5 Of The World’s Most Expensive Pilot’s Watches From Patek Philippe, Breguet, MB&F, IWC, And Richard Mille
by Bhanu Chopra
Recent years have tilted heavily in favor of steel sports watches. And it is nearly impossible to purchase many stainless steel Rolex, Patek Philippe, or Audemars Piguet models by just walking into a retail store (for more thoughts on this check out GaryG’s False Scarcity And Steel Sports Watches: A Collector’s View).
And if no other event has proved the popularity of steel sports watches, just look at the sale of Paul Newman’s own Paul Newman Rolex Daytona, which fetched a cool $17,752,500 at Phillips’ October 2017 New York auction.
This unique high-profile steel sports watch aside, I find it equally worthy to discuss some of today’s most expensive pilot’s watches – which, if you have the cash, you might have a much easier time obtaining.
These are stock watches from luxury brands, available in luxurious metals and ranging in price between $25,000 and $1.2 million in price. Whether you are a desk pilot who enjoys aviation-themed watches or a jetsetter who flies the friendly skies in private Gulfstreams, these watches will deliver the perfect combination of sophistication with an abundance of horological clout.
Breguet Transatlantique Type XXI Flyback
Breguet had an early interest in aviation timepieces, creating examples for the U.S. Air Force as of 1918 and as of 1922 for Louis Breguet’s Société d’Aviation, a technological company founded by one of the company founder’s own descendants. The most important of Breguet’s pilot chronographs was the Type XX.
Breguet and Vixa were the first companies to supply the Type XX chronographs to the French Ministry of Defense in the 1950s. Vintage Type XX civilian models – the “Type 20” designation was reserved for the military watches – are highly desirable timepieces avidly sought after by the vintage watch collecting community.
Today’s Breguet Type XX also remains popular. While most of the features remain the same between the Type XX and the later Type XXI, the Type XXI does offer an unusual setup comprising both a central minute and a central chronograph second hand. The date window at 6 o’clock also has a somewhat trapezoidal shape, giving it even more character.
This Type XXI, introduced at Baselworld 2005, has an elegant, polished 18-karat pink gold case with Breguet’s signature fluting. The dial, a lovely slate grey, is multitiered with a flat main dial, stepped-up center, and slightly recessed subdials.
A 24-hour subdial located at the 3 o’clock position provides the would-be pilot with information as to whether it is currently AM or PM – something very necessary if you fly through the world’s time zones for a living.
The flyback feature allows for instant resetting of the chronograph with a single push of the button instead of needing to stop, reset, and then restart the chronograph.
For more information, please visit www.breguet.com/en/timepieces/type-xx-xxi-xxii.
Quick Facts Breguet Transatlantique Type XXI Flyback
Case: 42 x 15.2 mm, pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 584 Q/2, 48-hour power reserve, silicon balance spring, inverted straight-line lever escapement with silicon pallets, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds; date, day-night/24-hour indicator, flyback chronograph
IWC Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Edition Le Petit Prince
As part of the cooperation with the descendants of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, IWC has been creating special-edition Pilot’s Watch models as tributes to the wonderful story of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) since 2013.
These models feature blue dials with a sunburst pattern. On the dial of this perpetual calendar chronograph, introduced at SIHH 2019, the calendar indications cleanly display the month, date, and day in three separate windows as well as IWC’s characteristic four-digit year display and a moon phase.
The watch is powered by an in-house automatic movement that came to market in 2007. This one was the first chronograph movement to be fully developed in Schaffhausen at the home of IWC.
For more information, please visit iwc.com/us/en/watch-collections/pilot-watches/iw392202-pilot_s-watch-perpetual-calendar-chronograph-edition.
Quick Facts IWC Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Edition Le Petit Prince
Case: 43 x 15.9 mm, red gold case, screw-down crown, display case back
Movement: automatic Caliber 89630, 68-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) seconds, flyback chronograph, perpetual calendar with date, day, month, four-digit year, and moon phase
Limitation: 250 pieces
Patek Philippe Calatrava 5524R Pilot Travel Time
Patek Philippe’s first modern Calatrava Travel Time pilot’s watch features a second time zone, local time, and date. It was first launched in 2015 to the surprise of journalists and Patek Philippe collectors and came in white gold case with a striking blue dial.
Patek Philippe did make pilot’s watches back in the 1930s; Reference 5524 draws on that traditional watch from the brand’s history.
