Even though IWC Pilot’s Watch collection resurfaced in the early 1990s with the Flieger DoppelChronograph 3711, quickly followed by the Ceramic Flieger 3705 – as we’ve seen recently with the Tribute watch – the most emblematic watch of this entire collection is, without doubt, the Big Pilot’s Watch and its oversized case. Bold, immediately recognisable and ultra-functional, this watch defines the overall concept of the IWC Pilot’s Watch collection since its introduction in 2002. Today, this icon is joined by a “less-big Big Pilot” watch, a downsized, more rational version, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43. New size, new movement, simplified display, new interchangeable straps, improved specifications… We tell you all about the IW3293 collection in this article and the video above.
The Big Pilot’s story
Before we even move to modern references of the Big Pilot’s watch, we have to look back at IWC’s history. Like many manufactures in the late 1930s and early 1940s, IWC had to participate in War effort strategies for most forces in Europe. As such, the Schaffhausen-based company developed numerous watches destined for pilots and aircraft crew members. Although it all started in 1936 with the IWC “Special Watch For Pilots”, the most recognisable watch in this field is the 1940 Big Pilot’s Watch Calibre 52 T.S.C. (reference IW436).
A behemoth of a watch supplied to the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) in 1940, it was classified as an observation watch and produced in a run of around 1,000 pieces. Its case measured 55mm in diameter, and its dial was instantly legible with oversized luminous hands and markers. It was equipped with large Arabic numerals and a triangle with two dots, to help spot the 12 o’clock position in the dark. Inside was a reliable and highly precise pocket watch movement. Following the end of WWII, the production of these watches stopped, although their famous design perdured.
After the relaunch of the Pilot’s Watch collection in the early 1990s with several Flieger chronographs, the brand decided to dig into its past and to revive the concept of the observation watch, an oversized, ultra-legible, ultra-precise watch with all the distinctive elements of the “B-Uhr” models. In 2002, IWC took its new ultra-powerful automatic movement (found in the Portugieser automatic), changed it to a central seconds display, and produced a modern interpretation of the observation watch. Named the “Grosse Fliegeruhr” or Big Pilot’s Watch, the model (IW5002) was smaller but no less imposing at 46mm. Except for the date and the power reserve display, its dial was a faithful tribute to the B-Uhr watches. A transitional model was launched in 2006 with a new, faster beat movement.
The Big Pilot’s Watch then was subtly redesigned in 2006 as reference IW5004. The numeral 9 on the dial disappeared, and now numerals at 2 and 4 o’clock on the dial were partially displayed. Also, the dial was entirely painted, without applied indexes anymore. The strap was upgraded from buffalo to alligator. The movement was improved to a faster beat, first calibre 51110 in 2006 and then calibre 51111 in 2007. In 2012, some improvements were made on the crown and stem-sealing system, becoming reference IW5009. Finally, the Big Pilot’s Watch was further improved in 2016 when it was given a new movement, calibre 52110, under the reference IW5010. Some small updates were also applied to the dial.
Yet, during all its years of production, certain things remained true for the Big Pilot’s Watch: its oversized diameter of 46mm – or even more on some editions – the presence of a date window at 6 o’clock, an ultra-large automatic movement with a 7-day power reserve and a power gauge at 3 o’clock. Well, today this is about to change with the incorporation of a downsized model in the collection.
The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43
So there’s a smaller – well, ‘less big’ would be more accurate – IWC Big Pilot’s Watch coming. What we have here is basically an intermediate size between the classic Big Pilot 46mm and the much smaller Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII and its 40mm diameter. So yes, there’s a new model that sits right in the middle, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 (which, you’ve guessed, measured 43mm). It’s important to note that this new watch doesn’t replace the classic 46mm BP but comes next to it – I’m sure some will be reassured.
The recipe applied by IWC here is pretty similar to what the brand did last year with the Portugieser Automatic 40, which came in addition to the larger and far more powerful Portugieser Automatic with a 42mm case. The idea was to bring a smaller, mechanically simplified and visually restrained edition of one of the brand’s icons with a more accessible price tag. The BP 43 follows exactly this strategy and actually shares the same base movement as the Portugieser Automatic 40.
A first look at the new Big Pilot’s Watch 43 will leave no doubt concerning its provenance. Even though sleeker, simplified and smaller, it still has all the traits of an IWC Grosse Flieger. Immediately recognisable and even more concentrated, it shares the same overall shapes, fonts, numerals, hands and even strap designs – at least for some of them. No drama here; it’s just less of a big Big Pilot.
