New book casts aviation watches as heroes of the hour

Air Time: Watches Inspired by Aviation, Aeronautics and Pilots traces the history of aviation watches – from those paying tribute to the golden age of air travel, to those primed for the precision of moon landings or Tom Cruise in Top Gun

Earlier examples of air travel
Left, collage exclusively created for Air Time: Watches Inspired by Aviation, Aeronautics and Pilots by and right, one of the earlier examples of air travel
(Image credit: ©Liliana Guia)

Watchmaking and aviation share a preoccupation with accuracy, precision and strong, light materials, so it is only natural the industries have long been closely intertwined, as evidenced by aviation watches through the decades. Now, the enduring relationship between the two has been put under the spotlight in a new book published by Rizzoli. Air Time: Watches Inspired by Aviation, Aeronautics and Pilots explores the watches inspired by flight, whether worn by intrepid adventurers or built for precision performance in the sky.

Mark Bernardo, the book’s author and the senior editor of WatchTime magazine, considers aviation-inspired watches from 1904 to the present day in an eclectic selection encompassing iconic pieces, such as Cartier’s first men’s wristwatch for Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, and the Omega Speedmaster, the first watch to land on the moon.

Watch on a magazine

(Image credit: ©Liliana Guia)

Vintage watches

(Image credit: ©Liliana Guia)

‘There is a large selection of watches purpose-built for pilots, watches actually used by astronauts for space missions, and dual-time and world-time watches that could be suitable for either pilots or simply for frequent air travellers,’ says Bernardo of the watches which made the cut. ‘There are also a handful of conversation pieces that don’t necessarily have a functional use in flying or travelling but pay tribute to them in some way.’

A fascination with pilot’s watches led Bernardo on an exploration into their history, where he alighted on the discovery that aviation watches can be traced back to a specific era for each brand: ‘Longines to the heyday of [aviator] Charles Lindbergh and early record-setting; IWC to the Second World War era of classic warplanes; Breitling to the 1950s ‘golden age’ of commercial aviation, and so on. Discovering this enabled me to establish a narrative thread through the book that I wasn’t initially expecting.’

In his all-encompassing research, Bernardo came across intriguing tidbits. What surprised him most? ‘I suppose the biggest surprise was learning that the watch Tom Cruise wore as Maverick in Top Gun was not really a pilot’s watch per se, but an auto racing-inspired chronograph made by Porsche Design. I included it, of course, because what more obvious connection can a timepiece have to aviation than being worn in one of the most famous pilot movies ever?'

Classic black watch

(Image credit: ©Liliana Guia)


Air Time: Watches Inspired by Aviation, Aeronautics and Pilots is published by Rizzoli and released in July 2021

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.