Disclaimer: Some prices may have updated since publishing the post and maybe over the mentioned price limit.
Having collected timepieces for years, I have quite a bit of pieces for aviators in my collection.
In terms of the best pilot watches under $200, I think the Stuhrling Original 3916.1 is the best.
Just look at it; it embodies the class of an aviator’s life. It’s durable too, coming with a superb Krysterna window. More on that below.
For each of our picks, I've discussed their looks, their features that would help with flying, and how durable they would be. Sound good?
Table of Contents
The best budget pilot watch is right at your fingertips. First, take a look at the table below. We’ve summarized our top picks and their specs.
This men's watch will catch your attention from across the room. Its dial is pitch black while its hour markers are a bright yellow.
You'll be able to read it in the dimmest cockpits, as it is full of lume. Unfortunately, we weren't told the name of its pigment. But it's pretty bright.
Its window is noteworthy. As mentioned earlier, it uses krysterna crystal. It's much more resistant than mineral crystal. Stuhrling original boasts that it's an alternative to sapphire. We don't think this is quite true. It can still handle a beating, though.
You don't have to look closely to notice the cool texturing on its dial. It’s almost gritty, giving it a unique look. The aviator watch also has a retro appearance. The company knew what they were doing, creating it with the Flieger style in mind.
The days of the week are plastered vertically on its display. There’s a mechanism that places a red dot on what day it is. The feature is one of the first things you'll notice when you look at the unit.
A date window is present as well. It is in a tiny sub dial on the corner of its watch face. You'll be squinting at it.
Its design is rich. There's a genuine leather strap. It feels as superb as it looks. We're fans of the stitching, you usually see it in pricier units.
How do you feel about big timepieces? Its case size is 1.73 inches (44 mm) across. If you have a small wrist, you can still wear it. It might just look awkward on you.
So far so good, but things are about to get better:
The 3916.1 is water resistant up to 330 feet (100 meters). With such a rating, snorkeling and serious water surface activities would be possible. Its case material is stainless steel, so it's waterproof.
There's a crown protector on it. It makes sure its crown doesn't latch onto your clothes.
A slide rule would've been the cherry on top. Stuhrling decided to disappoint us. You're not getting a dual time feature either.
What makes it special:
Its Krysterna display
The Best Looking
Being from the Seiko Flightmaster collection, it was built for the skies. It looks good too - its bright blue dial and bezel turn heads, with its red seconds’ hand being a bold contrast.
Its watch face might intimidate you, there's a multitude of features. Its bezel comes with a slide rule, which allows for calculations and unit conversions to be made. When in the air, it can save your life as fuel and dead reckoning can be calculated.
There's a compass that helps with navigation. It not only is handy, but also adds a cool design element.
Its dial has two chronographs. You can track up to 12 hours in 1/20th of a second increments. Next to them is a dual time sub dial. You can imagine how useful it'd be.
Rotating bezels are usually found in units that are adequately water resistant. You won’t be disappointed, as the Seiko SND255 is resistant up to 330 feet (100 meters). You cant dive. However, snorkeling would be possible.
Take a look at its crown, it's jewel like. There's a large crown protector around it.
Hopefully, you know what a tachymeter is. The pilots watch has one, and you can use it along with its chronographs to time the distance and speed between points.
You're not getting krysterna crystal glass - it's something exclusively seen in Stuhrling products. Seiko is a fan of hardlex crystal. It's not as tough as sapphire, but it out beats mineral crystal any day of the week. The Japanese manufacturer says that the hardlex crystal on it is quite tough as there's additional scratch resistance coatings.
It is a stainless-steel device. Its case was made from polished steel; it looks good. Its band was made from the material as well. This makes it water proof. If the Seiko Flightmaster had a leather strap, it would look and feel more premium, though.
You're not looking at a big pilot watch. The Japanese manufacturer made its case diameter 1.65 inches (42 mm). In our books, it's a case size that's not too big or small.
How could we not talk about its luminosity? Its hands and markers are full of pigment. Seiko placed their favourite LumiBrite. You'll easily be able to read its dial in the dimmest settings.
What makes it special:
Bright LumiBrite is present.
The Citizen Eco Drive line is the best solar powered collection around. All kinds of light sources power the units. Considering pilots are always on the go, this is what you want. Because you'll have to depend on a power reserve if you own an automatic movement timepiece, and regularly change its battery if it were quartz.
You're looking at a big pilot watch for men. Its case size is 1.77 inches (45 mm). Its size makes it easy to read, especially since its hands and markers are also gigantic.
Its face is full of luminous paint. But its pigment is not the brightest. It doesn't help that there are pretty thin coats of it on its hands.
Its watch face consists of three chronographs. It also comes with a tachymeter, which you can combine and use.
You’ll notice how enormous its crown is. It’s the largest we’ve seen so far. Gripping it would be a breeze.
The CAO68 looks lavish. It has a rose gold case. It's stainless steel that was plated. The finish makes it look very expensive. What also helps is its strap. A genuine leather band is by your side. There's some stitching which looks hand-done. The leather strap is not thick either, so sweat won't collect.
None of our entries came with an automatic movement. The Citizen Eco Drive is no different; there's a Japanese quartz movement inside of it. It moves like butter.
No, a slide rule is not present. A rotating bezel isn't available either. If it's any consolation, a sub dial for the day's date was placed.
There's mineral crystal on its front. You're more than familiar with how tough the glass is.
How water resistant is it? It can handle 330 feet (100 meters) underwater. With such a water resistant rating, it can handle snorkeling and water surface activities but not diving.
What makes it special:
It’s solar powered.
We ran through some amazing picks, but do you really know what a pilot watch is? What differentiates it from other types?
Well, the definition is kind of loose. They were first created for the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Pocket watches were too inconvenient to use in the air, so the timepieces took their place.
They consisted of large case sizes, as they needed to be easy to read, features like chronographs, rotating bezels, dual time functionality and sometimes a big crown.
As flying was hectic, scratch resistant sapphire crystal was placed on their dial. It's seen in more expensive units these days, with mineral, hardlex crystal or krysterna crystal in budget picks.
The earliest aviator units rocked the Flieger style. If you remember, the Stuhrling original aviator option we talked about had it.
Check out our other top watches
What did you think about our pilot watches under 200 review? Our list consisted of three superb affordable pilot watches. They're stylish, going with the most expensive suits - they represent the lavishness of an aviator's life. That's why a luxurious leather band was present in the majority of our picks.
They're easy to read - hands and markers full of lume were on them. Considering your budget, Japanese manufacturers would have to be worked with. German original aviator pieces tend to be expensive. They'd come with Swiss mechanisms instead of Japanese, so they'd last longer too.