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The Best Pilot watches Under $500 by Extropian

Best watches
Pilot watches
Watches under $500
Strond Timepieces
Dan Henry
The Best Pilot watches Under $500 by Extropian

It’s easy to assume that Pilot watches would be out of the price range of most of us mere mortals. After all, they’re designed to be high-precision instruments which may need to function in life-or-death situations! But, like most tool watches, Pilots have gradually become a much-desired style icon amongst civilian watch enthusiasts. Nowadays many brands are producing their own versions for people whose only contact with a cockpit will be a fleeting glimpse when they’re flying off on vacation. And they can be surprisingly affordable! So, to point you in the right direction we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites, all costing less than $500!


Dan Henry - 1963 Pilot Chronograph ($280)

Dan Henry has built a reputation by specializing in vintage-inspired watches that look great and won’t break the bank. The 1963 Pilot Chronograph is no exception. Its large double deck Sandwich dial packs in three separate subdials, but retains the ease of legibility vital to this type of tool watch. It also includes a rotating 12-hour bezel that can act as a GMT indicator, and the choice of a date window if desired. 

The finishing is great for a watch in this price range, with a brushed 316L Stainless-steel case, domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment, and a screwdown caseback embossed with an image of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. There’s also a choice of 40 or 42.5mm case depending on your wrist size.

Dan Henry 1963 Pilot Chronograph - Blue (42.5mm, Date) 

Dan Henry 1963 Pilot Chronograph Blue 40mm No Date 1000x

Fullgear - Pioneer Automatic ($349)

Although only launched in 2020, Hong Kong-based Fullgear has already made a mark with its range of great tool watches and innovative customization service which basically allows you to design your own watch! 

The Pioneer Automatic was conceived as a classic Pilot watch with a large (43mm) case and a clean, simple dial design for instant legibility. Instead of traditional lume, it uses Swiss-made Gaseous Tritium Light Source (GLTS) tubes to illuminate the dial. It’s available in several different versions, some with vintage style indices, others with a distinctly modern aesthetic which makes it stand out from the crowd. Or you can assemble your own version from the brand’s wide range of cases, dials, handsets, straps, and color options. The choices seem almost infinite!

Fullgear Pioneer Autmatic - Navigator T25 Pilot - Olive


Hemel - HFT20 VK64 Configuration ($499) 

Hemel is another brand that focuses on vintage-style military and tool watches, so it's inevitable that they should appear on this list. In fact, their HF series of classic flight watches includes so many gems that it’s hard to pick just one! The HFT20 is everything you’d expect from a vintage Pilot watch, with a simple black dial, hi-vis white roman numerals, bi-compax format, and the choice of either a black ceramic 60-minute or steel GMT bezel

It’s a hefty but very attractive package, with a brushed Stainless-steel case (42mm diameter and 15mm thickness), rugged notched bezel, vintage-style diamond crown, and waffle-textured chronograph pushers. It’s rounded off with a cognac leather strap with white stitching and a pair of steel rivets at either end, which perfectly matches the overall vintage aviator vibe.

Hemel HFT20 VK64 Configuration (GMT Bezel)

Hf T300 720x

Nodus - Sector Pilot ($475)

LA-based Nodus has built a strong reputation for the quality and style of their watches, and conceived the Sector series as a modern, versatile design solution that could incorporate a number of different functions, from a Dive or Field watch to a GMT. The Sector Pilot combines all the principal features you’d expect (a day-date complication, countdown bezel, and bold markers for easy legibility) with a sleek, contemporary design. 

The dial has a gravel-textured center with a raised outer ring with a flat finish and large numerals made from molded lume. The elegantly curved case blends brushed and polished finishes, and features turned-down lugs which fit the wrist perfectly, and a large diamond-shaped crown which is easy to grip (just as it should be on a Pilot watch!). And a final touch of the brand’s originality is the use of a bi-directional Friction bezel, which doesn’t click but rotates smoothly without any stops. It's a very cool detail that really sets it apart from the crowd!

Nodus Sector Pilot - Phantom (Black DLC Bezel)

Pilot 2022 Phantom Dlc

Raven - Airfield ($420)

The name pretty much says it all. A modern, practical blend of Field and Pilot styles, built with the durability of a Dive watch, Raven’s Airfield is an ideal companion for whatever challenges you want to put it through. With a case made of surgical grade Stainless-steel and water resistant to 200m it blends toughness with great looks, incorporating a fixed steel bezel with a black ceramic insert around the dial which cuts down on glare by absorbing light. The dial has all the legibility you’d expect, and comes in a choice of colors (Black, White, or Olive Green) and a choice of no date or a day-date wheel at 3 o’clock which subtly matches the color of the dial. It comes with a robust three-link steel bracelet with a brushed finish, which matches the stylish-yet-sturdy feel of the whole package.

Raven Airfield - Olive Green (Date)

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Strond Timepieces - DC3 MkII (£289) & DC4 Automatic (£395) 

Few brands are more aviation-obsessed than UK-based Strond. They don’t just specialize in Pilot watches, but all their models include a metal tag made from part of the wing of a classic aircraft, allowing you to literally wear a piece of history on your wrist! 

The DC3 MkII has a classic 1940s-inspired vintage design, with a black dial, bright white numerals, and twin subdials at 12 and 6 o’clock. We love the All Black & Bronze version with its dark moody looks and matching black calfskin leather strap.

Strond DC3 MKII - Black & Bronze

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The new DC4 Automatic adds some superb details including a ceramic dial (available in Black, Army Green, or Royal Blue) with large seconds around the edge, smaller hours in the center, and a date wheel at 3 o’clock. It also features a Stainless-case matched with a bronze bezel and crown, which gives a great contrast to the overall design. And the dial tag is made from the body of the famous “Spirit of Freedom” DC-4, based in New Jersey, USA!

Strond Timepieces - DC4 Automatic - Black

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We think you’ll agree that this is a pretty awesome selection of watches, with great prices to match. With what you save, you could even think about investing in some flying lessons! But in the meantime, check out Extropian’s database to find out more about all these models.

Created the 2023-09-14

Modified the 2023-12-01

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