4 IWC Pilot Alternatives: Affordable Pilot Watches From Hamilton, Laco, & More
James Elliott21 November 2021 | 7 min read
Pilot watches are one of the most popular types of watches in the world. For those looking for a watch that’s tough, easy to read, and sports a simple but sleek design, there’s no better category of watch out there.
One of the biggest names in the pilot watch game is IWC, with the Swiss/American company producing many iconic flying watches since the mid-1940s. Flash forward to the modern-day and one of the leading models from IWC, the Pilot, is a worldwide bestseller.
But with the base level Pilot coming in at around $4,150, it’s fair to say that not everyone can afford to get their hands on an IWC. If you fall into that category, don’t worry, as in the article we’ll be pulling out 4 IWC Pilot alternatives all with more budget-friendly price tags!
Let’s take a look…
A Brief Look at The IWC Pilot
Before we look at some alternatives, it’s worth exploring exactly what makes the IWC Pilot so special.
Coming in three 36mm variations, the IWC Pilot combines simple dial design with large numbering and dauphine hands to create a quintessential pilot’s watch. Whether you’re a fan of the brown strap, blue strap or steel bracelet model, you’re guaranteed to get some good spec inside the case too!
Thanks to a whopping power reserve, the Swiss-made, in-house automatic movement delivers excellent 4hz performance for up to 42 hours. For those who like the movement details, you’ll find 163 components and 25 jewels in this 35111 calibre driver.
All three models feature a date display, have 6 bar of water resistance, include a sapphire crystal, and have a central hacking seconds hand. Both of the leather strap models retail for $4,150, with the steel bracelet model an extra $1,000 at $5,150.
For those with slightly bigger wrists, there’s also the ‘Big Pilot’ range available, as well as several other pilot sub-ranges, such as the Spitfire and the Mark XVIII, which we recently featured in a comparison article.
It’s this combination of classic pilot watch design and great specs that make the IWC pilot so popular, and in many ways, it sets the benchmark for what a simple and stylish pilot watch should be.
4 IWC Pilot Alternatives
Now that we know what makes the IWC Pilot so popular let’s look at four great alternatives for those looking for a simple but functional pilot watch on a more affordable budget.
What makes it a great alternative? Despite some key differences, there are many similar overall design styles, with the watch available in a leather and steel bracelet option.
You’ll know that around the $300-$500 price point, we don’t think there are many better watch brands out there than Hamilton. The Khaki range always throws up some gems, and that’s no different with the Khaki Aviation featuring as our first alternative to the IWC Pilot.
You’ll notice many similarities in the overall design, with the simple dial matched with large numbering and a triangular marker at 12 o’clock. There’s also dauphine hands, a sapphire crystal, and a date indicator on the Khaki Aviation too.
But there are some differences. The numbering is different, with the Hamilton opting to show the minutes rather than the hours in the large font. There’s also a day indicator added to the date and some additional case design around the crown. Significantly, the Hamilton boats a Quartz movement rather than the automatic seen in the IWC.
Price-wise though, the Hamilton is far more affordable, with prices starting around $545 when purchased directly from the manufacturer. We’d recommend looking around, though, as, at the time of writing, several popular retailers had this watch closer to $375. At either price, this is a great watch and a perfect budget alternative to the IWC Pilot.
What makes it a great alternative? – The design is so similar to the IWC that you almost question if this is a homage watch. A strong Swiss movement and great price round of an excellent IWC alternative.
Our next alternative comes from the relatively new German watch brand Steinhart. Known mostly for their Ocean One dive watch, Steinhart has steadily increased popularity since its 2001 beginnings.
The Nav B-Uhr 44 is an effortlessly simple but very sophisticated pilot watch, with many similarities to the IWC Pilot. Mainly, you’ll see them in the design, with an incredibly similar plain black dial/white numbering combination. The hands are a similar shape, too, with the 12 o’clock marker design almost uncanny in how similar it is.
The watch does differ in a number of key areas, though. Firstly, the piece sits at 44mm rather than 36mm, so it’s definitely one for bigger wrist sizes. You will find an automatic Swiss movement inside the Steinhart, with a good quality ETA movement found in this model. Slight differences in crown design will be easy to spot, as well as the lack of date window with the Nav B-Uhr when compared to the IWC Pilot.
Steinhart claims that for the modest $420 price point of the Nav B-Uhr, you’re unlikely to find a better ‘price/performance ratio’. It’s hard to disagree, and given the similarities this watch has with the IWC Pilot, it’s an easy alternative recommendation from us!
What makes it a great alternative? It has a very similar look and feel to the IWC, with options for 37mm, 40mm, and 43mm sizes making it a versatile recommendation as an alternative.
From one German brand to another with the Flieger Stuttgart Pro selected as our next alternative pick from Laco. Laco has a great heritage when it comes to pilot watches, with the routes tracing all the way back to 1925 and the German Luftwaffe.
The similarities in terms of design are clear to see, with the Laco combining their plain dial and large numbering with dauphine hands and a triangular 12 o’clock marker. A sapphire crystal, brown leather strap, screw-down crown, and Swiss automatic movement round off a watch that shares many similarities with the IWC Pilot.
The main differences lie in the details. The design feels a little ‘smaller’ on the Flieger Stuttgart Pro, with the proportionality of the numbers to the dial slightly different. While there’s no 36mm offering, the 37mm option comes pretty close, but you won’t get a date window on this watch, and you’ll be limited to 2 bar of water resistance.
The great thing about Laco is the customization they offer on their watches. You can add a date window, increase the dial size, increase the accuracy and change out the strap color. Doing this often adds a little bit more to the $850 base price but does give you the freedom to create a watch that’s as close or far from the IWC Pilot as you wish!
What makes it a great alternative? – The closest match in terms of size, cost, and spec to the IWC Pilot with a range of customization options to make it your own.
To finish, we’ve pulled out the Aviator Classic from Stowa, yet another German watch brand that specialises in making great automatic watches with an aviation theme. If you liked the look of the Laco, but want a greater step up in spec, this watch will be for you.
The similarities between this watch and the IWC Pilot are clear to see. There’s a big dark dial, large white numbers, a triangular-shaped 12 o’clock marker, and dauphine hands. There’s a top-quality Sellita SW215-1 movement inside the case, that’s protected by a sapphire crystal and rated to 5 bar (the most we’ve seen from any IWC alternative), with this watch the only alternative to match the IWC’s 36mm sizing exactly.
The differences lie mainly in the coloring details. The strap is a much lighter brown than we’ve seen before, almost bordering on beige, but we’re sure it could be swapped out if needed. You’ll also see some electric blue detailing on the hands with the date window placed at 6 o’clock rather than 3 o’clock. The great thing with Stowa is that you have a range of customization options, though, so you may be able to bring the dial design even closer to the IWC if you wish.
Retailing at €1,100, if you’re buying in the US, expect to pay somewhere in the region of $1,250 to get your hands on your very own Aviator Classic. If you’re looking for an alternative for the IWC Pilot, it’s the closest in terms of ‘in the case’ spec of all our watches while giving you the flexibility to customize it to your tastes.
When it comes to pilot watches, there aren’t much better than the IWC Pilot range. The simple design, robust build, and easy-to-read dial makes the watch super popular across the globe, but it does come at a hefty price.
Luckily, there is a range of brands (especially in Germany) that create beautiful pilot watches with many of the same characteristics as the IWC. The four alternatives we’ve featured today just scratch the surface of what’s available, so be sure to shop around to find the perfect watch for you!