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Aviator - Exciting Swiss Pilot's Watches with a Russian Heritage

Posted on September 09 2021

Aviator Swiss Pilots Watches

Imagine that you're a fan of Russian watches and you start browsing the internet looking at your favourite brands. You then notice that one of the companies is missing.

Why wasn't I seeing Aviator pilots watches? Poljot was still there, as was Buran and Sturmanskie. But there was a gap where Aviator used to be on the big e-commerce sites.

After a little more searching I discovered that this Russian watch brand was no longer Russian. They've relocated to Switzerland and were now proudly Swiss-made.

It was time to update my knowledge of the Aviator brand. Let me show you what I found out.

A Brief History of Aviator Watches


Trying to work out the history of a watch brand shouldn't hurt your head. But with Aviator things get complex. I'll try and keep this as simple as I can.

Aviator watches come to us by way of the famous First Moscow Watch Factory.

In 1930 Joseph Stalin ordered the founding of a watch factory.

Russia created this Moscow based factory by purchasing two American watch factories. They were then shipped to the Soviet Union. Twenty-one American watchmakers went with the factory and trained the Soviet workers.

The First Moscow Watch Factory was born and within a year it had produced its first watches. A batch of fifty timepieces that were presented at the Revolution Theatre.

In the following decade, the new factory made three million watches.

Then things get difficult to follow.

After the fall of Communism, the First Moscow Watch Factory ran into financial difficulties. In 2000 a group of former employees bought the remains of the factory. They also acquired the rights to three Russian brands - Sturmanskie, Buran and Aviator.

From 2002 'Volmax' began producing Russian-made watches under these brand names.

It was all a bit messy.

It wasn't always easy to work out who was making what. This certainly wasn't helped by dealers marketing the watches under other Russian brand names - Poljot for example.

However, by the end of the decade, most of this was clarified. Volmax watches were marketed more clearly and with more control over resellers.

So where does Aviator fit in?

Aviator was created as a brand built around the history of Russian aviation. They were the official sponsors of the Russian Air Force's acrobatic team.

But in 2011, Volmax created a Swiss subsidiary and relocated the Aviator brand to Switzerland. The dial text that had always read Made in Russia became Swiss Made.

To confuse things further, Volmax licenced the Aviator name for watches that were marketed on flights and in airports.

So we had old Russian made Aviator watches, some of which are still available. We also had cheaper duty-free watches made by a third party. And finally, we have the current Swiss-based company.

I only want to concentrate on this newly relocated Swiss Aviator.

Where are Aviator Watches Made?


They're now Swiss-Made and have those two important words at the foot of their dials.

Aviator has a proud Russian history but is now based in Porrentruy, Switzerland.

Are Aviator Watches Good Quality?


Their Swiss-made watches are of good quality and are equipped with Swiss movements. Usually, these are supplied by ETA or Sellita.

Aviator watches tend to be mid-priced and cost what I'd expect for the specs and quality. A Swiss-made Aviator watch with an automatic ETA movement and a sapphire crystal will cost several hundred pounds.

I'd suggest that Aviator makes entry-level Swiss watches.

They're a little higher priced than some similar Swiss brands. But on the whole, they are comparable with watches from Certina, Roamer and Mido.

The Five Best Aviator Watches


I'd like to show you the best that the brand has to offer. These watches are all from the new Swiss-based Aviator and should give a fair representation of the brand.

Airacobra P42 Pilots watch

Where to start but with a traditional pilot's watch?

You'll be familiar with this style. It's a germanic looking aviation watch - designed to be simple and highly legible.

As you'll see with Aviator watches, they're usually on the larger side. But the P42 is one of their smaller models and has a comfortable 42mm case.

This is a tool watch, with clear time reading at the core of the design.

The case is straightforward and features an oversized crown. This makes setting the time easy, even whilst wearing gloves. The hands are tried and tested pilot-style. Big and bold and with prominent white lume.

And they are indicative of the design ethos. Not only are the crown and hands oversized, but the date window is also large. And the numerals and 12 o'clock markers are big and eye-catching.

Continuing that practicality, this model is powered by a Swiss quartz movement.

The P42 is a great introduction to the brand. This is an inexpensive way to get the classic aviation styling that you'll have seen from IWC and other pilot's watch specialists.

Aviator Airacobra P42 V.1.22.0.148.5

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Quartz Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Aviator Douglas Day Date Watch
This beauty is inspired by the influential 1930s Douglas DC-3 passenger aircraft.

It's a more ornate watch than the P42, with a complex dial and a Swiss automatic movement - visible through the exhibition back.

It's less obviously a pilot's watch and instead, feels like a watch inspired by an exciting era of aviation history.

That's not to say that this isn't a practical watch. It is. Particularly with the addition of both a day and a date window.

But for me, this watch wins because of its elegant vintage styling. Of the different colour pallets, I prefer this cream dial variation. It's a colour that was often used on pocket watches and early wristwatches and works well here.

