From a recent piece on the online watch magazine Escapement, Angus Davies provides an in-depth review of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “JU-AIR.” This limited-edition watch celebrates the 20-year relationship between a Swiss airline and the famous Schaffhausen-based watch company.
The Junkers JU-52 was manufactured between 1932 and 1945. It provided service for military operations, as well as for civil use. It was used by German and Swiss commercial carriers alike. The JU-52 revolutionized flight at the time, with its unusual, corrugated Duralumin fuselage. Duralumin, an alloy of aluminum, copper and magnesium, is both strong and light. These properties, combined with three powerful radial engines, allowed the civil aircraft to travel greater distances than before.
Various engines were used in the JU-52 in its early life, but the primary power plant for this aircraft was the BMW 132. This engine had nine cylinders and a displacement of 27.7 liters and produced between 700 – 900 horsepower, depending on the engine variant used.
The 17-seat airliner eschewed the superfluous and stuck to flight essentials, making it both reliable and, notably for the period, capable of long distance travel. The Swiss Air Force operated the plane from 1939 to circa 1982, making it probably the last and longest serving JU-52 in any air force.
IWC, a brand synonymous with producing pilots’ watches since the 1930s, has been a longstanding supporter of a Swiss airline which continues to fly JU-52s. JU-AIR, an airline founded solely to preserve the JU-52, having procured the remaining planes from the Swiss Air Force, is privately owned and is assisted by a team of volunteers. The airline, based in Dübendorf, near Zurich, operates four JU-52 aircraft, one of which carries the IWC nomenclature on its wings and tail section, in recognition of the financial support provided by the Schaffhausen-based watch brand. This year, to celebrate 20 years of working with JU-AIR, IWC has produced a special chronograph, limited to only 500 pieces.
I recently visited Harrods, the iconic and prestigious department store in London’s Knightsbridge, and spent a pleasant morning in its IWC Boutique, appraising this latest timepiece from Schaffhausen.
In 2012, IWC revisited its Pilots’ watches, launching several new models, including a very handsome timepiece, the Spitfire Chronograph (Ref IW387802), which features a stunning ardoise dial. It is this model that has provided the basis for this special chronograph, the Edition “JU-AIR.”
The dial of the Edition “JU-AIR” is rhodium-plated, evoking a silvery hue, and features fine, brushed lines that radiate from the center.
The hours are marked with applied Arabic numerals, lined with white luminescent material in their centers. A triangular index, typical of pilots’ watches of the 1930s and 1940s, appears at 12 o’clock. This was a feature on the legendary Big Pilot’s Watch 52 T.S.C of 1940 and continues to grace the dial of today’s IWC Big Pilot.
A chapter ring, sitting higher than the adjacent dial surface, incorporates a combination of Arabic numerals and simple black strokes. At 3, 6, and 9 o’clock luminescent batons reach toward the central dial area. The chapter ring collaborates with the central chronograph seconds hand to provide lucid communication with the wearer.
Legibility is a prerequisite for any pilots’ watch and this latest model from IWC does not disappoint. The hour and minute hands are bold, featuring white luminescent material, and confer ease of interpretation day or night.
The bi-compax layout is wonderful and accords a pleasing balance and proportion to the dial. Small seconds are displayed on the lower, snailed subdial adjacent 6 o’clock and include a useful hacking seconds function, faithful to those of historical pilots’ watches of yesteryear. The seconds hand on this subdial is depicted in red.
Below noon, a 60-minute chronograph register resides. It shares the same design language as the small seconds display, save for the use of a white hand.
At 3 o’clock, the date is shown via an elongated aperture, resembling an altimeter. It reveals the prevailing date, indicated with a red triangle positioned adjacent, together with the yesterday’s and tomorrow’s dates. It is intuitive to use and interpretation is simple.
“Simple” is a word that could easily be used to describe the overall dial design. This is not a criticism, but rather a compliment, as the watch conveys purely the essential — typical of a cockpit instrument. However, the perception of seeming simplicity is overturned with prolonged examination. Scrutinizing the dial closely reveals this is actually a complex dial construction with numerous levels to its composition. The result is an abundance of charm which should confer lasting ownership enjoyment.
Moreover, the brushed appearance of the central dial area cleverly interacts with the light. Most of the time it appears to share the same hue as the snailed subdials, but in some light it can adopt a darker shade. At no stage is this distracting, but rather grants additional eye-appeal.
The case measures 43mm in diameter and has a height of 15.5 mm, dimensions that make the watch very wearable. Indeed, I found the watch conferred a particularly comfortable fit.
The stainless steel case is satin brushed on virtually all surfaces — save for the bezel, push-pieces, crown and ring adorning the caseback, which are all highly polished. This bestows an almost muted characteristic that doesn’t distract the wearer from focusing on the dial display.