The case features the usual, utilitarian, no-nonsense design of the BP collection, now with a 43mm diameter and a 13.6mm height. The surfaces of the stainless case are mostly brushed, whether straight brushed on the sides or circular brushed on top, with polished accents on the side of the lugs and the bezel. There’s still this combination of an ultra-thin bezel and an ultra-wide dial opening that visually enlarges the watch. And the right side is still home to the iconic diamond-shaped and polished crown, which screws down.
Besides the evolution regarding the proportions, some of the specifications have also evolved. First of all, the inner soft-iron case has gone since the watch is equipped with a screwed caseback with a see-through sapphire window. On the positive side, the water-resistance has been improved from 60 metres to a very comfortable 100m rating. Also, the glass is still secured against displacement caused by drops in air pressure – a classic feature of IWC’s pilot’s watches.
On the dial side, the new Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is basically a very clean edition of the BP watch. This means that almost all elements are directly borrowed for the 46mm edition, including the bold luminous hour markers, the clear minute track, the rounded and luminous Arabic numerals, the typical triangle-and-dots at 12 o’clock and the distinctive hands of the collection – which are rhodium-plated here and not blackened. And that’s it: no date, no power reserve, just the three central hands and extreme legibility. The dial is even relatively discreet concerning its literature.
As you might have seen, the Big Pilot 43 also comes with a sunray-brushed blue dial. Other than the colour or the pattern applied to the dial, the watches are entirely identical, with the same hands or markers. The blue definitely has a more modern and slightly more luxurious appeal, while the black is an all-time classic that won’t disappoint.
Under the sapphire caseback is the calibre 82100, which is basically the central seconds version of the calibre 82200 found in the Portugieser Automatic 40. As such, it represents IWC’s entry-level automatic in-house movement, destined to replace the ETA or Sellita ébauches. Yet, it offers multiple improvements over these outsourced movements. The winding is done by the brand’s Pellaton system, the power reserve is a comfortable 60 hours, and the movement measures 30mm in diameter, making it better adapted to contemporary sized watches. It is also quite pleasantly designed with opened bridges that reveal most parts. The decoration, if industrial, is well executed. Finally, some components like the automatic wheel or the pawls that mesh with it are made of virtually wear-free zirconium oxide ceramic.
Altogether, three references are presented:
- IW329301 – black dial with brown calf leather strap
- IW329303 – blue dial with blue calf leather strap
- IW329304 – blue dial with stainless steel bracelet
Some important details regarding the straps, in addition to the fact that IWC now offers a stainless steel bracelet on one of its Big Pilot’s watches. On the back, you’ll see that IWC has added a new quick-change strap system, which enables the wearer to quickly and easily change the strap or the bracelet (no tool needed) – you can see how it works in the video review. A wide selection of calfskin and rubber straps will be available. The leather strap included in this new BP 43 models is closed by a steel folding clasp, and the stainless steel bracelet is equipped with a practical fine adjustment clasp system for improved comfort and ergonomics.
Compared with a Classic Big Pilot
And now comes the “big” question. How does this new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 compare to the classic oversized – but oh-so iconic – 46.2mm edition of the Big Pilot?
As you can see above, and as explained already, the connection between the two models is crystal clear and undebatable. The new 43mm edition is undeniably part of IWC Pilot’s Watches family and shares multiple design elements with its bigger brother. Most of its components, features or traits are identical, just slightly downsized to adapt to this new format. Some might think that the lack of a power reserve indicator is a bit of a downside, as it has been part of this model for 19 years now. But you could also argue that the new BP 43 is ultimately more focused and closer to the original concept of the B-Uhr, at least regarding the display.
What truly matters here are “proportions”, and the new BP 43 certainly feels like a smaller watch. The diameter has been reduced by over 3mm, the height by almost 2mm and the lug-to-lug distance by at least 3mm. This makes a considerable difference on the wrist because most areas of the case are slimmer and smaller – the lugs, for instance, are now more tapered and more curved. It is less “chunky” that might discourage some potential buyers of the Big Pilot 46mm, yet the watch still feels pretty large. But with its new construction, being flatter on the wrist, and its slightly more restrained proportions, the new edition could be worn by men with smaller wrists or even women who want the oversized – but not too much – effect.
On the other hand, isn’t the massive size of the Big Pilot the ultimate reason for its iconic status? Won’t the BP lose some of its charm now that it has been downsized? I’ll leave the answer to you. My 16.5cm tells me that the new 43mm edition fits better. I know that our founder Frank, a man with a larger wrist and a long-time fan of the original Big Pilot, will disagree.
Availability & Price
The new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Collection IW3293 will be available from May 2021 through IWC boutiques, authorised retailers and online at iwc.com. It will be priced at EUR 8,950 on a leather strap and EUR 9,950 on a steel bracelet.
For more details, please visit iwc.com.