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The 5 Best Pilot Watches Under $300: Soar in Style

You don't have to be a real pilot to feel as cool as one.

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My mom always told me I could do anything. Except when I told her I wanted to become an astronaut.

“Honey,” she said, “you barf when you’re in the car for more than thirty minutes.”

She showed me the montage scene from Armageddon where they spin around like crazy and asked me if I think I’d be able to do that.

No, of course not. She was right—I don’t have the stomach for space travel.

So instead I settled on a fascination with airplane cockpits—all the dials, knobs, levers. So much complexity.

I was side-tracked on my dream to become a pilot by my dream to become a firefighter, movie star, and a professional basketball player.

Still working on those.

But one thing is true. I’m still fascinated with complexity. And I like to show it by wearing my favorite timepiece: the pilot watch

Pilot watches range from super simple to wildly crowded and complex.

To celebrate my favorite timepiece, we’ve put together our list of the five best pilot watches under $300.

Quick Summary

  • Vincero The Altitude in Silver Navy

    Vincero Altitude

    • 43mm, Sapphire coated crystal
    • Classic Vincero attitude and style
    • No rotating bezel
  • Black 42mm Aviator Chronograph Watch w Tan Leather Strap – Jack Mason Product Shot

    Jack Mason Aviator Chronograph

    • Throwback to classic pilot watch design
    • Bold crown and pusher construction
    • Awesome caseback for aviation lovers
  • Timex Men's T2N700 Intelligent Quartz Fly-Back Chronograph Brown Leather Strap Watch

    Timex Fly-Back Chronograph

    • One-of-a-kind dial that looks like an altimeter
    • Well built, but inexpensive
    • Mineral, not sapphire, crystal
  • Seiko Men's SND255P1 Flightmaster Pilot Slide Rule Chronograph Watch

    Seiko Flightmaster

    • Overcomplicated dial and bezel for a unique look
    • 41mm case, with a 21mm strap
    • Hardlex crystal
  • Citizen Men's Eco-Drive Stainless Steel Quartz Aviator Watch with Leather Calfskin Strap, Brown, 22 (Model: BX1010-11L)

    Citizen Promaster Nighthawk

    • 44mm case—the largest on our list

    • 200m water resistance
    • Abbreviated city names in the dial is a cool touch


What Are Pilot Watches?


When we talk about watches, we’re almost always talking about wristwatches. We forget they started in people’s pockets.

In 1904, Cartier designed something that would help the Brazilian navigator Alberto Santos-Dumont keep track of his flight while keeping his hands on the controls.

That timepiece, the Cartier Santos, was the first pilot watch and the first wristwatch.

So really, without pilot watches, I’d be writing about the best pocket to put your timepiece in, and how well it pairs with a monocle.

Three Features Distinctive to all Pilot Watches

1. A Large Crown

Because pilots always wore gloves, the crown needed to be large enough to use without taking the gloves off.

2. Large Dial

Pilots are worried about flying (we hope). They can’t be squinting and trying to make out numbers on the dial.

Because of that, the dial for pilot watches is fairly large. For today’s models, that means pilot watches are usually at least 40mm.

3. Bezel Markings

alitutude on side

True pilot watches have detailed bezels that can help aviators calculate fuel burn and other piloty things.


3 Things to Consider When Buying a Pilot Watch


1. Size

Pilot watches are generally larger than most other watches due to the amount of information the dial packs in. Chronographs, pilot watches in particular, are usually 40mm and larger.

Even with the oversized case, some of these watches are still difficult to read with all the details and complications (just take a look at the Seiko Flightmaster ).

For average wrists, a 38-42mm watch is an ideal size. Not too small, and not in-your-face large. You can branch out into the 44mm size if you want that “oversized watch” look.

Vincero Altitude Hand in Pocket Closeup

For gents with a smaller wrist, 36-40mm is the way to go. Double-check to see that your pilot watch comes in a 40mm case size—anything bigger and your wrist will look smaller and smaller in comparison.

2. How Complicated Do You Want It?

There are some straightforward pilot watches out there like the Vincero Altitude. They have a few subdials, understated bezels—just classic, good looking watches.

And then there are more technical watches like the Citizen Nighthawk .

It looks like a piece of graph paper and a flight simulator had a baby (to be clear, I love the look of the Citizen Nighthawk, it’s fun and over-the-top).

3. Functionality

Something gives me the feeling that most of us aren’t pilots here.

If you’re actually a pilot, you’ll want something specific to your job. But if you’re someone who, say, writes blog posts, having a fuel burn calculator is less critical.

When your top concern is style, you have a lot more choices.


The 5 Best Pilot Watches Under $300 in 2020


What We Like

  • The Vincero Altitude has a classic pilot watch look but with a modern, edgy interpretation.
  • The blue sunburst dial is stunning.
  • The sword hands are a great throwback to the vintage pilot style.

What We Don't Like

  • There’s no rotating bezel, so the markings don’t add much other than looks.

What Other Reviewers Say

The Vincero brand is a lightning rod for both praise and criticism.

Hardcore watch enthusiasts don’t give Vincero much credit while others take them for what they are—really great looking watches at a decent price.

We’ve tested nearly every watch they have and we’re fans. So are the 500 Trustpilot reviewers who gave the brand a five-star rating.

