Like aviator shades and shearling jackets, the best pilot watches for men are classics that trace their lineage directly back to the cockpit. The original 1904 Cartier Santos considered by many to be the first example of the genre, but the look of the pilot’s watch as we know it today became popular in the 40s of brands like IWC, A Lange & Söhne, and a handful of others. From the beginning, virtually every pilot’s watch had three things in common: a dial with large, ultra-readable markings; an oversized crown (pilots had to be able to adjust it without taking off their gloves); and an extremely robust case (important when you’re pulling Gs at 30,000 feet.) But the next big twist in pilot watch history came about a decade later, with the debut of one of the most legendary watch collaborations in history: Rolex GMT-Master. Tasked with envisioning a new kind of watch for Pan-Am airline pilots, Rolex added a distinctive red and blue bezel to help keep track of multiple time zones at once—and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, of course, you don’t need Rolex money to get your hands on a nice flight watch. All of the budget-friendly picks below will add a touch of high-flying style to your fall outfits, helping you channel Tom Cruise on his Top Gun best in the process.
All products presented on GQ are independently selected by our editors. However, when you purchase something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.