement
- Case diameter: 42mm
- Hardlex Crystal
Seiko has long been known for providing people with high-quality watches at an affordable price, and this one is no exception to that.
This model is great for those who need a watch for multiple functions as it serves as an aviation watch as well as a dress watch.
The case measures in at 41mm, which is a standard size for a large men’s watch, but it can fit easily on smaller wrists and still look good.
The dial is designed so that it’s easy to read the time, and the Lumibrite markers allow you to read it in any lighting condition.
It also has a slide rule bezel and a chronograph which adds both class and functionality to it.
Another cool thing about it is that the strap is changeable, so if you aren’t feeling the stainless steel strap, you can easily change it to something more your style such as a leather one.
- Great size for any wrist
- Chronograph function
- Luminous dials
- Can be used as a dress watch
- The slide rule takes some time to get used to
3. Seiko SSC007
- Stainless steel bracelet watch featuring stopwatch, rotary slide-rule bezel, chronograph functions, and date window at 3 o'clock
- 43-mm stainless steel case with hardlex dial window
- Quartz movement with analog display
This model isn’t specifically marketed as a pilot’s watch, but all it takes is one look to know that it can be used as one.
It is simply a testament to Seiko’s versatile designs.
It won’t be too far off to see that this timepiece can be used as an aviation watch, casual watch, dress watch, and even a dive watch.
It has a stainless steel case and bracelet, 100m of water resistance, a slide-rule bezel, and on top of all that, it’s solar-powered.
Seeing the price of this one may shock some people, as one can easily see this model being in the thousand dollar price range.
However, Seiko is a brand for the everyday person, so their watches are accessible to everyday people.
If you’ve been on the hunt for a great everyday watch with high functionality and versatility, this model may be the way to go.
- Versatile design
- Slide rule bezel and chronograph functions
- 100m water resistance
- Reading the dial takes some getting used to
4. Hamilton Khaki King Pilot
- Aviation-inspired watch featuring black dial with luminous hands, day/date window, outer minute track, and inner hour track
- 42 mm stainless steel case with anti-reflective sapphire dial window
- Swiss quartz movement with analog display
Next on our list is this classic Hamilton timepiece that is reminiscent of the old-school watches of the past.
It has a simple black dial with white markers that make reading it very easy and convenient, as well as a small day and date window at the 3 o’clock position.
It has a stainless steel case and a sapphire crystal on the dial, which gives this one a whole lot of durability.
Aside from that, it also has luminous hands and 200m of water resistance.
The Hamilton company has been making pilot’s watches for decades on end, and they are famous for it at this point.
This model is one of their entry-level ones, so it isn’t exactly packed with features, but if you’re on the hunt for a simple and straight to the point pilot’s watch from a trusted brand, this could be the timepiece for you.
- Simple and straight to the point
- Classic design
- 200m of water resistance
- Anti-reflective sapphire crystal
- May be too simple for some
5. AVI-8 AV-4011
- Aviation inspired classic chronograph with vintage details and an elegant look
- Japan chronograph movement with date
- White dial with black index, chronograph subdials, date window, tachymeter, mineral crystal lens
This model is also called the Hawker Hurrican and it comes from a brand that is well acquainted with aviation watches.
The aviation inspiration on this timepiece is undeniable, aside from the simple white and black dial, it also has a small icon of an aircraft in it which serves as a nice and small detail.
When it comes to function, this model has all the quintessential aviation features such as a chronograph, tachymeter, and an easy-to-read watch face.
The chronograph sub-dials have blue, red, and yellow details that help breathe life into a very simple design, which makes it a great choice for those looking for an everyday aviation watch.
It has a classic brown leather strap and 50m of water resistance, which isn’t much but is a proper trade-off for how affordable it is.
- Simple design
- Can be worn every day
- Runs on an accurate Japanese quartz movement
- Easy to read dial
- Only has 50m of water resistance
6. Laco Augsburg Type-A Automatic Pilot Watch
- Made in Germany
- Original WWII German Pilot watch design
- Stainless-steel case, black dial, sapphire crystal
In this day and age, sometimes it’s best to go simple, and this one is a great way to do that.
The design of it is reminiscent of the classic WWII designs seen on pilot’s watches from the time.
It has a deep brown leather strap and a stainless steel case that measures in at 42mm, which is fairly large but is just right considering the recent trend of large men’s wristwatches.
The dial sports a black background and luminous dials, so reading the time would be no problem.
Those who want an affordable watch but aren’t a big fan of a quartz movement will love this piece as it runs on a Japanese automatic movement, completely eliminating the need for battery changes and regular trips to the shop.
- Runs on an automatic movement
- Classic design
- Easy to read dial
- Has a synthetic sapphire crystal
- Only water resistant up to 50m
7. Seiko SNA411
- Round watch with black dial featuring gear-edge bezel, multiple subdials, date window, and fluted crown
- 42 mm stainless steel case with Hardlex dial window
- Japanese quartz movement with display
It should come as no surprise that a company like Seiko would appear multiple times in a list of affordable watches.
This particular model contains a lot of functions, which can make the dial look intimidating, but trust me, that is not the case.
It contains a slide-rule bezel, a chronograph, and a date window, all of which can be seen on the dial.
While the face might have a lot going on, it’s actually very easy to use and navigate through all the features.
It runs on Japanese quartz, so accuracy should be no problem at all, and the dial’s design is very loud and strong, with the black background, white markers, and yellow details.
All in all, this is a very modern and highly functional watch, great for those looking for an aviation watch that packs a punch while keeping the price tag practical.
