Ever wonder why dog-food brands don't sponsor Formula One cars? Or why Red Bull doesn't advertise during Downton Abbey? No? Never? Then again, ever question Coca-Cola and McDonald's' sponsorship of the Olympics and the Fifa World Cup? Brand associations are a lot harder to achieve than we give them credit for and, sometimes, even natural associations, such as watches and aviation, can go horribly wrong. Pilot watches are a lucrative market and a lot of brands are eager to grab a slice of that action even if it means mythologising history or referencing a link that's tenuous at best.
Thankfully, it's easy to spot the brands that have a genuine affinity for aviation and perhaps one of the best examples is Breitling. Despite, in David Beckham, picking up a man known for what he does with his feet on the ground as an ambassador in recent months, Breitling has been the pilot's choice for decades, and for good reason, if one considers watches such as the Navitimer 01. Now celebrating its 60th year, Breitling has released two special editions of the Navitimer 01, of which the red gold with black dial face version (below left) is the better one as it highlights the iconic and busy dial design the best. The powerful Breitling 01 movement offers 70 hours of power and allows for a top-class chronograph with counters for one-fourth of a second, 30 minutes and 12 hours as well as a date indicator. Sized at 43mm, this is a reassuringly chunky watch that features a bidirectional bezel needed for all the measurement indicators on the outer edge of the dial that only real pilots can decipher. The red-gold case alongside the black dial face is made classier with a brown leather strap. The Breitling Navitimer 01 in red gold is priced at HK$188,400.
IWC is another brand that has an easy and natural association with aviation built upon the enduring popularity of its Big Pilot's Watch series. This has given the brand leeway to have a bit of fun with the association and that has led to watches such as the IWC Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar (above). Yes, that Top Gun, the one from the movie that really does exist. The watch is a tribute to the Top Gun flight school, sleek, ready for action and incredibly tough. Coming in a huge 48mm case made of tough grey ceramic, the watch can take a knock or two. The dial design is stripped down and functional with only a date window at the three o'clock position and the power reserve is an amazing seven days. The functional, forceful design is accentuated by the militaristic strap. The Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar is priced at HK$101,000.
Finally, we have Bell & Ross, a young upstart brand that has gained a reputation for making great pilot's watches. The BR 01 Altimeter (below right) is a limited-edition watch featuring the iconic Bell & Ross rounded-square case design as well as a dial that wouldn't look out of place in the cockpit. As the name suggests, the dial design is inspired by a plane's altimeter to give the watch a unique and playful touch but it's also very practical allowing room for a large date indicator at the three o'clock position. The large 46mm black carbon case also deliberately apes the anti-glare, matt-black finish of the instrument panels found in planes. Water resistance is a healthy 100 metres and the watch comes with both rubber and canvas straps. Limited to 999 pieces, the Bell & Ross BR 01 Altimeter is priced at HK$49,500.