For all their Ingenieurs and Portofinos, it’s pilots’ watches that have always been at the heart of IWC, which makes their quadrilogy of pre-SIHH releases seriously exciting. Ahead of the show they’re showcasing four new editions of their iconic pilots’ models and a stunning haute horology novelty.
First up is a new version of the awesome Double Chronograph Top Gun in Ceratanium ($15,000). This material has been created by IWC themselves and, while it’s incredibly advanced, its name is rather self-explanatory: it has the scratch resistance of ceramic, with the strength and lightness of titanium.
Here it’s been built into a big 44mm full matte black case for a stealth vibe, particularly when matched to the equally dark hands, dial and textile strap. Inside, surrounded by a soft iron inner case for magnetic resistance is the calibre 79230, the phenomenal split seconds chronograph that first put IWC’s Top Gun on the map.
Moving on takes us from the most famous filmic flight academy to an iconic British aircraft in a fittingly nostalgic livery. There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Spitfire ($6,250); it uses the same 69380 calibre chronograph and 41mm case as the standard edition. The new colours however are stunning.
IWC were an early adopted of bronze and here they’ve mixed the material of the moment with a lovely olive dial and thick calf leather strap for a beautiful vintage look. Combined with the size, it is indeed a hark back to the 1940s, even if inside it’s pure contemporary watchmaking.
From small and vintage we move to the opposite end of the scale for the Timezoner Spitfire Edition “The Longest Flight” ($12,400), following in the tradition of awkward IWC names. First off, its steel case – paired with a cool khaki textile strap – is a gargantuan 46mm, a size that feels even bigger thanks to the bezel. It’s not for the faint of wrist.
Even so there are good reasons for that size, particularly as it includes the model’s signature bezel-operated jumping hour world time indication. It’s one of the more inspired of IWC’s complications; just be warned, if you try it out you might not be able to stop.
It’s powered by the calibre 82760 which, unusually for the timezoner, is a straight-up automatic watch sans chronograph. Still, it has everything else a world timer could possibly need, all easy to set thanks to that bezel.
The inspiration is, apparently, the Silver Spitfire – Longest Flight, a project to not only restore one of the most iconic aircraft ever built, but to take it on an aerial circumnavigation of the globe. What the watch actually has in common with that flight other than the world timing ethos were not sure, but it’s limited to 250 pieces worldwide.
The fourth and final of IWC’s new releases is a serious piece of haute horology combined with one of the watchmaker’s more whimsical inspirations for the Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince” ($235,000). As far as I’m aware we never really got the tale of the juvenile intergalactic aviator – the closest we had was David Bowie – but that hasn’t stopped the line’s signature blue becoming one of IWC’s most recognisable facets.
This is serious watchmaking. First and simplest is the case. Looking at the Ceratanium it shouldn’t come as a surprise that IWC has dabbled in other alloys, here what they term Hard Red Gold. 5 to 10 times stronger than normal gold (that’s a pretty huge variance) it still has all the lustre of the standard alloy.
The main show however happens inside. I’m not going to go into too much detail about how the constant-force mechanism works; it’s the holy grail of watchmaking and even most horologists might struggle. All you need to know is that it ensures the watch doesn’t lose accuracy, no matter how little energy is left in the barrels.
It’s incredibly hard to make – particularly when you tack a huge tourbillon on at 9 o’clock – yet the hand-wound 94895 movement still boasts an impressive 96-hour power reserve. It also has a moon phase on which, when you look close enough, you can just about see the littlest of little princes standing proud on the lunar surface.
The new Big Pilot is an exceptional insight into the top end (rather than Top Gun) of IWC, the serious haute horology end of the spectrum. It’s magnificent, from the 46.2mm hard red gold case with signature large crown and calf leather strap to the tourbillon showcased at 9 o’clock. Still, it’s not hard to see why it’s limited to just 10 pieces. We’re looking forward to some hands-on time next month.