Introducing the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 SpitfireBy Suan Futt Yeo
IWC’s iconic and storied Big Pilot collection continues to grow; this time, from its Big Pilot’s Watch 43 line, a duo of Spitfire editions, ref. IW329701 and ref. IW329702. The former is cased in grade 5 titanium, with dark grey dial sandblasted to a pleasing matte finish, while ref. IW329702 is somewhat more flamboyant with bronze case and military green dial. As with the original Big Pilot’s Watch 43, both references distinguish themselves from the 46.2mm IWC Big Pilot by sporting smaller 43mm cases and shedding date and power reserve display, going back to the time-only roots of the original navigator’s watches that IWC supplied to the German Air Force in the 1940s.
Of the two, the titanium-cased ref. IW329701 stands out for sporting the Type B dial used by pilots and navigators of the wartime Luftwaffe. In place of hours in large Arabic numerals, Type B dial layout emphasizes the minutes and seconds on the outer track, with hours in smaller print on the inner track. Life and location are plotted in minutes and seconds while zipping about on a fast plane. For a more conventional dial layout, ref. IW329702 is fitted with the Type A dial that features the hours in Arabic numerals.
But enough about the Luftwaffe, the Spitfire collection is IWC’s long-standing tribute to that other part of its history of supplying robust and precise timepieces to the armed forces of Great Britain on the opposite front, in particular the Mk X field watches to British troops during the Second World War and the Mk 11 watches it supplied to the Royal Air Force from after the war in 1948 up to 1984, a long era of military aviation that spanned the prop-driven Supermarine Spitfire to the Mach 2-capable F-4 Phantom.
Courtesy of the Type B dial, ref. IW329701 looks nothing like the MK 11, but turning both references over, the display caseback of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 has been replaced by a solid caseback engraved with an image of the legendary Spitfire. Like the Mk 11 made for the RAF, both references feature a soft iron inner case to shield the movement within from magnetic fields.
For ref. IW329702, the bronze that IWC used for its case also contains aluminum and iron, alongside copper, which according to IWC, makes the alloy around 50 per cent harder than standard bronze. It also boasts “exceptional biocompatibility” — non-reactive to skin or bodily fluids like sweat — while developing a unique patina over time like regular bronze. But for good measure, this bronze-cased reference features a titanium caseback, as does the titanium-cased ref. IW329701, considered the most biocompatible metal.
Like the rest of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 collection, both references are driven by the self-winding cal. 82100, an efficient IWC-manufactured movement featuring bidirectional winding, with enhanced reliability through the use of virtually wear-free zirconium oxide ceramic for high-stressed components. When fully wound, it holds a power reserve of 60 hours.
Both watches also feature IWC’s EasXCHANGE system for easy tool-free swapping of the straps, and are eligible for registration under the My IWC care program, for a six-year extension to the standard two-year international limited warranty.
There is no great mystery behind the popularity of pilot’s watches, especially those worn and tested by the military. While soldiering never tires of pageantry in peacetime (can one ever have too many ribbons?), everything brought to war must serve its function well, or else. Such is the allure of pilot’s watches and IWC makes some of the most attractive, in no small part due to its history and experience in this undertaking.
The 43mm case size is as small as one can get without dropping “Big” from its name, and wearable for a larger segment of people. The old days of strapping saucers to one’s thighs was a dictate of circumstance; collectors can still get the 46.2mm Big Pilot if they can carry it off; or the Mk XVIII if 40mm is more their cup of tea. Otherwise, 43mm is pretty large in a small way; and we like how IWC has smartened up the Type B dial of ref. IW329701 for our times by shortening the markers, giving the dial some space to breathe.
Taste varies; but for those living fast-paced lives, a minutes/seconds first Type B display is very practical too, even if we’re not all buzzing about at Mach 2. Titanium that is tougher and lighter than steel in a modest-sized Big Pilot is a nice addition to the range; and collectors now also have a choice of bronze in a more wearable Big Pilot.
Movement: Self-winding cal. 82100, 4Hz, 60 hours power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Case: 43mm, titanium/bronze case, 14.4mm height, soft iron inner case, water resistant to 10 bar
Strap: brown calfskin/green buffalo leather strap
Price: CHF 9,500