Since its successful revival as a military-styled luxury icon in 2002, IWC’s iconic Big Pilot’s Watch, has spread its wings, one might say, to encompass a veritable fleet of offspring, over several different product families, with complications ranging from chronographs to perpetual calendars and even a “Heritage” limited edition in titanium that replicated the 55-mm case diameter of the original. One version, IWC realized at one point, was still missing: a revival of the 1940 design that was historically faithful in appearance — i.e., a “pure” dial with no power reserve, date window, or subdials — but refitted to a more ergonomic and arguably less intimidating case size. Cue the arrival of this year’s headliner, the Big Pilot’s Watch 43mm, or BP 43, unveiled today at Watches & Wonders.
According to IWC Creative Director Christian Knoop, such a project was not only a long-term discussion topic, within both the company and IWC’s collector community, but also something he had personally been itching to design. “After releasing so many different versions of the Big Pilot’s Watch, we were aware of the model’s iconic status,” says Knoop. “But we also realized that it has its limits when it comes to ergonomics. Many people love the design but they cannot strap a 46-mm watch on their wrist. Another aspect that intrigued us was the opportunity to return to the extreme purity of the original 1940s design and create a simple three-hand watch with no other elements on the dial.”
Accordingly, Knoop and his team carefully reworked details like the proportions of the case and crown, the dial graphics, and the shapes of the hands. Numerous case prototypes between 42 and 44 mm — both 3D printed versions and more realistic metal ones — were developed and considered. Getting the dial details just right proved to be among the biggest challenges, as the designers experimented with different line thicknesses, fonts, and finishes. “The number of prototypes we made was crazy,” Knoop says. “In the end, what looks simple and effortless is always extremely hard to achieve.”
The timepiece that emerged from of all this painstaking R&D has a stainless steel case measuring 43 mm in diameter — the happy medium between the two extremes tested. Relatively modest in comparison to the 46-mm version, and downright minuscule compared to the 55 mm of the 1940 original, it’s a size that’s still substantial on the wrist — especially considering the dial opening, which is still very wide, and the large diamond-shaped crown, which juts out majestically from the right side. Like its ancestor, the BP 43 is first and foremost eminently readable, even at the reduced dimensions: White Arabic numerals mark every hour position except the 12 o’clock, with its historical triangle emblem, uninterrupted by either a date window or a power-reserve subdial. Large, leaf-shaped, rhodium-plated hands sweep over the numerals and intermittent white indexes, accompanied by a central, tapering seconds hand. The hands and hour markers are all luminous-treated.
To kick off the collection, IWC is offering two dial options — historically accurate black or modern, of-the-moment blue. The black-dial version is paired with a riveted, brown calf leather strap for the “purest” vintage look of the new models, while the blue-dial model is offered on either a matching blue calf leather strap or, for the first time in the Pilot’s Watch family, a stainless steel bracelet with IWC’s new quick-change adjustment system.
The engine inside the BP 43 is IWC’s manufacture Caliber 82100, which is equipped with the brand’s patented, high-precision Pellaton winding system and stores a power reserve of 60 hours in its fully wound mainspring. Attesting to IWC’s modern expertise in materials innovation and movement technology, several of the caliber’s components, including vital ones like the automatic wheel and the pawls that mesh with it, are made of zirconium oxide ceramic, a virtually wear-free material. Also notably, its aesthetic charms, including a skeletonized rotor and circular graining and côtes de Genève on its bridges, are in full view behind a sapphire exhibition caseback — a rarity in the Big Pilot’s Watch collection, which traditionally uses solid casebacks to accommodate a soft-iron inner cage to shield the movements from magnetism. Eschewing this tool-oriented feature ensures that the smaller, dressier BP 43 will be regarded as a timepiece more suited to the first-class lounge than the cockpit.
The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43mm is priced at $8,400 on a leather strap and at $9,350 on a steel bracelet.