When you think of IWC Schaffhausen, the first thing that’ll pop into your mind is the Big Pilot’s Watch. At this point, that’s not up for debate. The icon, first introduced in 2002, saw the brand jet-set into the modern era of Pilot’s Watches with ease, buoyed by a distinctive tool watch that was as big as the personalities who have been sucked in by its presence throughout the decades.
Unequivocally, the IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot is the perfect example of a bold silhouette building an empire. Which is why this year’s introduction of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is an evolution worth celebrating.
IWC began to engineer precision instruments for use in the aeroplane cockpit as early as 1936. But no other model expresses the essence of the brand’s aviator’s watches like the Big Pilot’s Watch. First introduced in 2002, the “Grosse Fliegeruhr Ref. 5002” features an imposing 46mm stainless steel case, an easily legible dial and a calfskin strap with four rivets. The purely functional design in the style of an easy-to-read cockpit instrument was inspired by a military observation watch from the 1940. The oversized conical crown was another detail that ref. 5002 shared with its historical ancestor; it ensured that pilots wearing their usually thick, padded gloves could still easily operate their timepiece. Powered by the in-house Caliber 5011 movement with a 7-day power reserve, the intentionally chunky watch successfully introduced pilot’s watches in the luxury market, redefining IWC’s position in the industry.
With the arrival of various complications such as the perpetual calendar, the Big Pilot’s Watch became the cornerstone of IWC’s pilot’s watches collection. Over the years, and not least thanks to numerous limited editions in often daring colours and combinations, the Big Pilot’s Watch transcended its humble utilitarian beginnings and turned from a functional tool watch into a cultural icon with a much wider appeal.
That reputation has stood the test of time, although the prospect of a 46mm watch and a 57mm lug-to-lug span was understandably a bit too much for some. Bluntly, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch wasn’t accessible, with specific ergonomics that kept the iconic silhouette from being adopted outside of its niche.
That brings us to 2021, where after meticulous R&D, IWC has postured the Big Pilot for a wider audience. Now with a dressier, more stylish 43mm stainless steel case, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch is officially ready to extend its presence beyond the cockpit and assert itself as a watch for any occasion.
But the new Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is not just a downsized version of the original from 2002. Every small detail such as the case diameter, case height and crown proportions was thoroughly reworked and improved. Finding the right diameter of 43mm was a huge challenge, requiring an almost infinite number of prototypes. With a simple three-hand dial without a date window or power reserve display, IWC have opted to return to the extreme purity of the original observation watch design from the 1940s.
The idea here is clearly to maintain the Big Pilot’s reputation for perfect legibility even at the reduced dimensions, achieving that careful balance by arriving at a ‘pure’ dial so the various features pop even further. This includes large, leaf-shaped, rhodium-plated hands that sweep over the White Arabic numerals marking every hour position except the 12 o’clock, which keeps Big Pilot’s legacy in-tact with the historical triangle emblem. Of course, the hands and hour markers have been treated with luminous material to help with low-light conditions.
IWC offers two dial options for the Big Pilot Watch 43, those being either black, aligned with tradition, or a more modern blue. Go for the black and you could pair it with a vintage-minded brown calf leather strap but opt for the blue and you’ve got the choice between a matching blue calf leather strap or a stainless-steel bracelet.
To turn what used to be a tool watch into a fully versatile modern sports watch, the new Big Pilot’s Watch 43 features a newly-developed EasX-CHANGE quick-change system. It allows to quickly and easily change the strap or bracelet
on the go – without the need for additional tools. The steel bracelet for the Big Pilot 43 even has a sliding adjustable clasp that can help you tweak the length of the bracelet – link by link – for the optimum fit.
The case, reworked for a 10-bar water resistance, is complemented by a sapphire glass caseback – another first in the Big Pilot’s collection – allowing a clear view of the elaborate manufacture Caliber 82100 movement, which is equipped with a highly efficient Pellaton winding system and capable of storing a 60-hours power reserve. Not only is this new ground for the Big Pilot, but it reiterates just how much of a difference an exhibition caseback can make to the experience, and how determined IWC are to shift the classic silhouette into a wider audience.
Moving from a tool watch to an everyday watch requires details to be worked specifically to achieve the perfect cross-section of history and the desire for modernity. The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is the result of such a delicate balancing act, and a testament to the bold risk-taking and assured idiosyncrasies the collection was built on in the first place.