The dial - with its subtle use of horizon cockpit lines - is complemented by an ornate case and a small onion crown. The uncommon hand style reinforcing the vintage aesthetic.

There's a tasteful leather strap rather than a modern, heavier bracelet.

The only downside for me is the case size. 45mm is larger than I'd like - but that's a matter of preference. And as for the price? It's comparable to similar Swiss-made automatic models.

It doesn't jump out as a bargain, but it isn't over-priced either.

Overall, this is my favourite Aviator watch. It's sophisticated and authentically styled.

Aviator Douglas Day-Date V.3.20.0.141.4

  • 45mm Diameter
  • 11.5mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Aviator Douglas DC-3 Watch

The Douglas DC-3 model takes the same inspiration and expresses it with a classically styled dress watch. The 1930s influence is clear, and like the aircraft, there's a hint of Bauhaus in the design.

I'm a fan of Bauhaus watches. There's a simplicity to the designs that doesn't bore me the way many Scandinavian minimalist designs do.

Aviator has captured this well with the DC-3 model.

It captures the era like the Day-Date watch, but from a different viewpoint. The Douglas DC-3 was a groundbreaking aircraft that popularised air travel. This formal-looking watch feels like a tribute to the wealthy passengers of these early civilian flights.

Again, it's a reasonably large watch. It's 45mm wide and is equipped with a 22m strap. The movement is a Swiss automatic and once more it's visible through the rear case. In a nice touch, the back of the watch features text referencing flight.

The dial has more going on than is first apparent. There are attractive rings, slim markers and a neat date window tucked away at 6 o'clock.

If you'd like a classically styled dress watch - with a touch of Bauhaus design - take a closer look at the DC-3.

Aviator Douglas DC-3 V.3.32.0.241.4

  • 45mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Aviator Vintage Automatic Watch

This handsome piece is the last watch that I'd like to highlight from Aviator's Douglas collection.

It continues the theme of a vintage-inspired mechanical watch in an updated larger case.

And again, it's a successful design.

I'd expect this watch to appeal to the same buyers as the previous two models. All three watches have a common form, with small tweaks that differentiate each.

With this model, it's the numerals. The hands are familiar and the case is similar in styling to the other models. But the black dial with a full set of numerals creates a different aesthetic.

It's a little more militaristic and lacks the sophistication of the DC-3 model. Instead, the flamboyant hands are matches with a simple black and white dial.

Yes, there are small touches of flair - the red tip to the second hand for example - but this feels like the more practical watch.

Other models in the Douglas collection reference the design of the aircraft, but this model suggests more of a vintage tool watch.

And the specs? As you'd expect. A sapphire crystal, a Swiss-made automatic movement and 100M of water resistance.

This would be an ideal watch if you want the vintage styling, but with less formality.

Aviator Douglas Vintage V.3.09.0.107.4

  • 45mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Aviator Chronograph watch

The final watch is a real contrast. A sports-looking modern chronograph with an automatic movement. It's a colourful piece and shows another side to the brand.

This model, from the Airacobra line, is available in a few colourways. But let's have a look at the attractive green version.

Price-wise, this watch is at the top of the Aviator range. Aside from Seagull's 1963 Airforce watch, few mechanical chronographs are low priced.

So what do you get for your money?

Well, this watch is certainly more modern and sporty than the previous watches on my list.

If it wasn't for the aviation-style hands, this could be a racing chronograph. It has a very busy dial, with three sub-dials and a day-date window.

There's no real symmetry to the dial, so Aviator has kept things manageable using different colours. The dial is green, the subdials black and yellow is used on the chronograph hands.

Despite all the dial features, it works. It's busy, but not cluttered and brings the aviation inspiration up to date.

I'm sure that you can second guess the specs now. It has a 45mm case, a sapphire crystal and a Swiss automatic movement. Although a pilot shouldn't end up in water, it does have a water rating of 100M.

As noted, this watch is at the top of what the brand does. A Swiss-made mechanical chronograph with a deep green dial. It's distinctive, eye-catching and you won't see this on anyone else wrist.

Aviator Airacobra Chrono V.4.26.7.184.5

  • 45mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Conclusion


Aviator is an interesting brand. Their watches are Swiss-made, but the brand has Russian history.

And their aviation inspiration? They sponsor Russia's aerial display team, but also make watches influenced by iconic American planes.

Judging by their current watches, this strategy has worked.

Their watches aren't as obviously Russian as Sturmanskie and Vostok. But they're not like popular German Flieger models that many other brands do either.

There is a degree of originality that I really like.

But the price could be an issue for you.

Aviator watches are Swiss-made and powered by reliable ETA and Sellita movements.

This level of quality comes with a price. But as I stressed earlier, the specs and price are comparable to other entry-level Swiss brands.

I'd suggest that you follow some of the links in this piece and take a closer look yourself. And when you have? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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