This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 Issue of the WatchTime print magazine.
IWC and Breitling have different ideas about how a pilots’ watch should be designed. Both brands rely heavily on their own in-house traditions. At IWC, the Big Pilot’s Watch from 1940 stands front and center — IWC and other manufacturers supplied this model to the German Air Force.
The features of a pilots’ watch typically include a military triangle and double dots at 12 o’clock, sans serif numerals (where the “1” looks like a simple hash mark), diamond-shaped hands and a large conical crown. These attributes can be found on today’s version of the Big Pilot’s Watch. IWC has made only minimal modifications to the model over the years. The year 2021 saw the introduction of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 — a 43-mm version without a date or powerreserve indication that more closely reflects the original design. It is powered by the automatic in-house Caliber 82100 with a 60-hour power reserve. On a distinctive riveted leather strap, this model (Ref. IW329301) costs $8,400.
Breitling can also reflect on its own extensive pilots’ watch tradition. The icon here is the Navitimer, which looks the same today as it did when it got its light subdials a few years after its introduction in 1952. The chronograph has the characteristic slide-rule track on a rotating bezel for calculating flight parameters. There is a choice of straps between a black leather strap with contrasting stitching and the seven-row metal bracelet with asymmetrical sloping links. Breitling now offers this model in both 43- and 46-mm sizes. It is powered by the automatic in-house movement B01 with column-wheel control and 70-hour power reserve. Despite its more complex movement (including a chronograph function) the Navitimer costs $8,350 on leather strap (Ref. AB0121211B1X1).
Even though IWC currently concentrates its efforts on pilots’ watches, the Aquatimer dive watch is alive and well. This collection relies on an unusual technology: the outer bezel is used to move the inner dive time track under the crystal. Amazingly, the Aquatimer Automatic is still water resistant to 300 meters. The dial design recalls the first Aquatimer from 1967, while the rotating bezel was original to the famous Ocean 2000. Overall, the watch has a timeless and minimalistic look. Caliber 30120, which is based on the ETA 2892, ticks inside the 42-mm stainlesssteel case. The number of comparable models with an in-house movement continues to grow at IWC. With a rubber strap and quick-change system, this watch (ref. IW329001) is listed at $5,400.
In contrast to IWC, Breitling offers several different dive watch collections as well as a wide range of variation within these collections: assorted colors, retro, and modern/sporty. The modern/sporty category includes the Superocean Automatic 42 with its striking luminous numerals and large red tip on the second hand. Its 42mm steel case is water resistant to a depth of 500 meters. Like IWC, an ETA caliber ticks beneath the steel caseback – here, the 2824. Breitling uses in-house movements from Tudor for other dive watches like the Superocean Heritage B20. This gives the Superocean Automatic 42 (ref. A17366021B1S1) the added advantage of an affordable price: $3,700 on a rubber strap.
IWC boasts a longstanding partnership with Mercedes-AMG, which includes the Formula 1 team and its world record holder Lewis Hamilton. The new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition AMG, with its carbon dial and 43-mm titanium case, has a lightweight construction, like some sports cars. The calfskin strap has a woven structure like the patterned carbon dial. The AMG logo can be found on the tinted sapphire crystal caseback, which gives a view of the automatic in-house movement 69385. Thanks to its structure, this caliber replaces the earlier movements for the pilot chronographs (based on the ETA Valjoux 7750) without requiring changes to the dial layout. The Ingenieur collection once featured watches with an automotive theme, but the successful pilots’ watches have increasingly assumed this role. The AMG chronograph (Ref. IW377903) is priced at $9,100.
The longstanding partnership between Breitling and Bentley is firmly established history, but the manufacture doesn’t set other automotive fans on the back burner. The Top Time Shelby Cobra celebrates a historic automobile icon. Like the sports car, the original Top Time model dates back to the 1960s. The square subdials with rounded corners, the bicompax layout of the dial with no date indication, and the contrasting tachymeter track all provide a retro flair. Its understated 40-mm diameter and perforated rally strap underscore the look. The Shelby Cobra logo pays homage to the unique roadster designed by race car driver and founder Carrol Shelby. The logo appears on the stainless-steel caseback, which protects the Caliber 41, an ETA 2892 or Sellita SW300 with a chronograph module. Like all movements at Breitling, it is chronometer-certified. This retro racing chronograph (Ref. A41315A71C1X2) is available for $5,500.
Even beyond the icons, IWC and Breitling interpret a pilots’ watch in different ways. IWC consistently maintains the relationship to its Big Pilot’s Watch and rolls out a homogeneous pilot watch collection based on the unmistakable features of this watch, with different lines growing in various directions through the creative use of color and materials. Even the modern Top Gun collection retains the recognizable, classic features while adding black cases to enhance the professional look. The matte-black 44-mm case for the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “SFTI” is made of Ceratanium, a new material that combines the durability of titanium with a scratch resistant ceramic surface. An olive-green textile strap and a stopwatch hand counterweight in the shape of an F-18 jet provide a contemporary military touch. IWC works in conjunction with the “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” program of the U.S. Navy, nicknamed “Top Gun,” and adds the SFTI abbreviation to honor this elite jet pilot school. The in-house Caliber 69380 powers this IWC chronograph with a column wheel, bidirectional pawl winding system, and power reserve of 46 hours. The price for this watch (ref. IW389104) is $9,150.
In contrast to IWC, Breitling creates something new for each of its pilots’ watch collections. The Avenger Chronograph 45 Night Mission shares no design features with the Navitimer. Its striking case shape was designed for use while wearing gloves. Anthracite-colored DLC coating distinguishes its 45mm titanium case. A khaki dial and stenciled numerals, reminiscent of the markings on military equipment such as aircraft carriers, are clearly inspired by the military. The automatic caliber Breitling 13, based on the Sellita SW500, powers the Avenger Chronograph 45 Night Mission with a 48-hour power reserve, making it possible to offer a more economical price. This chronograph (ref. V13317101L1X2) costs $6,150.
Breitling offers a greater selection and lower prices across the board, while IWC can draw on a larger number and greater variety of in-house movements, and pursues steadier model policies over the long term.