It’s hard to imagine a watch making the difference between life and death, and yet a military pilot’s faulty sense of time could easily have terminal consequences. Therefore it’s no small feat that for decades the International Watch Company (IWC) of Schaffhausen has manufactured special pilot’s watches that are utterly dependable under the most extreme of conditions, withstanding the pull of magnetic fields and remaining legible even when there’s sweat pouring into a pilot’s eyes or smoke blasting into the cockpit. It’s with that amazing legacy in mind that IWC has launched the 2016 Pilot’s Watch Collection, paying tribute to a tradition that yielded not just cutting edge technology and design, but quite literally saved lives.
While the IWC story goes all the way back to the 1860s, their foray into pilot’s watches began in 1936. That’s when Ernst Jakob Homberger–the company’s Managing Director–honored the wishes of his two aviation-loving sons by creating a watch solely for pilots to use. The watch had to be durable, precise, and resourceful, all the while retaining the company standards of design and craftsmanship. The result was IWC’s “Special Watch for Pilots”. Featuring shatterproof glass, starkly luminescent hands, and a rotating bezel with antimagnetic escapement and an index for recording short periods of time, the watch was a marvel to behold and a triumph of design and utility. It became a benchmark for the company and spurred a peripheral industry of making pilot’s watches for decades to come.
Such an endeavour was no small undertaking for IWC. Bear in mind that back in the 1930s and 40s being a pilot meant working for the military when the whole world was at war. Pilots relied on keeping proper time in order to carry out operations, and their watches became as valuable to them as their weapons or control boards. IWC knew that to a certain extent each pilot’s fate was in the company’s hands and so they designed every watch with the utmost degree of precision and usability. For example, the watches featured large dials to make them easier to read, and would often come with big straps so the pilots could strap them around their thighs for readier access.
In 1948, IWC was asked to create a watch for the Royal Air Force–one that needed to meet specific requirements and could withstand the pull of magnetic fields while the pilots were mid-air. IWC returned with the Mark 11 and history was made. The Mark 11 would soon become the official watch for our own Royal Australian Air Force, where it remained in service for decades. The watch is now the stuff of legend among manufacturers and enthusiasts alike. With the Mark 11 IWC cemented its status as premier watchmakers for military pilots.
Which brings us back to the stunning 2016 Pilot’s Watch Collection. Each watch was crafted with the same degree of precision as the signature watches that have aided pilots for the past century. Take, for instance, the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55. This watch is directly correlated to the original Big Pilot’s Watch of 1940 and boasts many of the same technical features, like a soft-iron cage to prevent magnetic fields from affecting the movement, and an unmistakable dial design. Naturally, a few adjustments were made since the original Big Pilot’s Watch–designed for the Luftwaffe (aka German Air Force)–was actually quite heavy on the wrist, and the Heritage 55 is much lighter by comparison. Released in a limited batch of 100 pieces, the Heritage 55 will truly delight aficionados who have a passion for authentic pilot’s watches.
Also debuting is IWC’s Seventh Annual Calendar Edition of “Le Petit Prince”. Made in honour of the best selling novella that combined the author’s passions of flying and writing, this truly prestigious watch comes in a limited edition of 250 pieces, each with a red gold case and striking midnight blue dial. On the case back, sculpted in gold, is the little prince himself atop an asteroid, staring up at the stars with perfectly-engineered rotors moving behind him. A truly timeless product.
For those who can’t necessarily afford the Calendar Edition of “Le Petit Prince”, IWC also released a Big Pilot’s Edition of “Le Petit Prince”. Modeled after the aforementioned Big Pilot’s Watch of 1940, the Big Pilot’s Edition of “Le Petit Prince” features the unmistakable blue dial face shared by previous entries in the line, a 46 mm stainless steel case with a soft-iron cage, and the Little Prince himself engraved on the back with his signature coat and sword.
If you’re more of a movie guy, you’ll be absolutely delighted with IWC’s latest installment of their Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun. A truly sophisticated product that represents the pinnacle of complex IWC engineering, the Top Gun features a perpetual calendar programmed until the year 2499, a moon phase indicator, effortless adjustment via the crown, a seven day power reserve, an emblem of the film on the back and just all around cutting-edge technology working beneath the 48 mm ceramic case.
Flying right alongside the Perpetual Calendar Top Gun is the the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar. This sleek watch uses high-tech ceramic for the case and titanium for the crown. It has an engraving on the back as well as an embossed calfskin strap. For those already familiar with the Top Gun line, expect this year’s model to have a reduced 44 mm case diameter and some minor adjustments to the dial design making it easier to read.
For those who want a great watch that they’ll cherish forever, we highly recommend the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Spitfire. Named after a single engine fighter aircraft that defied convention at the time, the Spitfire is a stunning achievement in refinement and functionality. As with previous models, the 2016 edition includes a slate-colored dial and polished mirror finish that simply exudes elegance and masterful engineering. It’s the kind of men’s watch you buy and wear for the rest of your life.
To call the IWC 2016 Pilot’s Watch Collection impressive is to understate it drastically–if anything it’s the ongoing encapsulation of historic triumph strapped conveniently around your wrist. By combining traditional standards of superior craftsmanship with contemporary cutting edge technology, IWC reminds us why they were called upon to aid pilots in the first place. They’re still making watches as if it’s a matter of life or death.