This year, at the SIHH, IWC renewed entirely the Pilot’s Watch collection, including a new edition of the Mark (the Mark XVIII), some vintage-inspired super large editions, a redesigned chronograph and a brand new watch, the Timezoner. There is a clear evolution on all the watches, with a coherent design, including more historically relevant dials. In all these novelties, we must not forget a watch that is certainly the most expected one, the classical / iconic iteration (choose the appropriate mention), in the name of the Big Pilot. To show it to you in the metal, we’ve decided to go hands-on with our favorite edition, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ ref. IW500916.
As we explained to you in our history of the pilot watches and when introducing to you the 2016 editions of the Big Pilot, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch is inspired by antique watches made for German pilots, timepieces that they used during WWII and that were named “Beobachtungsuhr”. As military items, these watches were big, highly legible and design wasn’t guided (at all) by fashionable needs – but as every well-conceived item, it ended up to be quite a nice watch.
Based on this heritage, IWC decided to create a new watch, inspired by the antique “B-Uhr” – and this lineage explains the actual shape, design and size. Everything started with the ref. IW5002. At that time, this was a rather shocking watch, with a 46mm case, a pure military look but a 7-day, in-house movement inside. As we showed you here, this first edition was quite close in terms of design to the “B-Uhr” watches – and it is interesting to note that proper hardcore collectors do prefer this edition to the following one (ref. IW5004), because of two specific details (which are also historically correct…) – and this explains the raison d’être of the newly designed 2016 editions.
The new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ ref. IW500916
So, for the 2016 edition of the SIHH, IWC included new design elements on its Big Pilot’s Watch. Are we talking about a revolution? Clearly, no… not even a small one. It was difficult for IWC to entirely renew a model that is successful, praised by collectors and – yes it has to be said – quite an exciting watch overall. The evolution is focused here mainly on the dial – details of the dial in fact – on the straps and on the case – and again we’re taking small details.
Everything starts with the index at 12. On the antique watch, there was a baton marker at 12, overhanging a triangle with two dots – a typical feature that can be found on most pilot watches. When IWC issued the first Big Pilot’s Watch (ref. IW5002), this specific detail was of course included on the dial. Then came the first update, the ref. IW5004. Here, the triangular marker was directly printed in the minute track and the baton index was removed – and that was kind of disturbing for collectors. Thus, for the 2016 edition, IWC goes back to basics with a layout historically relevant, meaning that the triangle with two dots is back below the baton at 12. A small detail for sure, but one that has its importance.
Then, in the same vein, you have to consider the index at 9, which follows the same idea. On the B-Uhr watches as well as on the first IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, we could find a baton and a 9 numeral. Then, on the ref. IW5004, IWC only printed a baton index. Again, with the idea of being historically relevant, the 2016 IWC Big Pilot’s Watch goes back to the ideal layout, with a 9 printed on the dial. Finally, the numerals are also back to a bold font, something again closer to the original dial of B-Uhr watches. For the rest, no main evolution. The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch keeps its propeller-shaped hands, highly legible and coherent with the historical design, as well as its date at 6 (which, to us, could be removed…) and the 7-day power reserve indicator at 3.
The case of the 2016 IWC Big Pilot’s Watch also undergoes a very minimal evolution. It keeps its 46mm case (in stainless steel in this Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ ref. IW500916) with a slightly larger aperture for the dial and thus, a tiny bit slimmer bezel (but again, we’re talking minimal touches). The finish of the case remains the same, with sides and lugs entirely brushed and a polished bezel and diamond-like crown. As usual, it is a hefty watch on the wrist – as you can expect from a 46mm case – with rather long lugs. Thus, it wears large but it has to be said that this size is part of the pleasure of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch – and something that, even if much smaller, remains in the idea of the antique edition. On the other hand, if you do have the wish to experience the beauty of the pilot’s watch in a smaller case, you can easily look at the 40mm Mark XVIII editions.
For this hands-on review of the 2016 editions, we could easily have chosen the classical black dial ref. IW500912 – as shown here. However, we had quite a crush on the blue dial of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ ref. IW500916, matched with a brown calfskin strap. Because this dial is first blue (yes, this was easy) and not matte like the black edition – it has a sun ray brushing – it plays more with ambient light and bring a subtler, more luxurious feel to this watch that, in black, feels rather toolish. Without losing the idea of a rugged pilot watch, this edition feels more original and refined.
The last thing to explain is of course the movement. But here, IWC chose to keep it easy, without bringing any evolution to the previous engine. Just like the older ref. 5004, the new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch relies on the well known 7-day power reserve Calibre 51111. Surprisingly, we expected IWC to come with the new version of the 168-hour power reserve movement, the Calibre 52010 – that is encased in the 2015 Portugeiser watches – and that features a twin barrel, a new escapement, a nicer finish, an improved Pellaton winding mechanism, ceramic parts and a redesigned, slimmer rotor. Well, considering that the Pilot’s Watch has a plain caseback, it was certainly not mandatory to bring the new movement. But still, we would have loved it.
To conclude, let’s say that the new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch isn’t disruptive. It only shows minor but welcomed evolutions, which will certainly please collectors. And as of the Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ ref. IW500916, I simply love the blue dial. Price: 13,800 Euros (inc. EU taxes), just like the black IW500912. You can see the entire IWC Pilot’s Watch collection here.