Having a good story to tell is a treasure trove for watch brands, and IWC secured a winning one in 2005 when it partnered with the heirs of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviator and author of the timeless novella, Le Petit Prince. Special editions of the Big Pilot’s Watch, devoted to the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his legendary Prince, appeal to the hearts and minds of fans with their classic B-Uhr pilot watch styling. Following the debut of the Big Pilot “Le Petit Prince” with a monopusher chronograph last year, it’s “Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s” turn to be kitted out with this complication. Presented in the emblematic Big Pilot’s format in an 18k rose gold case, the new IW515204 shares the exact specifications as the 2021 edition but is produced in even more reduced numbers and limited to 100 pieces. And when we say ‘emblematic’, we are referring to the 46.2mm version inspired by the massive 1940s B-Uhr watch, not the downsized 43mm that ruffled the feathers of some Big Pilot fans.
The main difference between the “Le Petit Prince” and “Antoine de Saint Exupéry” collections is the dial colour: “Le Petit Prince” models have blue dials, and “Antoine de Saint Exupéry” watches have brown or tobacco-coloured dials. It’s also true that there are more models and complications in the “Le Petit Prince” Big Pilot’s Watch line-up, including a Perpetual Calendar, a Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon, an Annual Calendar and even a Constant-Force Tourbillon. Despite these complications, a chronograph was missing from the collection, and in 2021, “Le Petit Prince” was rewarded with a manual-winding monopusher chronograph movement.
IWC’s first 55mm Big Pilot’s Watch of 1940 (ref. 1W431), aka a Beobachtungsuhror a B-Urh observation watch, was the muse behind the Big Pilot’s Watch. The enormous 55mm case of the B-Urh was designed to accommodate large pocket watch movements, which in turn were protected by an iron core to counter magnetism. To assist pilots in freezing cockpit conditions, the large diamond-shaped crown could be manipulated with gloves, and a long strap with rivets allowed pilots to secure the watch over the cuffs of their leather jackets. Legibility was enhanced with large Arabic numerals and the orientation triangle at 12 o’clock flanked by two dots. Referred to as the “Grosse Fliegeruhr” or Big Pilot’s Watch, the design features of this robust military tool watch left their mark on the modern version of the watch released by IWC in 2002, known to collectors as ref. 5002.
As you can imagine, incorporating two chronograph pushers on the already gigantic case of the Big Pilot’s Watch (46.2mm x 14.6mm) was an issue that concerned IWC’s designers. Not only would they look pretty ridiculous flanking the large crown, but they could also lead to confusion with IWC’s other line-up of Pilot chronographs. The solution was a monopusher chronograph movement, and luckily, IWC already had the manual-winding calibre 59360 one in stock first used inside the Portofino Monopusher of 2014.
The “Antoine de Saint Exupéry” touch
Not only was Saint-Exupéry a poet and author, but he was also an aviator and participated in flying reconnaissance missions for the French Air Force until his mysterious disappearance on a mission over occupied France in 1944. Linking the watch to the legendary author and aviator, the colour of the tobacco brown dial is taken from the flight suits worn by the Saint-Exupéry. With its sunray-brushed finishing, the warm glow of the brown dial looks very handsome indeed in the rose gold case. The vertical layout of the counters gives the watch a pleasing symmetry with a recessed and snailed 60-minute totaliser at noon and small seconds at 6 o’clock.
The 5N rose gold case, with brushed flanks and a touch of polish on the bezel, crown and caseback, shares the same specifications as the “Le Petit Prince” edition with a diameter of 46.2mm and a height of 14.6mm. The large conical fluted crown houses the pusher for the chronograph that can be started, stopped and reset to zero. User-friendly and practical, the stopwatch function displays elapsed times of up to one hour (60-min) on the sub-dial at noon. The large rose gold-plated Arabic numerals are applied to the dial and treated with luminescent material along with the triangle and two dots at noon and the hour markers at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. Divided into five-second intervals, the white peripheral track stands out vividly against the brown dial. The propeller-style hands, with thin tips, are plated in rose gold and filled with lume, like the shorter hands on the two sub-dials. Finally, there is a rectangular date window at 3 o’clock with a white background to match the markings on the dial and black numerals.
The brown calfskin strap with white stitching and rivets (width 20mm) underscores the pilot theme perfectly. The advantage of a leather strap over a bracelet is that you can admire the movement of a watch.
Calibre 59365, IWC’s third chronograph movement developed and manufactured in Schaffhausen, is also the brand’s only manual-winding chronograph and features a monopusher module mounted on the back of the base 59000 calibre. As with other IWC chronographs, it functions with a column wheel, giving the pusher a smoother action and preventing any vibration of the central seconds hand. The bridges, decorated with horizontal Côtes de Genève, have several cut-out areas to reveal the column wheel, parts of the gear train and the balance. A power reserve indicator is also provided on the movement side with a small blued hand running along the 8-day track. Other refined finishings include the chamfered edges of the bridges and the circular graining on the base plate. Beating at 28,800vph, the movement delivers a robust 192h or 8-day power supply.
Availability and price
The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Monopusher Edition “Antoine de Saint Exupéry” IW515204 is a limited edition of 100 watches and retails for CHF 33,000.
For more information, please visit IWC.com.