As a regular reader of MONOCHROME, you will know already that each year, Swiss watch manufacturer IWC focuses on a specific collection. Last year, it was the brand’s legendary Pilot’s Watch series, with a number of cool variations introduced to the market. Here’s a video overview of the highlights from IWC’s CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr shot at SIHH 2019. With so many new models being launched – and not all from IWC, of course – there were inevitably some we did not get a chance to devote suitable attention to at the time. One such example is the limited-edition IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire IW503601. So, if you can forgive us for being a year late, here’s our hands-on look at this bronze-case beauty.
The Spitfire Collection
As you might have guessed, the Spitfire Collection takes its name from a plane, the Supermarine Spitfire. This was not just any plane, though. It was a veritable legend of the skies, used by the Royal Air Force and other Allied countries before, during, and after World War II. Designed by Reginald J. Mitchell as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft, it played a critical role in the fierce air battles with the German Luftwaffe fighters. Its cutting-edge elliptical wing design made it extraordinarily agile and easy to manoeuvre, whilst also giving the plane a unique silhouette. Even today, it is still regarded as one of the most sophisticated developments in the history of aviation.
Along for the ride – albeit post World War II – was the Mark 11 navigation watch designed by IWC for the Royal Air Force from 1948. According to the brand, this model was worn by many of the pilots and navigators serving at that time. Of course, it’s likely none of them was wearing anything near as elaborate as the Perpetual Calendar we are looking at today, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, the goal of the Spitfire collection is to celebrate the unique engineering expertise of the designers of the legendary British fighter aircraft of the same name.
The Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire
This is not a new watch, of course. The Big Pilot has been in the IWC collection for many years. And in fact, its design is inspired by the first Big Pilot’s Watch (Ref. IW431, with Caliber 52 T.S.C.) that IWC introduced in 1940. Created to meet the specific needs of military pilots at the time, that watch measured an impressive 55mm in diameter and featured the oversized, knurled crown that is so closely associated with the Big Pilot collection today.
It’s evolved over time to the stylish yet functional timekeeper you see here today. So, let’s jump into the details.
According to the spec sheet, the case size and proportions of the Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire edition are ever so slightly slimmed down from previous versions. Still, at a hefty 46.2mm in diameter by 15.4mm high, the Big Pilot lives up to its name. What is perhaps less expected – although it does make sense in the context of the Spitfire collection – is the use of bronze for the case. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of too many other perpetual calendars from notable Swiss brands that are housed in bronze. It’s not exactly a material you associate with a high-complication watch. Yet, somehow it really works.
After all, the Big Pilot was never intended as a traditionally styled dress watch. The focus has always been on functionality and legibility. That’s why the “Rodeo Drive” edition introduced last year with the black ceramic case and blue dial is so cool. This is an extremely complicated watch designed to be worn every day. You will note too that IWC has opted to do the screw-in crown in bronze too. On other versions (like the black and blue one referenced above) it opted for a non-coated metal for the crown, giving a more utilitarian look and feel. Hard to say whether it was the right call or not. I’d like to see one with a non-coated crown too before I make up my mind. The caseback, however, is in lightweight titanium to ensure the watch is nice and comfortable against the skin.
When it comes to dial colours, I would venture that military (or olive) green is rarely a popular choice. Yet here, it works. I don’t know if it’s the contrast against the bronze case or the fact that IWC has made the wise decision to not use faux patina (with the exception of markers at (12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock – but we can forgive them that). Whatever the reason, this for me is a genuinely attractive watch. Will it be too much green once the patina forms on the case? Time will tell.
Arguably the contrast is not as strong between the text and the dial as on the Rodeo Drive version, but the watch remains very legible. No mean feat given the volume of information on simultaneous display. Indications are spread all over the dial and are pointed to by gold-plated hands. These include displays for the date, day of the week, month, year in four digits and perpetual moon phase for the northern and southern hemisphere. As a nice touch, the silhouette of a Spitfire plane sits either side of the moon-phase displays to indicate which is which. It also features a small seconds and a power reserve indicator (at 9 and 3 o’clock respectively). All key indications are luminous. Again, nothing we haven’t seen before but still, a nice execution overall.
Inside is the expected calibre 52615, part of the new generation of movements introduced in 2015 by IWC. An update of the 7-day automatic movement, this new calibre still provides the same amount of energy but delivers it by a twin-barrel architecture (for better torque management). It is equipped with several ceramic wheels, which is a more wear-resistant material than traditional alloys: the winding pawls and the automatic wheel are made of black ceramic while the rotor bearing is made of white ceramic.
The Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire edition features a sapphire caseback. Meaning you can actually get a pretty good look at the inner workings of this impressive in-house movement. Côtes de Genève and perlage make for a simple but attractive finish.
The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire edition comes on a brown calfskin strap measuring 22mm in width. This matches the bronze perfectly and is in keeping with the World War II/fighter pilot theme of the watch. It’s comfortable against the skin and I’m sure will age nicely with the watch.
Availability and Price
Offered as a limited edition of 250 pieces, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire edition retails for CHF 30,500.
More details at www.iwc.com.