Tuesday, December 6, 2016

IWC: Light the Fires and Kick the Tires

Big Pilot’s Watch Edition “Le Petit Prince”

By Adam Craniotes

IWC brings color and tradition back to its iconic Pilot’s collection this year.

Few watches have so thoroughly defined a segment of the market like the IWC Pilot’s collection. From the stalwart Mark series to the standard bearer Big Pilot’s Watch, IWC has been synonymous with aviation-themed timepieces since the late 1930s and hasn’t given up one inch since.

Big Pilot’s Watch Edition “Le Petit Prince”

What exactly is a pilot’s watch? In IWC’s lexicon, a pilot’s watch is a supremely legible, rugged watch that affords the wearer a near-instantaneous reading of the time. This translates into large, high-contrast dials and robust movements encased in soft iron to mitigate the effects of magnetism on timekeeping. This latter bit was a real consideration in early cockpits, while today the main threats are from things like speakers in laptops. While you may never need to know exactly when to make a mid-air, mission-critical navigational correction, for the Walter Mitty in all of us, it’s comforting to know that you’ll be prepared, should you find yourself in a WWII-era fighter over enemy territory.

Wish Upon A Star
As with many manufactures, IWC has created a series of special models over the years to commemorate specific events and individuals. One of the most enduring, and indeed, anticipated of these is their “Le Petit Prince,” which refers to the titular character from Antoine Saint-Exupery’s beloved classic.

Le Petit Prince is engraved on the back.

Typically, the “Le Petit Prince” is a limited edition, but this year IWC broke with tradition. The company not only made it a production piece to be sold alongside their staple Pilot’s watches, but also expanded the collection. There are now four “Le Petit Prince” timepieces to choose from, with the Big Pilot’s Watch version being the main event, so to speak.

To understand the Big Pilot, first you have to understand that it’s not called a “Medium Pilot” for good reason. The case is a generous 46mm and the diamond-shaped crown — were it an actual diamond — would make even the most demanding bride-to-be proud. These design attributes aren’t meaningless filigree, mind you, and have everything to do with the practical considerations of life in an unpressurized cockpit, where a watch is worn over the sleeve of an insulated flight jacket and a pilot must be able to manipulate the crown while wearing bulky gloves. It goes without saying that the expansive dial makes reading the time at a glance a simple exercise of momentarily flicking your eyes to the left.

Blue Is the New Black
In the case of the Big Pilot’s Watch Edition “Le Petit Prince,” it’s all there: the massive case, large crown, and the magnetically shielded movement. The dial remains as legible as ever and for this version it’s rendered in a stunning sunburst blue, which has become one of the hallmarks of the “Le Petit Prince” series. The caseback continues the theme with an engraving of the little guy, but what lies beneath is pure, old school IWC in the form of the vaunted 51111 automatic movement with its trademark seven-day power reserve. 

The Le Petit Prince Chronograph and Mark XVIII

The 50000-series movement was developed in-house by master watchmaker and living legend, Kurt Klaus, and is almost as legendary as the Big Pilot itself. As with all IWC Pilot’s watches, it’s protected by a soft-iron inner case and the crystal is secured against sudden pressure drops. In short, it’s an honest-to-God pilot’s watch that also happens to look absolutely stunning.

Timing Is Everything
For those who absolutely positively have to have the blue dial from the Big Pilot’s Watch Edition “Le Petit Prince,” but also absolutely positively have to have a chronograph, IWC has them covered with the aptly named Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Le Petit Prince.” 

Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Miramar

As with the Big Pilot version, this watch is also a production piece, and aside from the trademark blue dial, it shares its case and movement with the standard Pilot’s Watch Chronograph, which means that it’s a solid piece of kit, replete with all the features that make an IWC Pilot’s watch a pilot’s watch. At 43mm, however, it does wear a bit more comfortably on those with smaller wrists.

Action Hero
Another option for the timing obsessed is the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Miramar, which adopts a polished ceramic case and observer-style dial. The overall effect is at once vintage and contemporary, but still 100% IWC. 

Under the cowling lurks IWC’s in-house 89361 chronograph; a proper column-wheel design, which comes with a vertical clutch, 68-hour power reserve and a flyback complication. Compared to last year’s model, this one is streamlined with a 44mm case (down 2mm), and it does away with the fussy triple-date aperture.

Big Pilot’s Watch

Classic to the Core
Okay, so let’s say that blue isn’t your color and you’re not aiming for Top Gun status. What’s a collector to do? Not to worry, because IWC hasn’t forgotten their bread and butter. Yes, they’ve improved the basic recipe, but for the traditionalist, the new Big Pilot’s Watch and Mark XVIII remain in the catalog as the purest distillations of IWC’s time honored pilot’s formula.

These watches sport high-contrast black dials and stainless steel cases, just as God, the RAF and IWC intended, and they don’t give up a single ounce of functionality in the name of fashion. 


And in a move that brings them closer to their heritage, the number nine is back on the dial and the orientation triangle has moved beneath the minute track. These are small details to be sure, but the effect is transformative, particularly in the case of the Mark XVIII. Sized at a classic 40mm, it signals a brilliant return to form for the stalwart Mark series.

Crowd Pleaser
It’s hard to be all things to all people, but IWC has come close with their updated Pilot’s Collection. Regardless of whether you spend your days strapped to an ejection seat in the cockpit of a fighter jet, or behind a computer monitor in the accounting department, there’s an IWC Pilot’s watch that will fit your mood, wrist and budget. And given the real heritage backing them up, you’ll never once have to explain your choice of a timepiece to the flyboys at the Officer’s Club.

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