All lit up, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 41 Black Aces
Featuring a fully luminous dial.
It’s low-hanging fruit. Too easy, some might say. It’s been done before by however many brands trying to make a name for themselves with something wacky and wild but it’s not the kind of thing a serious brand like IWC would bother with, right?
I would have said the same. I would almost have hoped it were true. I would never have imagined receiving the news that the IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 41 Black Aces was set to become the Schaffhausen-based brand’s first fully luminous Flieger and having my dismissively cocked eyebrow almost immediately joined by its twin, raised together in utter shock and delight. This watch is cooler than it has any right to be and my only thought was, “How do I get one and how much will it cost me?”
The death of FOMO (not a single tear was shed)
Remarkably, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 41 Black Aces is not limited. Instead, it is an online exclusive available only from IWC.com. If you need a bit of time to process that, take it. There is no rush. You can decide in peace and at your own pace if you want this piece so when you do eventually pull the trigger, you’ll know you did it for the right reasons.
While I imagine production volumes will be low and IWC will keep the model on a tight leash, frequently marking it as sold out or requiring customers to join a waiting list, I have high hopes that those that want this watch will eventually be able to get one on their wrists. IWC has not commented directly on how long the model will remain in the collection, but it seems to me that they will keep it around for as long as it continues to sell in sufficient volumes in much the same way Tudor has allowed the once-thought-to-be-ephemeral Pelagos LHD to linger in light of its persistent popularity.
Clever product planning wins the day
Aside from the (very) cool design of this new reference, it is a cleverly conceived product drop from IWC, especially given its unknown commercial clout. While I think this model will sell very well, it is fair to wonder given IWC has no prior experience in the fully lumed dial field and might want to limit its losses should things go awry.
And that’s where the brand has been very clever. The Black Aces online exclusive joins the Pilot’s Watch Automatic Top Gun (reference IW326906) as the only 41 mm wide, 11.4 mm thick ceramic-cased watches in the collection. Crucially, these watches share a case, a crown, and case backs that are identical until they are engraved. Additionally, both watches use stock straps.
While the Top Gun model boasts a slightly superior movement (it is powered by the IWC caliber 32111, which has a 120-hour power reserve versus the 72-hour power reserve of the IWC caliber 32000 fitted to the Black Aces piece), the Black Aces has its more exciting dial — a visual/technical tradeoff that likely results in both pieces costing IWC roughly the same amount to produce without having to blow the budget on R&D. It is effectively a new dial paired with an off-the-shelf movement, which enables IWC to offer the IWC Pilot’s Watch 41 Black Aces model for USD 6,800, just $450 more than the USD 6,350 ticket price of the Automatic Top Gun.
Does the IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 41 Black Aces measure up?
But does the glow-in-the-dark wow factor amount to a premium of almost 500 bucks? That is a very personal choice that will no doubt be affected by how much you lament the absence of the “better” movement.
For me, the lynchpin of this design is the Ace of Spades at six o’clock, which is inspired by a pilot’s watch that IWC engineered for members of Strike Fighter Squadron 41 (VFA-41), also known as the “Black Aces”. Were it not for that particular touch, I actually wouldn’t be rushing to count my pennies as I am right now. It might seem like an odd thing to be the difference maker, but it’s the combination of elements I love. I love squadron logos. They give me such a rush to see when I look down at my wrist not because I am pretending that I am part of the same team, but simply because thinking of their exploits gets me high.
What would make this watch perfect?
If you can get over the slight bleed around the edges of the pad-printed numerals and Ace of Spades decal that is a common drawback to printing on solid luminous surfaces, then this design, along with the extended flash of red on the seconds, is one of the most exciting IWC has put out at the sub-10K bracket for quite some time.
The question is, how hard would it be to improve that printing? Even A. Lange & Söhne has been unable to overcome the same hurdle (if you don’t believe me, check the second numeral on the big date of the Lange 1 Lumen under a loupe and tell me what you see).
My suggestions? Cover the solid luminous disc with an imperceptible layer of anti-reflective-coated sapphire and print the numerals on that. Alternatively, if you’re concerned about reflections, then why not use low-rise, mattified applied numerals and a solid applied minute track that sits under the lip of the case and adds visual depth to the dial in addition to extreme legibility?
Lastly, give me the 120-hour power reserve of Caliber 32111. If IWC made those moves, I’d feel comfortable (enthusiastic, even) with this watch coming in around USD 7,500. In fact, I think with those specs (and possibly an open case back), it’d be almost unbeatable.
However, despite those musings, I love this watch as it is. There are good arguments for every design and technical decision IWC has made (from authenticity to reliability), and I accept that. In the context of the brand’s current lineup and the industry in general, I think this is one of the more fun and desirable pieces in a long while, and at USD 6,800 and no pressure to buy immediately thanks to its unlimited nature, I will add this to the my buy list and wait and see if it creeps up to the top spot. Truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
IWC Pilot’s Watch 41 Black Aces Specs and Price
Movement: IWC Caliber 32100 with a 72-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Case: 41 mm × 11.4 mm black zirconium oxide ceramic case, water-resistant to 60 m
Dial: Fully luminous with black Arabic numerals and Black Aces insignia at 6 o’clock
Strap: Black fabric strap
Price: USD 6,800
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FROM THE SHOP
|Movement||Self-winding caliber BR.CAL-301; 42-hour power reserve|
|Functions||Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph and date|
|Case||41mm; CuAI7Si2 bronze; water resistant to 100m|
|Dial||Sunray brushed with applied, gold-plated indices|
|Strap||Black calfskin; satin polished bronze folding clasp|
|Limited Edition||Limited edition of 50 pieces|