It’s already 14 years ago since IWC revived the now iconic Big Pilot’s Watch and this year they treat us on a new and improved version: the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch IW500912. Moreover, IWC also launches three more Big Pilot’s Watch models, being the Big Pilot’s Watch Spitfire (ref. IW500917) in 18k red gold, the Big Pilot’s Watch Top Gun (ref. IW502001) in black ceramic and the Big Pilot’s Watch Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ (ref. IW500916) that comes with its unmistakable, and striking, blue dial. Let’s take a closer look at the new & improved IWC Big Pilot’s Watch and its siblings.
Before we dive into all details, let’s have a look back at the very reason d’etre of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch. To learn more we have to look back at the years before World War II and the so-called B-Uhren, which is an abbreviation for Beobachtungsuhren. This name translates to English as ‘observation watch’, and their lineage harks back to 1935 when Adolf Hitler announced his plans to reinstate the German Air Force, and with that officially created the German ‘Luftwaffe’.
The first conceptual design of a watch to be worn by the airplane’s navigators comes from 1935 and is already marked ‘Beobachtungsuhr’ as we showed you in our article ‘The History of the Pilot’s Watch Part 5: B-Uhr‘. The pilot’s watch as a military specifications timepiece, was intended for the airplane’s navigator although these timepieces always remained property of the airforce. The navigator had to pick one up just before flight, and then returned the watch after the flight. Shortly before the flight the navigator received a signal beep from the airbase, that worked as a reference, and aided the navigator to set the watch on time; an accurate watch was a pure necessity for navigation!
All ‘B-Uhren’ were BIG – measuring 55mm in diameter – in order to accommodate a large hand-wound pocket watch movement. The movement always featured a Breguet balance spring, a central second hand, and had so-called hacking seconds (meaning the second hand stop when the crown is pulled.) Also important was that 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.) There’s much more to say about the B-Uhren, however we encourage you to read our five-part History of the Pilot Watch for all historical backgrounds, starting with part 1 here. Also note that we already introduced a 48mm and a 55m large Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch.
The new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch ref. IW500912
Now back to the new Big Pilot’s Watch IW500912 and some of its new siblings. First we’ll look at the ‘standard’ black dial version. As some of you might wonder, what has been updated in comparison to the previous model? Below is are the major three version of the last fourteen years, side by side. It might be good to know that hardcore collectors prefer the initial model, ref. IW5002, for various style-reasons. For instance the triangle on the old B-Uhr (see above) used to sit just below the 12 o’clock index, and that was also the case on the very first reissue of the Big Pilot’s Watch, the reference IW5002. On later models, starting with the reference IW5004, and continued in ref. IW5008, that changed and the triangle replaced the 12 o’clock hour index (and thus moved slightly upwards on the dial.)
Also the Arabic number “9” as 9 o’clock marker disappeared as of ref. 5004. I can only imagine that this was done to make the dial cleaner, and more open. Moreover, the numerals for the 12, 3 and 6 are also absent, so it makes sense to also remove the 9. As of this year the number 9 returns to the dial, just like on the IW5002 that high on the wish-list of many collectors. Other updates include a larger IWC name, and a different font for “Schaffhausen”. The hour numerals, all Arabic, have been reduced in size and moved closer to the indices on the outskirts of the dial. It looks like a good blend of style elements of both the original (first re-issue) ref. IW5002 and the later ref. IW5004/IW5009.
What else is new? Well, the movement isn’t new, as the Big Pilot’s Watch has been equipped with IWC’s in-house developed and build calibre 5111 since the introduction of ref. IW5004 back in 2007. In 2013 the Big Pilot’s Watch was updated a bit and that resulted in ref. IW500901. Today we mainly see a visual update of the model as the movement and case remain the same. Maybe the biggest change, besides a slightly different dial, is the strap. As of this model the Big Pilot’s Watch will come on a calf leather strap, instead of the alligator strap of previous models. But it isn’t “just” a calf leather strap, since the new calf-skin straps are manufactured by Santoni, the Italian shoe manufacturer.
