The watch we have for review today is a Szanto Big Aviator. Now, we know when it comes to big watches, collectors either love ’em or diss ’em… but this is a pilot watch and there’s good reason for it to be a big piece.
The size has a history of evolution and practicality. Going way back to early military watches when guys were literally running around the trenches with pocket watches strapped to their wrists. Moving forward to timekeeping in the cockpit, pilots needed something that was easy to read at a quick glance and easy to adjust on the fly.
The oversized onion crown on the Big Aviator is one of the traits of a traditional pilot watch. Other than being carried over from the pocket watch days, this style of crown has a utilitarian purpose – being able to be handled with gloves on. This model can be wound without unscrewing the crown and adjusts the time and date with ease. You might not be flying a plane, but it’s convenient for getting through winter on the East Coast! Even without a screw-down crown, it is rated at a 100m/330ft water resistance.
The power behind the Big Aviator is a Miyota caliber 8217. Miyota is part of the microbrand and kickstarter watch explosion because they offer a solid movement at an affordable price. Most of the brands go with the caliber 8215 (or 9015), but the Big Aviator packs one extra complication that we’ll get to below. Similar to the 8215, the 8217 is a 21 jewel movement beating at 21,600 bph, 40 hours power reserve with a Parashock anti-shock system.
The way to the distinguish the 8217 from the more commonly used caliber 8215 is the 24 hour subdial at 9:00 on the dial. This gives the Big Aviator something else to offer beyond a standard three hand timepiece. The design fills the big dial nicely and it feels balanced with the date and crown at 3:00.
Here you can see the time at 4:22pm also reads as 16:22 in military time. This is useful, not only for pilots, but people in other fields (such as engineers) that require military time for documentation and record keeping.
A whole lot of dial
This watch itself is 46mm in diameter, but thanks to the minimal bezel most of that real-estate goes to the dial. Approximately 41mm to be precise! Although we’re looking at the khaki dial reference 6103 in this review, Szanto also offers this piece with a black dial (and you can get it with a black IP case like this). All of the models have a black date wheel and a K1 hardened mineral crystal to keep the dial safe. It’s not as scratch-resistant as sapphire, but it’s typical on affordablemicrobrands.
What good is a big watch if you can’t tell the time on it? The Big Aviator stays true to the purpose behind the size and is ultra legible thanks to the bold full-circle of Arabic markers. What we really like is how they chose to use Old RadiumSuper-LumiNova lume across the line.
On the Wrist
It’s meant to have a big crown, and for that reason it’s normal to get a little digging in your hand when wearing on the left arm, however, Szanto’s crown is more rounded than other pilot watches we’ve seen and the digging is minimal for a onion crown. The 6103 is just over 12mm thick (about as thick as a Rolex Submariner), and can fit under a dress shirt cuff if you have a large arm or use the first button. If you prefer your watch to “pop” out of your cuff, you can also get that effect, thanks to the size.
Despite the size, the Big Aviator doesn’t feel too big on a regular sized wrist. The lugs are nice and short, making the lug-to-lug measure out at about 54mm. What really makes the watch comfortable is the super soft strap they used. Some brands go for a rigid band and on a big watch like this, that’s a no go. If you want to swap straps, remember the 24mm lug-width.
The Affordable Zenith Pilot Alternative
We’re calling this the affordable Zenith Pilot Type 20 alternative, because that’s basically what it is. It’s perfect for the collector who loves the Type 20 styling but isn’t ready to pay $4,000 for used one. This watch can’t contend with the Zenith, but for barely a tenth of the price, you can have some fun and enjoy a big pilot watch on your wrist.
Update on this model
Szanto did a refresher on the Big Aviator. They changed the logo and added an exhibition caseback. The references are the same, with the only thing differentiating them is “old logo” and “new logo” designations after the number. We think these changes are big enough that they could have changed the model numbers from the 6100 series to something logical like 6100-2.
The price of the old or new logo is different on the official Szanto site, but sadly they are dumping these watches are being dumped on Amazon where the pricing is the same as what wholesale should be, so price difference is nominal. For that reason, we say go for the new one with the exhibition caseback.