The Verdict

The Vincero Altitude draws inspiration from classic pilot watch style. But it’s far from classic.

Their modern update is much sleeker and fits in great with a smart casual look. When we took a closer look at the Altitude, we were left wanting a bit on the crystal and band but were otherwise really happy with it.

Ultimately, it’s a great looking watch at a decent price. For those who are looking for something that blends the older pilot look with modern, hard-edged masculinity, check out the Altitude.


Get the Vincero Altitude


Vincero The Altitude in Silver Navy

What We Like

  • Jack Mason goes with classic American design principles and pays close attention to the details.
  • The oversized crown is a great call-back to the old-style pilot watches. See what I mean about paying attention to details?
  • The caseback is way too cool to pass up if you’re a fan of aviation history.

What We Don't Like

  • We haven’t tried the Aviator ourselves, but we tried the Halyard. The band was really stiff, so we have reason to believe the Aviator band is stiff, too.

What Other Reviewers Say

The watch community has bestowed its blessing on Jack Mason. Phew.

Their Facebook page has 50 reviews with a 4.5-star average. Some reviewers had issues with returning watches, but those issues were eventually resolved. When we had a chance to talk to Jack Mason over the phone, they mentioned that they’ve ironed out those details.

The Verdict

Do you want to feel like a free-wheeling, Texas-born WWII pilot?

Get yourself a Jack Mason Aviator. When we took a look at their Nautical line, we were impressed with how the details added up to really tell a story.

The Aviator is no different. Built with clear nods to horological history and a great sense of visual balance, this timepiece earns its spot on our list of favorites.


Get the Jack Mason Aviator Chronograph


Black 42mm Aviator Chronograph Watch w Tan Leather Strap – Jack Mason Product Shot

What We Like

  • The offset subdials make for a one-of-a-kind watch. We normally see subdials at 3, 6, and 9, but these are set in unusual positions.
  • Timex is known for making great watches that last a long time. The Fly-Back happens to be the least expensive on our list, too.
  • No need to worry about taking this watch in the shower or out on the lake for a swim. Timex builds its watches with durability and versatility in mind.

What We Don't Like

  • The Fly-Back features a mineral crystal—not a sapphire crystal. We like our watches to have the scratch-proofing of sapphire, but it looks like Timex sacrificed this detail for the sake of price.

What Other Reviewers Say

With over 550 ratings on Amazon  giving this Timex an average of 4.1 stars, we feel safe saying customers are happy.

The Verdict

Timex is a classic brand, well-known and well-loved for making great every-day watches.

As the Timex fan-community says, these watches “take a lickin’ and keep on clickin’.” They may or my not use those exact words.

If you enjoy the unique look of the Fly-Back, pick one up knowing you’ve just landed on a really solid value.


Get the Timex Fly-Back Chronograph


Last update on 2020-04-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What We Like

  • Seiko is tested, loved, and respected.
  • The metal link band makes for a dressier watch that looks great with a business casual outfit.
  • The Hardlex crystal is unbreakable. In fact, this whole watch is pretty much unbreakable.

What We Don't Like

  • The dial is busy. This isn’t necessarily bad, but you have to love the look.

What Other Reviewers Say

With over 50 reviews on Amazon , the Seiko Flightmaster has a 4.3 average rating. The brand is a titan of the industry, and has massive street-cred from watch enthusiasts. They make most of their watches in-house and focus on building timepieces with excellent precision.

Seiko’s been known to have some issues now and again with their quality control, so some reviewers mentioned malfunctioning watches.

This isn’t too common, but we recommend buying from a source like Amazon or one of our favorite online watch stores so you can do an exchange if you happen to pick up a lemon.

The Verdict

If you can get behind the cluttered and crowded look of the Seiko Flightmaster, you’re in for a horological treat.

This watch is solid and steady. There’s a reason why so many in the Reddit watch community loves these timepieces. Seiko makes everything in-house, including the movements. They’ve truly mastered the art and science of watchmaking and it shows in their products.


Get the Seiko Flightmaster


Last update on 2020-04-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What We Like

  • The solar-powered Eco-Drive movement is innovative and means you don’t have to change the battery.
  • The alternate timezones and city names on the dial are a great touch.
  • Fantastic water resistance. The Nighthawk isn’t a diving watch, but with 200m water resistance, you could take it with you on a scuba trip.

What We Don't Like

  • Most pilot watches feature a chronograph, but the Nighthawk doesn’t. If you want those sweet subdials, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

What Other Reviewers Say

Citizen, like Seiko, has a strong reputation. They’ve picked up over 600 reviews averaging 4.6 stars on Amazon . So yeah, people are happy with it.

A Google search for “Citizen Nighthawk reviews” will net you a ton of results all discussing the value—not just with the Nighthawk, but with any Citizen watch.

The Verdict

If you want that cosmopolitan, just got off the plane from Paris look, the Citizen Nighthawk might be for you.

It’s a reliable watch made to captivate those of you who have travel in your bones.


Get the Citizen Promaster Nighthawk


Last update on 2020-04-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Let’s Land This Thing


Minimal, masculine, over-the-top complicated—we’re confident there’s a pilot watch on this list that’s perfect for you.

But hey, we don’t know it all. Is there a time piece we missed? Let us know in the comments, captain.

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