Concluding we can say that the latest iteration of the Big Pilot’s Watch could well be the one that brings everything together. The pitch black dial, the printed white indices and numerals, and the return of the lowered triangle and number 9. Dare I say it… this new model, ref. 500912, combines everything that I liked about the Big Pilot’s Watch and to me it is the ultimate edition.
Did you know that the triangle or arrow at the twelve o’clock position, is a typical pilot’s watch indication? Dive watch, on the other hand, often feature a reversed triangle, with point downwards. According to the very first drawings of the Beobachtungsuhr, as you can find in part 5 of our History of the Pilot’s Watch, the triangle accompanied by two dots, one on each side, is the sign for the Type A models that only feature an outer chapter ring. The later type B (starting in 1941) had an outer ring for minutes/seconds and an inner ring for hours, plus a triangle without the dots.
The IWC in-house calibre 51111
‘Under the hood’ of the Big Pilot’s Watch is the tried and tested IWC in-house calibre 51111. Besides being the largest automatic movement ever made by IWC it sports a few important key features. It has a power reserve of seven days, or 168 hours, when fully wound. After this time, the movement is mechanically stopped, before the tension in the main spring is too low to supply the escapement with enough energy/torque to maintain a healthy chronometric rate (precision.)
The spring-mounted rotor and Pellaton pawl-winding system build up the seven-day power reserve quite fast, and the actual power reserve is indicated by the power reserve display at the 3 o’clock position. At the 6 o’clock position is a date display. Inside the 46mm case, the movement is enclosed in a soft-iron cage, which protects the movement against magnetic fields. The Big Pilot’s Watch is water resistant to 6 bar, or 60 meters.
Big Pilot’s Watch Spitfire ref. IW500917
The new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Spitfire (Ref. IW500917) now comes in 18-carat red gold and with a beautiful slate-grey dial with a sun-ray finish. Like on the normal BP (ref. IW500912) the dial features the triangle below the chapter ring and the slightly bolder numerals are clearly visible. It too comes on a calfskin strap by Santoni, however not on the black strap, but a brown one with orange lining. Engraved in the case-back is the silhouette of a Spitfire, a British fighter plane that is actually named Supermarine Spitfire (check the Wikipedia link for more info about the plane). Altogether a very striking version of the Big Pilot’s Watch. With its 46mm case it simply wouldn’t fit under your cuff, so it might not be a dress watch, however it lifts the Big Pilot’s Watch from sporty casual (for the steel version with black dial) to sporty chic level. Very elegant!
Big Pilot’s Watch Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ (ref. IW500916)
IWC also introduces a new Big Pilot’s Watch Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ in stainless steel. On the dial side it adopts all new design-changes that have also been applied on the ‘normal’ BP and the BP Spitfire, meaning a triangle that now sits just below the chapter ring and the return of the “9”. The dial is like all Le Petit Price edition is a beautiful and quite striking blue. Two previous iterations of the Big Pilot’s Watch Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ (one in 18k red gold and one in stainless steel) featured applied numerals and indices in the blue dial, and both were limited editions. Unlike the previous models, the BP Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ is not a limited edition anymore, so that’s good news for collectors!
There are two more unlimited ‘Le Petit Prince’ editions: Pilot’s Watch chronograph and Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII (we’ll cover this one tomorrow.) And there’s one that is limited: an 18k red gold edition featuring IWC’s Annual Calendar with its famous triple aperture display that was introduced in the Portugieser Annual Calendar ref. 5035 last year.
Big Pilot’s WatchTop Gun (ref. IW502001)
The last BP that the brand from Schaffhausen introduces is a new version of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch TOP GUN. And guess what… this behemoth that HAD a diameter of 48mm has shrunken to the same diameter as the other BP models, namely 46mm. In all honesty, that is more than big enough to deserve the name BIG Pilot’s Watch. Especially now a large part of the Pilot’s Watch collection is being redesigned with reduced size cases. Moreover, the case is 1mm slimmer than all other BP models, and measures 15mm in height. This TOP GUN edition also adopted the same design cues that we can see on the other models, with the lowering of the triangle and the return of the “9”.
Stay tuned for more information about the other new IWC Pilot’s Watch models, or already check them out at the IWC website. As soon as IWC discloses the prices, we’ll update this article.