The 2018 variation comes in a 42 mm pink gold case with a lovely graduated brown dial and gold-rimmed applied numerals filled with lume.
The dial boasts displays of both local and home time, sweep seconds, the date attached to local time in a subdial at 6 o’clock, and local and home day/night indicators in apertures. Powered by Patek Philippe’s automatic Caliber 324 SC FUS, the Pilot Travel Time 5524 comes on a vintage-looking brown calfskin strap.
For more information, please visit www.patek.com/en/collection/complications/5524R-001.
Quick Facts Patek Calatrava 5524R Pilot Travel Time
Case: 42 x 10.78 mm, pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 324 S C FUS, 45-hour power reserve, Patek Philippe Seal
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; second time zone, day/night indicators for local and home time
MB&F HM9 Flow Air Red Gold
MB&F’s Horological Machine No. 9 (HM9) was released in 2018 with a little help from founder Max Büsser’s horological “Friends,” including talented watch designer Eric Giroud. The latest version of HM9 is called Flow Air, which comes in red gold case and is limited to just 18 pieces.
HM9 Flow Air was inspired by the dynamic profile of mid-century aviation design. According to Büsser, the 1940s and ’50s brought forth aircraft such as the sleek-bodied, snub-nosed De Havilland Venom, which patrolled Swiss airspace for 30 years.
This three-dimensional watch, reminiscent of a jet engine, is encased in a complex case featuring alternating polished and satin-finished finishes. The atypical manual-winding movement was fully developed in house.
HM9 Air Flow’s dial looks like that of a traditional pilot’s watch (even if the rest doesn’t), with the proper aesthetics of a “Type A” flieger. “Type A” refers to the kind of German watches that were built during the war in 1940/41 and displayed numerals 1 through 11, but with the 12 replaced by a triangle and two dots.
What’s different about the dial is that it is mounted vertically on the impressive mechanical hull between two “engines,” each containing independent balance wheels connected by a planetary differential for maximum precision.
No matter what kind of plane you pilot, this eye-catching timepiece is bound to draw attention.
For more information, please visit www.mbandf.com/en/machines/horological-machines/hm9.
Quick Facts MB&F HM9 Flow Air Red Gold
Case: 57 x 47 x 23 mm, red gold, five sapphire crystals treated with anti-reflective coating
Movement: manual winding MB&F movement, 45-hour power reserve, two fully independent balance wheels connected by planetary differential, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency, dark NAC coating
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 18 pieces
Richard Mille RM 039 Tourbillon Chronograph Aviation
The RM 039 was Richard Mille’s first aviation-inspired timepiece and, as to be expected from this brand, it is an ultra-complicated watch with a million-dollar-plus price tag.
Launched at the 2012 SIHH, and developed and manufactured with the help of Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi (APRP), the RM 039’s 50 mm case is nearly 20 mm high and contains close to 1,000 parts (case and movement together) – this is no shrinking violet!
According to Richard Mille, the three-part brushed titanium case of the RM 039 is exceptionally difficult to produce, requiring more than 800 milling operations taking several days. The five pushers, their components, and the crown of the RM 039 require another 10 days of machining by themselves.
RM 039 is powered by a manual-winding movement and displays much of the same information as the E6B flight computer invented in the 1930s. Used for flight training, the analog E6B was a form of circular slide rule used during flight planning before takeoff. Access to much of the same information is found on the slide rule bezel of the Tourbillon Chronograph Aviation.
The case offers two bezels: the rotating E6B bezel and a fixed one providing a logarithmic scale for measurement conversions. Calculations of distance, speed, and time can be made using the scales of both bezels, just like a slide rule. While this watch is very noticeable and a definite conversation starter, it does require something close to a pilot’s expertise to operate the complicated features!
For more information, please visit www.richardmille.com/collections/rm-039-tourbillon-chronograph-aviation.
Quick Facts Richard Mille RM 039 Tourbillon Chronograph Aviation
Case: 50 x 19.4 mm, brushed titanium, fixed bezel and a E6B slide rule rotating bezel
Movement: manual-winding RM 039 movement with variable inertia free-sprung balance and one-minute tourbillon, 70-hour power reserve, titanium skeletonized base plate and bridges, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, fast-rotating spring barrel
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds; large date, second time zone, flyback chronograph, countdown mode, function selector, power reserve indicator
Limitation: 30 pieces
Price: $1.2 million