The relationship between air travel and precision time all began with Orville Wright’s flight of just 12 seconds in 1903, which was about 12 seconds longer than anyone else had managed. Over the years, wristwatches have been inspired by the needs of pilots and sailors. With air travel getting back to normal, let’s look at the relationship between luxury watch brands and airlines.

Rolex GMT-Master

The Rolex GMT-Master is one of, if not ‘the’ world’s most famous symbols of the relationship between watch brands and commercial airliners. Debuting in 1955, as civil aviation came into its own, this watch soon became the official watch of Pan American World Airways (better known as Pan-Am). In 1959, the pilot of the first Pan-Am New York to Moscow wore  GMT-Master watch and reportedly performed a vital navigation function on the flight.

First GMT-Master, 1955

SAS Universal Genève Polarouter

Designed by Gerald Genta for Universal Genève, the 36mm Polerouter ref. 20217-6 stainless steel timepiece bearing the SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) logo on the dial is regarded as one of his most important watch designs. It launched in 1954 to commemorate SAS’ first direct polar flight from Copenhagen to Los Angeles. Universal Genève was the sole supplier of chronometers and anti-magnetic watches to SAS since the route required anti-magnetic timepieces to fly directly over the North Pole to reduce the distance between these two cities. The watch is a collectable piece powered by the calibre 138 bumper automatic movement, its lyre lugs, a solid case and a simple silvered dial. In 1955, Universal Genève changed the model name from Polarouter to Polerouter. Sadly, Universal Genève is defunct now.

Tudor Prince Oysterdate Reference 74000N Philippines Airlines

It is believed that the Philippines Airlines (PAL) offered the Tudor Prince Oysterdate reference 74000N, with the logo of (PAL) on the dial at 6 o’clock, to its employees after they completed 25 years of service to the airline in the 1980s. The geometric palette of the logo placed on the silvered dial complements the overall look of the 34mm watch, which is powered by calibre 2824-3. There is another Tudor reference, the Oysterdate ref. 9101/01, which was produced with the name and logo of Philippine Airlines circa 1979. Watches such as these are rarely accessible through normal retail channels, making them even more desirable.

Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph

From early on, functionality has been a significant factor for timepieces, and in the 1950s, it culminated in the design of the Breitling for AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) watches.

In 1954, the Swiss watch manufacturer launched the Navitimer with the AOPA logo at 12 o’clock on a black dial and was declared the official watch by the AOPA for its members. Solely tailored for the American aviation industry, it proved to be the ideal wrist companion for both military and civilian pilots in the 1950s and 1960s. To this day, the old Navitimer remains an iconic tool watch thanks to its Venus 178 movement, beaded bezel and Mark II white-painted.

Air France Tudor Black Bay 58 Blue and Black Bay GMT

Tudor’s special edition watches in collaboration with Air France created these stunners in 2020, specifically the Black Bay GMT Ref.79830RB-00AF with “Pepsi” bezel in aluminium and Black Bay 58 Blue Ref.79030B-00AF. Sold exclusively to the flight members of Air France, there were supposedly only 300 pieces of Black Bay GMT with calibre MT5652 and only 100 pieces of Black Bay 58 Blue with calibre MT5402 were produced.

In closing, the watch expert and the owner of the vintage watch shop Wind Vintage, Eric Wind, believes, “Watches with an aviation and space history and connection have always had a fascination for collectors, and I expect they will always be desired in one way or another. This is where watchmaking and aviation industries need to work together by finding innovative ways in order to stay relevant.” One might speculate that co-branded ventures will continue to take flight in the future.

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