- Packed with features
- The large dial gives space for all the sub-dials
- 200m of water resistance
- Luminous dials
- Reading it takes some getting used to
Buying Guide For Aviation Watches
There are always a couple of things to look out for when buying a pilot’s watch, and in this section, we explain them to you in detail.
First and foremost, before you even start looking for an aviation watch, you have to consider what functions you need.
Aviation watches are packed with features and complications, as they are designed to be used by pilots while on the job.
That means that you’ll probably encounter a series of chronographs, multiple timezones, tachymeters, and slide-rule bezels.
All of these features can prove to be very useful, but they can also jack up the price, so if you’re looking for a watch on a budget, it might be best to narrow down the features you actually want and need, that way you won’t end up distracted by all these extra complications you don’t really need.
A proper aviation watch, however, needs to have these features: a fly chronograph, tachymeters (or any navigation tool), as well as a multiple timezone feature.
To make sure all the functions of it can be used and accessed, pilot’s watches tend to be large.
Because of this, one must put a lot of thought into the size of their watch.
Most aviation watches will have a case that measures upwards of 40mm, which is already fairly large for a men’s watch.
In fact, some watches even get as big as 45-48mm!
While a lot of people want watches that big, some people would prefer a more laid back, smaller design.
It can be tough choosing a watch size, but if you know what sizes suit you best, it will be much easier.
Aviation watches tend to fetch fairly high prices.
This is because a lot of engineering and thought is put into designing these watches.
Aside from that, the materials used in making ites can be expensive.
However, there are a lot of brands out there that also sell aviation watches at lower prices that are more easily affordable.
There’s nothing wrong with opting for a luxury option, but there’s also nothing wrong with going for a budget-friendly option.
As long as you’re comfortable with the amount of money you spend on a watch, then you won’t feel bad about making the purchase.
Also, you might find it easier to narrow down your options if you have a set price range that you’re willing to work with.
1. What Makes A Pilot’s Watch?
There is no clear and concise definition to what makes a pilot’s watch.
Some people cite certain features that need to be present, while others check out how it looks and functions.
However, what people can agree on fully is that a proper pilot’s watch needs to be easily read.
That’s because when you’re on the job, you can’t take too much time looking at your watch, so if it can be read easily, you can take in all the information you need a quicker pace.
That is why the numbers present on a pilot’s watch are usually big and bold and have a strong contrast to the background.
Nowadays though, most people would only consider a watch a pilot’s watch if it has features such as a navigations tool and chronograph.
2. Do Pilots Really Wear Pilot’s Watches?
For decades on end, pilots were seen as playboys with a lot of style.
When one imagines a pilot, it can be easy to see a man in a well-tailored uniform, with aviator sunglasses, and an aviation watch.
However, things have slowly changed in the world.
For one, pilots are now more diverse, which means they don’t stick to one aesthetic or style.
While you may find a couple of pilots who use aviation watches, you are just as likely to find one in any other type of watch.
3. What Are The Top Aviation Watch Brands?
When it comes to the world of watch brands, you’ll find that there is a very wide selection when it comes to choosing the best brands.
However, over the years, there have been a couple of brands that have truly stood out amongst the pack.
These brands include Laco, IWC, Hanhart, Archimide, Casio, Steinhart, and Stowa.
While these brands are some of the most well known, there are other watch brands out there that also produce high-quality aviation watches such as Hamilton, Citizen, and Seiko (though they are more known for their wide variety of watches).
4. Who Made The First Pilot’s Watch?
The very first aviation watch made can be traced back to 1904, when it was made by the now-famous watch brand, Cartier.
The story is as follows.
Louis Cartier had an aviator friend at the time named Alberto Santos-Dumont, who needed a timepiece that would allow him to read the time without reaching into his pocket.
This is because, at the time, the only watches available were pocket watches, and reaching into your pocket to check the time while flying an aircraft could distract the pilot.
To address this issue, Cartier made a wristwatch that many consider to be the first-ever pilot’s watch and dubbed it the “Santos”.
5. Are Aviator Watches Any Good?
The answer to this will vary.
But generally, aviator watches are great timepieces as they are easy to read, very accurate, and are usually packed with features.
That being said, some people have no use for all these features and may just find them excessive and unnecessary.
The same goes for big bold dials on these watches, as some people prefer simpler and more low-key designs.
However, if you are the type of person who likes functionality and legibility on a watch, then an aviator watch may serve you well.
6. Why Do Pilot’s Watches Have A Triangle?
The reason a lot of aviation watches have a large triangle at the 12 o’clock position is for legibility.
Having a large icon or symbol in that area will immediately communicate to a pilot where the 12 o’clock position is.
That way, it will be easier to read the time, and the pilot can stay focused on flying the aircraft.
7. Can Pilots Wear Apple Watches?
As mentioned earlier, you’re just as likely to find a pilot in an aviator watch as you are to find them in any other kind of watch.
Apple Watches and other smartwatches are very convenient tools that have a lot of modern features.
That’s why some pilots choose to wear them.
In fact, there are some apps for the Apple Watch that were specifically designed for pilots to wear.
So there you have it, a list of great aviation watches for under $500.
Pilot’s watches are great tools for anyone, they have a bunch of features, they are easy to read, and have a very distinct style.
However, a lot of these watches tend to cost a lot of money.
Luckily, there is also a whole load of options out there for people looking for pilot’s watches without busting the bank.
And now that you’ve seen a list of the best ones for under $500, all that’s left to do is make the final choice!