Wings Magazine

Citizen aviation watches

The grace and function of modern mechanical and quartz timepieces, By Phil Lightstone

March 24, 2023  By Phil Lightstone

The Citizen Promaster Snowbirds Skyhawk A-T features a grey ion plated stainless steel case, black dial and red accents encased in a genuine sapphire crystal, as well as atomic time clock synchronization for superior accuracy. Photos: Citizen

The past decade has seen the adoption of Smart Watches, which deliver many practical capabilities when paired with apps, Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity. Garmin’s D2 Mach 1 and Apple’s Watch Ultra are downsized microcomputers packed with limitless capabilities. But there’s something romantic about a mechanical or quartz aviator watch. The size, weight, accuracy, materials, and design can transport you back to the golden age of flying. My first Aviator Watch was a Citizen Wingman (WR 100), which incorporated a tiny E6B flight computer into the bezel of watch. It was a great fashion statement subtly messaging friends and acquaintances, “Hey, I’m a pilot”. 

Time is a critical aspect of every flight. Time, distance, and fuel remaining are essential components of every flight. A great aviation watch should have the following capabilities: Accurate time keeping; local and UTC time zones; sunlight readable dials and legibility of the dial in a multitude of conditions; and vibration and shock proof. The watch should be built to withstand the rigours of altitude, magnetic fields and extreme temperatures. All the while, the aesthetics, fit and finish of the timepiece should align to your expectations and needs. Let’s not forget comfort. The weight of the watch becomes another factor when selecting a watch. What’s on your wrist is an expression of your personality and budget.

Marvels of engineering
Aviation watches may be considered in three categories: Prestigious, budget and tech. Before the advent of Smart Watches, companies like Citizen and Alpina, created fine timepieces. Citizen’s approach delivers a high-quality timepiece at an affordable price, essentially a timepiece for every citizen of the world. Citizen began manufacturing watches for pilots and aviation enthusiasts in the 1990s. Citizen’s subsidiary, Alpina, has been developing aviator watches since 1920. The Startimer collection stays faithful to the spirit of its predecessors and presents clean and legible dials enhanced by traditional oversized crowns and start at $1,595 (all quoted pricing is in Canadian funds and does not include taxes or shipping). 

Founded in 1930, Citizen manufacturers revolutionary timepieces including a Super Titanium material which is five times harder and 40 per cent lighter than stainless steel. Ever innovating, its watches are powered by light (Eco-Drive), time and calendar synchronized using radio technology (Atomic Timekeeping) and its newest watch movements, receiving satellite GPS timekeeping (Satellite Wave). Eco-Drive was launched in 1976 and converts natural or artificial light into energy to power the watch, storing the surplus in a power cell. On a full charge, an Eco-Drive watch runs for months. Gone are the days of replacing a watch battery every few years.


Atomic Timekeeping keeps my Citizen Promaster Skyhawk A-T in perfect synchronization ensuring that the accuracy of timekeeping is maintained without me thinking about it. Using radio transmissions, this technology automatically updates the time and date of your watch based on a time signal from an atomic clock with a margin of error of one second every 100,000 years. Time signals are received from transmitters and atomic clocks in four different regions: Europe, the United States, China and Japan. Reception can be affected by radio frequency noise, local topography, buildings and the weather. With a receiver chip, the watch wakes up at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 am and listens for a signal. A binary code containing the time, date, day of week and time zone from GMT is received. To help the process, its best to keep your watch on a credenza as opposed to buried in a cabinet.

Citizen watches equipped with Satellite Wave GPS receive position and time signals from orbiting GPS satellites, keeping the watch updated to the correct date and time, with updates in less than three seconds. Using this data, the timepiece determines which time zone you are in, setting your watch to the correct time for where you are at that moment. As with aviation GPS avionics, your watch requires a clear view of the sky.

Citizen’s Skyhawk and Navihawk models utilize a quartz movement and are available in a variety of materials, including stainless steel, titanium and super titanium. The success of quartz movements is based upon their accuracy and manufacturing process. The Promaster Skyhawk A-T edition features a super titanium case and bracelet five times harder and 40 per cent lighter than stainless steel. The Skyhawk A-T Blue Angels watch is available with either a bracelet, an indigo blue Italian leather strap with yellow contrast stitching or navy blue leather strap. With licensing agreements with the Snowbirds, Blue Angels and Red Arrows, an owner can feel like they are part of the team. 

The Promaster Air collection has 28 different models with prices ranging from $550 to $1,195. With models like Air, Navihawk, Skyhawk and a variety of bands, you are sure to find a timepiece that suites your needs and personality. Citizen’s new Skyhawk A-T (JY8084-089H) takes the design back to its original Skyhawk released in the early 1990s. 

Citizen has 36 new watches for 2023. Checkout its Super Titanium HAKUTO-R, created in collaboration with the Japanese lunar exploration program and iSpace. Citizen has provided Super Titanium parts for the legs of the project’s lunar lander. This limited-edition timepiece depicts the unique lunar surface patterns with newly developed recrystallized Titanium. The striking design combines recrystallized titanium with Duratect DLC (Citizen’s proprietary technology to harden the surfaces of watch parts) and features an all-black dial, case, and bracelet, taking inspiration from the mystery and infinite darkness of outer space. Advanced features also include GPS timekeeping, world time in 27 cities (40 time zones), a chronograph, dual time zones, a universal coordinated time display, a perpetual calendar, as well as daylight savings time, power reserve, and light level indicators. Priced at $4,500, it’s an exceptionally elegant timepiece. 

Citizen watches can be purchased from any authorized Citizen dealer as well as on All Citizen watches have a five-year warranty and a service and repair facility located in Markham, ON.

Service and repair

The Citizen Promaster Snowbirds Skyhawk A-T timepiece comes in a unique Snowbirds themed box.

Whether you own a $600 Citizen watch or $3,000 Alpina timepiece, routine maintenance is critical to maintaining your investment. Timepieces require periodic servicing, which involves not only cleaning and polishing the exterior of the watch and bracelet, but also lubricating the watch movement (mechanical watches). The watch will be calibrated to ensure its accuracy as part of the service. Seals are replaced to ensure that waterproof or water resistance is maintained. 

Dive watches tend to be guaranteed to be waterproof to a specific distance under water, during its warranty period. Water resistance tends to be a best effort guarantee and most manufacturers will honour their warranty. During a service, the gaskets will be changed to ensure that water resistance/proof capabilities are maintained, a great investment in protecting your watch during swimming or showering. 

Different manufacturers have different views for when a timepiece should be serviced, but three to five years tends to be common for mechanical watches. Over time, the oils will tend to dry out, but if the timepiece is keeping accurate time, just keep wearing your watch. The movements are marvels of mechanical engineering, however, and should be serviced at least once every 10 years.

Citizen aviation watches can be found at pilot shops (like Aviation World and Threshold Aviation), jewellery stores and online. As with any purchase, a bit of homework can help you pick that right timepiece which becomes part of your persona. To avoid purchasing a counterfeit watch, consider acquiring your new watch directly from Citizen or one of its authorized retailers. As Citizen says, “Better Starts Now”.


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