At the crossroads between seeming contrasts, IWC’s Big Pilot forges its timeless allure. Barring limited edition models (like the latest Perpetual Calendar—more on that one later), the beloved watch is minimal by design yet larger than life, and effortlessly modern in spite of its heritage underpinnings.
And as our recent photoshoot goes to show, it’s also blatantly versatile, delivering seamless style when paired with a wide spectrum of contemporary ensembles. In fact, flexibility is at the very heart of the Big Pilot, right down to the strap. The new EasX-CHANGE system allows you to smoothly transition between calfskin and rubber straps in different colours, as well as a new stainless steel bracelet with a fine adjustment system.
A perfect harmony of heritage and design that is, in a word: iconic.
For everyone else, let’s take a closer look at the history behind this incredible range before introducing its newest family members.
History of the IWC Big Pilot’s Collection
As its very name would suggest, the Big Pilot was initially created for…well…pilots. It was introduced in 1940 on the heels of a previous model, the “Spezialuhr für Flieger” (“Special Watch for Pilots”), which packed large hands with luminous numerals within a 36mm case. Heeding the German Air Force’s demand for a larger case size, IWC churned out the “Big Pilot’s Watch.”
Running on the pocketwatch movement Cal. 52 T.S.C, the original Big Pilot measured a whopping 55mm in diameter. In the 12 o’clock position was a luminous military triangle with a small dot on either side, flanked by large sans serif typeface numerals. Additional features included luminous sword hands and a huge cone-shaped crown, so that pilots could use the watch whilst wearing gloves.
In 2002, IWC launched an official successor to their famously outsized watch from decades ago. Underpinned by the same design principles that informed the original model, it ran on in-house Caliber 5011 and featured a modified case size of 46mm along with a small seconds subdial. Modern touch-ups notwithstanding, a vintage classic had been reborn.
Multiple iterations of the IWC would follow, some featuring larger diameters, date windows, and unique case materials. The luxury Swiss brand also updated the movement along the way, in accordance with the latest advancements. However, the same design DNA runs throughout the entire range and continues to this day. Then and now, the piece remains forever synonymous with purity, exploration, and minimalism.
The 2021 Big Pilot Collection
Asserting itself as a timeless force once again, IWC’s latest Big Pilot Collection goes back to the basics in all the best ways. That is to say, the new Big Pilot 43 takes direct inspiration from the 1940 original, eschewing the sub-dial and date window in favour of a heritage-inspired layout. Then we have the Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar, which veers in the opposite direction by way of its detail-packed dial display. In the space between these extremes is the new Big Pilot’s Watch with its 46mm case, stunning monochromatic dial, date window, and small seconds sub-dial. Here’s a closer look.
The Big Pilot 43
Featuring large numerals and a triangle at 12 o’clock, the new Big Pilot 43 harkens back to its iconic predecessor whilst nevertheless retaining a modern sensibility. The 43mm case size feels just right on the wrist and helps drive home the contemporary aesthetic. To gaze upon the minimalist dial, meanwhile, is to look into the very soul of aviation-based horology itself. It’s amazing what the absence of a date window or sub-dial can do.
For your consideration are three separate models, each one striking in its own way. Choose between a black dial with brown calfskin strap, a blue dial with blue calfskin strap, or a blue dial with stainless steel bracelet. Under the skin is an in-house automatic 82100 calibre with 22 jewels and a 60-hour power reserve. It can be viewed through the sapphire glass on the exhibition caseback.
The Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar
IWC is definitely no stranger to the perpetual calendar, which has appeared in the Big Pilot range time and again. Originally developed by the Swiss brand’s former head watchmaker, the advanced complication automatically recognises different month lengths and even leap years. Bringing it to life is an in-house 52615 calibre, which features a Pellaton winding system with ceramic components.
Every bit as reliable and precise as it looks, the new Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar harmonises various sub-dials and traditional elements within its 46.2 mm case of stainless steel. Similarly eye-catching is the aforementioned movement, visible through the sapphire case back. Whereas most Big Pilot watches employ a minimalist template, this one comes loaded with eye-catching detail and extra functionality.
The privilege of owning one will cost you, but you probably knew that already. Indeed, brilliant design, premium materials, and steadfast accuracy don’t come cheap.
The Big Pilot’s Watch
Available in four 46.2mm iterations, the new Big Pilot’s Watch pulls from the best of all worlds. Its clean and luminous dial with a triangle at 12 o’clock, large numerals, and bold colour calls upon the 1940 original, as does the 7-day power reserve of its in-house 52110 calibre. However, the small seconds subdial and date window pick up where immediate predecessors left off. Our personal favourite is the version with the green dial and brown calfskin strap, as it delivers unmistakable presence from near and far alike. And if you don’t believe us, we have the photos to prove it!
A Day with IWC’s New Big Pilot Collection
With IWC’s latest and greatest Big Pilot watches in our possession, we took to Sydney’s Barangaroo and The Rocks for a day to capture these stunning timepieces. When highlighting the watch across various ensembles and backdrops, one thing became all too clear: these pieces conjure impressive power through their unique simplicity. Whether you know the history or not, it’s all too easy to fall under their singular spell. Look once and then look again and you’ll quickly start to realise what all the fuss is about. Various imitators try to capture a similar vibe, but we prefer to go straight to the source. Check out the latest collection for yourself and accept no substitutes.