One thing is to associate a line of watches with a famous air squadron or even with a specific type of aeroplane, but when IWC came up with the idea of adopting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved character, Le Petit Prince, it flew straight to the hearts of many watch enthusiasts. Not only was the author of Le Petit Prince a pilot and adventurer, but his character and his humanist values have inspired generations of readers, young and old. Since IWC’s partnership with Saint-Exupéry’s heirs was consolidated in 2006, the “Le Petit Prince” special editions have become brand favourites. The latest model, the Big Pilot’s Watch IW504803, is a 50-piece edition in luxurious 18k gold with a spectacular combination of a perpetual calendar and flying tourbillon.
Le Petit Prince Editions
With models ranging from straightforward time and date with power reserve indicator all the way up the complications ladder to GMT watches, chronographs, perpetual calendars, combinations of chronographs and perpetual calendars, a constant force tourbillon and today, an impressive gold QP and tourbillon, the “Le Petit Prince” collection offers plenty of variety and complexity for collectors. Hallmark features across the “Le Petit Prince” family are blue dials, an elegant interpretation of a classic Flieger watch, stylised Arabic numerals and cameos of Saint-Exupéry’s prince on the caseback or dial – depending on the complications involved.
Perpetual Calendar and Tourbillon
IWC is renowned for its perpetual calendar watches, thanks to the ingenious movement developed by IWC’s chief watchmaker Kurt Klaus in the 1980s. A complex mechanical device, it recognises the different lengths of the months and leap years and will not (if kept wound) need an adjustment until 2100, and the perpetual moon phase display will only require a one-day adjustment in 577.5 years.
The first Pilot’s watch at IWC to be graced with a tourbillon was the “Le Petit Prince” model of 2018. That same year, the combination of a perpetual calendar and tourbillon also appeared at IWC on board the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon Edition 150 Years. So, extending the range of complications even further, what we have before us today is a sophisticated perpetual calendar and flying tourbillon inside a Big Pilot’s Watch from the “Le Petit Prince” collection.
Like IWC’s other proprietary material known as Ceratanium (a special titanium alloy that is as hard and scratch-resistant as ceramic), Armor gold is a new gold alloy that is significantly harder and more wear-resistant than conventional 5N gold. Used for the first time in the Big Pilot’s Watch Constant Force Tourbillon “Le Petit Prince”, Armor gold appears again for the case of this Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon. Measuring 46.2mm across with a height of 16mm, the case and oversized conical crown are made of 18k Armor gold. The finishings reveal a brightly polished crown and bezel, while the lugs are brushed for contrast.
Although the layout of the complications on the dial is similar to the Portugieser, the watch retains its vintage pilot watch soul. Animating the scenery at noon is the one-minute flying tourbillon as its balance wheel rotates on its axis inside a cage to reduce the effects of gravity on the regulating organ. The tourbillon regulating the movement is cantilevered from the mainplate with no bridge on top to interfere with the view. One small regret, since the QP of this Big Pilot IW504803 is a module, the tourbillon sits quite low into the dial…
Set against the blue dial with its sunray-brushed finishing, three sub-dials with snailed outer tracks house the calendar functions: the date and power reserve indicator are featured at 3 o’clock; the phases of the moon and the month at 6 o’clock; the days of the week at 9 o’clock; and the four-digit year in a rectangular aperture just below 8 o’clock. As Brice explains in his article on the Portugieser, the position of the tourbillon at 12 o’clock determined by the calibre 51950 meant that the moon phase function had to be repositioned inside the sub-dial for the month.
Surprisingly, despite the copious amount of information relayed on the dial, it is well-balanced and highly legible. Like other “Le Petit Prince” models, the stylised Arabic numerals give the watch its distinctive personality and are crafted in 18k gold and treated with luminescent paint. The propeller-shaped gold-plated hands with their elongated tips are also hallmark features of the collection, contrasting with the red-tipped arrow hands used for the date, month and day of the week.
However, the first thing most of us will be looking for is the Little Prince, and the good news for fans of the collection is that he appears not once but twice. Depicted as part of the moon phase complication and surrounded by stars, he also appears on the 18k gold rotor standing on his asteroid strewn with flowers. Like other “Le Petit Prince” watches, the strap is made of brown calfskin with white stitching and a folding clasp.
The tourbillon and perpetual calendar calibre 51950 is automatic. Powered by an 18k gold oscillating weight, it beats at a frequency of 19,800vph and delivers a formidable 7-day power reserve spread across two barrels. With its charming decoration of the prince on his asteroid, the rotor of this model still allows a view of the large three-quarter plate and glimpses of the moving parts.
Availability and Price
The Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince” reference IW504803 is limited to 50 pieces and is now available at a retail price of CHF 120,000.
For more information, please consult IWC’s official website.