Few watches can claim to be real icons. The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch is definitely one of them. This WWII-inspired pilot’s watch needs no introduction anymore. Of course, the one that everybody knows is the classic black dial version with white indices (Ref. IW500912). But there are more editions offered by the brand – including my favourite, the “Le Petit Prince” ref. IW500916 – with or without complications. Recently, the brand added a new, vintage-like subcollection in the Big Pilot line dubbed “Heritage”, which includes the watch we’re about to review, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage Bronze IW501005. Patina is about to hit the sky!
In 2002, IWC launched a watch that would later become a true cornerstone in the collection, a watch that many praised and loved, a watch that would define IWC as a true pilot’s watch manufacture: the Big Pilot. The first edition – the standard black dial version, Ref. IW5002 – was a modern re-introduction of an iconic German military watch, the B-Uhr. This watch, dating from 1935 and marked ‘Beobachtungsuhr’, was worn by the aeroplane’s navigators.
German Luftwaffe pilots used this watch as a true navigation instrument and, for this very reason, the watch was large – about 55mm in diameter – and accommodated a massive hand-wound pocket watch movement. The movement was surrounded by a soft-iron case, making these watches anti-magnetic, which is essential for aviation timepieces. A good example is the IWC Calibre 52 T.S.C. (Ref. IW431) that was first manufactured in 1940 (see picture above.)
The 2002 IWC Big Pilot’s watch Ref. IW5002 was a modern interpretation of this concept rather than a faithful copy of a past model. Still, it was defined by its oversized case – 46mm – and its emblematic dial, with hands and markers identical to the 1940s watches. Inside was an ultra-large movement, this time though with automatic winding and a 7-day power reserve. Vintage in style, but not in the specifications.
Three generations of Big Pilot’s watches were introduced – IW5002, IW5004, and the current IW5009. If the concept remained basically the same, some evolutions are to be noted. For instance, the mid-life model IW5004 was somehow decried by collectors because of a less legitimate dial display. At the SIHH 2016, IWC introduced a brand new version – Ref. IW5009 – which updated the dial and returned to the original design – with the 9 o’clock numeral back in place and the black triangle below the 12 o’clock index. Also, the movement was entirely changed, and if it still has a 7-day power reserve, it features a brand-new architecture inside. This is the movement that has been used for the creation of several limited (or not) editions, including two “Heritage” watches: the Ref. IW501004 with titanium case and the one that is the talking point here, the bronze version Ref. IW501005.
The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage Bronze IW501005
The recently introduced Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage Bronze IW501005 is a limited edition of 1,500 pieces that IWC launched to please those who find the classic black dial version too technical, too modern, not enough rooted in military inspiration. I personally can understand that some folks want something more “vintage” when it comes to such WWII-inspired watches, as the IW5009 truly is a cold, instrument-like watch with no frills. Things solved, the titanium IW501004 and even more the bronze IW501005 are truly antique-looking.
The evolution, compared to the standard black dial version, is entirely about the look. Dimensions, specifications and mechanics are the same in both versions of the watch. However, the case and dial are new. In 2016 already, IWC launched some “Heritage” watches (in the frame of the SIHH when the Pilot’s watch collection was entirely changed) with the IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 48mm & 55mm (1,000-piece and 100-piece limited editions respectively). These two were, however, rather apart in the collection, and did not feature the automatic 7-day power reserve movement and the central seconds/power reserve indicator display. The IW501005 is more in line with what the classical Big Pilot’s Watch is supposed to be.
This Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage Bronze relies on the same 46.2mm x 15.4mm case as the standard steel version. The shape is also the same. What changes is the material used: a bronze alloy with its defining dark-gold colour – when new – or greenish patina – after being worn intensively. This choice of material changes the perception of the watch, giving it a resemblance to old, military models. Also, bronze is a unique material that lives and changes as you wear the watch. The watch shown here is already quite “aged” and has this distinctive green oxide all over the case. This is something that some will love and that some won’t. This is part of the fun of a bronze watch, so be aware of that before buying one. The watch you’ll have when going out of the shop won’t last as such…
Bronze is used also on the diamond-shaped oversized crown but not for the caseback, which is made of titanium for obvious skin-protection reasons. Bronze oxide can cause allergic reactions and this material shouldn’t be in direct contact with the skin. The caseback doesn’t feature a see-through sapphire (like the steel model). The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch is designed as a true instrument made to aid navigation (or not, depending on what you want to do with it), and its case is protected against magnetic fields with a soft-iron cage encircling the movement. In the same vein, the sapphire crystal on the dial side is secured against displacement by a sudden drop in air pressure.
On the wrist, no surprises. The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage Bronze IW501005 is and remains a Big Pilot. It is large, thick, heavy and is very much a statement piece. No debate. This is intrinsically part of the model and, like it or not, a Big Pilot’s can’t be smaller. The strap is also long and thick, which, once again, fits in with the whole concept of this watch. Nevertheless, the lugs are short and curved enough to make the watch balanced and rather comfortable once secured to the wrist. The watch, thanks to the bronze case and the new dial, is warmer and more lively than the steel model.
Dial-side, some evolutions are to be noted too. The display – with central H-M-S, power reserve indicator at 3 o’clock and date at 6 o’clock – remains identical to the steel IW5009. However, colours and inscriptions are different. Obvious update: the indices, numerals and hands are coated with tritium-coloured Super-LumiNova – hence a creamy, light brown colour. This matches the bronze case well and creates an overall antique style. Also, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the minute track, the hour indices, as well as the numerals, are differently shaped. Small details that set this watch apart from the rest of the collection.
Even though fakely aged, the watch retains a great contrast and superb legibility – in daylight or in the dark. The last update compared to the standard steel model is to be seen on the hands, which are all blued – an ode to the original B-Uhr watches. As always, the presence of the date remains debatable… To each his own.
Inside the case is IWC’s in-house calibre 52110. This large, pocketwatch-sized movement (38.20mm diameter) was launched in 2015 and offers multiple improvements over the previous 7-day engines found in the Big Pilot’s Watch. First of all, its energy is now stored in two main-spring barrels and not only one – meaning a more constant delivery of torque over the full length of the power reserve. The automatic winding is still done by a Pellaton system, now with black ceramic winding pawls and white ceramic bearings. The indexless balance with a frequency of 4 hertz (28,800 beats per hour) and the Breguet spring guarantee maximum precision. Finally, even though invisible in this watch, the movement is well decorated.
The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Heritage Bronze IW501005 is definitely a nice watch – at least, for those who will like its aged case and dial. For this reason, it is slightly more segmenting than the steel model and will be less easy to wear on a regular basis. In this configuration, it becomes more of a collector’s piece, explaining also the 1,500-piece limited edition. It is priced at EUR 13,800. More details on iwc.com.