Hands-On – IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch”

80 years ago (yes, already…), a brand named International Watch Co. launched a watch that will later become an icon and one emblematic collection. This watch was a “Special Watch For Pilots” and it was introduced to the world in 1936. Decades after, the spirit that the brand injected in this watch is still alive and the current IWC Big Pilot’s Watch still represents the pinnacle of the aviator’s instrument. To celebrate the 80th anniversary of IWC’s dedication to the pilot watch, the brand is about to launch a stunning limited edition, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch”, exclusively available in the Benelux and Scandinavian market (a very good occasion to travel to the Old Europe…).

IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition "A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot's Watch"

A short reminder about the IWC Pilot watches

The inter-war period marked the pinnacle for the development of both military aviation and for all the instruments related to this field, including pilot’s watches. Many of the modern pilot’s watches can find their roots in timepieces of that era. Most of the now iconic codes of pilot’s watches have been developed during this period and one brand that must be regarded is of course IWC. 80 years ago, in 1936, was the introduction of the first aviation-oriented piece by the brand named at that International Watch Co., more known as IWC. Ernst Jakob Homberger, managing director during the 1930s, had two sons who were so passionate about aviation that they decided to manufacture IWC’s first “special watch for pilots”. This watch (photo below, on the left) was equipped with a black dial and highly contrasting numerals and hands, luminous at night, as well as a sliding rule to allow calculation of elapsed times. Inside the anti-magnetic case (an important feature of pilot’s watches) was calibre 83. Considering the difficult conditions of a jet-fighter’s cockpit, the watch had to withstand magnetic fields and large temperature and pressure amplitudes. The roots of the pilot’s watch were already drawn.

iwc-pilot-watches-vintage

On the left, the 1936 IWC “Special Watch For Pilots” Calibre 83 – On the right, the iconic 1940 B-Urh watch, made by IWC (a watch that properly defined the aviator’s watch concept and later inspired the IWC Big Pilot’s). 

Few years later, in 1940, to answer the needs military pilots, IWC manufactured its first Big Pilot’s Watch (Ref. IW431, with Caliber 52 T.S.C.). This 55mm watch, according to legibility requirements, was a proper instrument, not only a watch, which could provide pilots with precision, legibility and reliability. This exact watch has been the main source of inspiration for the modern IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, reborn in a 46mm case with the ref. 5002, and recently redesigned at the SIHH 2016, together with an entire collection of pilot-focussed watches. This is this heritage that the brand today’s celebrate with a limited edition for the Benelux and Scandinavian market, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch”.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch”

IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition "A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot's Watch"

The objective of this watch is double. First of all, as you might have guessed with its name, this IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar is paying tribute to the 80th anniversary of the pilot’s watches by IWC. While not made to be military pieces anymore, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watches still retains in their DNA the spirit of these pioneers and embody the dream of flying. The second objective of this highly limited edition (both in terms of pieces produced and sales territory) was to create a piece perfectly tailored to the market it will be offered to. While certain region of the world might be more inclined in collecting the Portugieser for instance, in Benelux and Scandinavia, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch is very popular because of its iconic design and this aviation heritage.

IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition "A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot's Watch"

And that’s not all, as in fact, this watch has been designed entirely with the local collectors in mind, in order to present a watch that could perfectly fit their expectations. The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch” is based on the recently redesigned and improved Big Pilot’s collection, introduced at the 2016 edition of the SIHH. Even if the evolutions were subtle – why changing an icon when not needed… – some were more noticeable, including strong mechanical improvements. The watch we have for this limited edition is the perpetual calendar version, meaning the most complex of them all – and a highly attractive one to be honest.

IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition "A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot's Watch"

The traditional codes of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch are retained, but we can see the addition of a complex display. The dial shows the large Arabic numerals and propeller-shaped hands, as well as the triangle at 12, features that make this watch so easily recognizable. However, instead of a central second hand a single sub-dial showing the power reserve, this Perpetual Calendar edition shows a complex dial, with indication of the moon-phases at 12, the day of the week and a small second at 9, the month at 6, the date and the power reserve at 3 and, rather specific feature of IWC’s QPs, the indication of the year with 4 digits. A few comments regarding this display: first, legibility is kept and the addition of a perpetual calendar on a pilot’s watch doesn’t feel inappropriate. Then, the QP module is perfectly sized to this large watch and sub-dials are placed in a very balanced way. Pleasant and rare enough to be mentioned.

IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition "A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot's Watch"

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch” is specific in its combination of colours and materials, and offers something never seen before. The 46mm case is crafted in 18k red gold, combined to a slate-grey dial, with hands and applied indexes matching the case’s material. The combination red gold / grey dial is always a extremely nice match. To complement the blue moon disc, this edition is secured to the wrist by a dark blue alligator strap (with red gold folding clasp). As expected, this watch is big, heavy, thick and quite visible once strapped on the wrist. And you know what, that’s exactly what we ask to the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch”. Note however that the colour combination adds a certain elegance and refinement to a watch usually quite toolish in its attitude.

IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition "A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot's Watch"

Inside the case of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch” is the brand’s latest evolution of the 7-day power reserve perpetual calendar movement, the Calibre 52610. While not visible on a time-only Big Pilot’s watch, the movement is here placed behind a sapphire crystal and can be admired. And that’s a good point, as it would be a shame not to enjoy the view. This movement from the 52000 series, which we explained in details here, features recent developments, such as a twin-barrel architecture (for more precision over the entire length of the power reserve) and ceramic parts on critical areas of the movement, for more durability and less frictions. Furthermore, a strong effort has been made on the design and the finishing of this movement – bevelled angles on the bridges and more details on the gears, bridges, wheels, screws. Finally, this movement impresses by it ease of use, as all the adjustements are done by the crown, and no disgraceful pushers or recessed buttons can be seen on the case.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch” has a specific rotor in red gold, with a “36” engraving, to remind of the limitation of the watch and of the date when the first IWC Pilot’s Watch has been created. It will be a limited edition of 36 pieces only, and exclusively available at the IWC Boutique in Amsterdam and selected IWC partners within the Benelux and Scandinavia. Retail price is 47,000 Euros. More details on iwc.com.


Specifications of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “A Tribute to the 1st IWC Pilot’s Watch”

  • Case: 46mm diameter x 15.5mm thickness – 18k red gold, polished and brushed finish – sapphire crystal in both sides – 60m water resistant
  • Movement: Calibre 52610, in-house – automatic winding – 7-day power reserve – 28,800vph / 4Hz frequency – hours, minutes, small second, perpetual calendar with indication of the date, day of the week, month, moonphase and year (until 2499)
  • Strap: alligator leather in blue on red gold folding clasp
  • Ref. 5038

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