Few watches can claim as pure a sense of purpose as IWC’s Pilot’s Watches. The iconic design, built for purpose and legibility, is instantly recognisable. The first of IWC’s Pilot’s watches dates back to 1936, with the reference 436 Mark IX. This watch featured bold, stylised Arabic numerals and even a rotating bezel with a luminous marker for measuring elapsed time. And while the spartan dial design of this original bears the hallmarks that we have come to associate with IWC’s Pilot’s Watches, the defining example of the genre is the reference 431.
IWC produced 1000 examples of the reference 431 in 1940, a military navigator’s watch known as ‘B-Uhr’. Today the watch has a different name. The Big Pilot. This massive 55mm watch, with its sword-shaped hands, inset Arabic numerals and clear minute track with that triangle at 12 and an oversize, onion-shaped crown for easy use while wearing flight gloves. This formula was followed on the legendary Mark XI, clocking in at a more wearable size than the reference 431. The 36mm Mark XI was initially commissioned by the Royal Air Force and met their exacting standards thanks in no small part to the mighty Calibre 89, designed by Albert Pellaton and protected by a screw-down caseback. So popular was the design that its use filtered out to other Air Forces, including the Australian RAAF, the New Zealand NZAF and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm.
Reborn On The Wrist
It would be some decades until we saw new iterations of the Pilot’s Watch, but the design was back with a vengeance in the 1990s when the brand was riding high the wave of the mechanical watch renaissance. In 1994 the Mark XI was succeeded by the Mark XII, which saw the addition of straight hands, an automatic movement and a sapphire crystal, amongst other improvements.
IWC’s time-only Pilot’s Watches have evolved since then — we’re now up to Mark XVIII. Another significant pilot released in 1994 was the 3705 — a Pilot’s chronograph that pioneered the use of ceramic in watches and gave birth to an aesthetic that stood out for all its stealth appeal. This design was revisited recently with the critically acclaimed IWC Pilot’s Chronograph Pilot’s Chronograph “Tribute to 3705”.
The Need For Speed
While the black ceramic of the reference 3705 dates back to 1994, today, IWC’s blacked-out Pilot’s Watches typically form part of the Top Gun family. IWC’s relationship with the U.S. Navy’s Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program — commonly referred to as Top Gun — began in 2007, and has been going strong ever since. With a focus on larger, more modern designs in modern materials, it’s Top Gun where you’ll see ceramic, and more recently Ceratanium, out in force. And while Top Gun watches lean towards the black and stealthy, recent editions have included the creamy khaki tones of the Mojave Desert editions.
From purposeful beginnings in 1936, IWC’s Pilot’s Watches have grown to be the most recognised and respected examples of the type. The combination of utility and stylistic versatility make them perennial favourites