Proudly placed near the top of any watch enthusiast's lexicon is the phrase "pilot's watch". It describes one of the functional pillars that has firmly entrenched itself within the watchmaking industry.
Among "diver's watch", "racing watch", and so much more, the "pilot's watch" is a watch that has a particular tool-like purpose. Harking back to when timepieces were the equivalent to a modern computer, the phrase "pilot's watch" only scratches the surface of these glorious timepieces. After all, one of the first timepieces designed for male use was a pilot's watch, but IWC didn't make it. So, how has IWC become one of the most influential brands within the space?
Simply put, IWC focused on creating mechanically superior timepieces with impeccable build quality and desirable aesthetics as their means of penetrating the market and becoming one of its dominant forces.
With their history in the aviation industry stretching as far back as 1936, they also have the heritage required to create timepieces for the industry with the authority necessary to give you peace of mind that their pilot's watches are unrivalled.
History in Aviation
Before getting into the best IWC Pilot's Watch, we should examine their heritage and see just how important aviation is to their DNA. A true pioneer, IWC started focusing on the immediate need for technically advanced watches explicitly built for aviation at a very early stage. With the aviation industry progressing as fast as it was, there was a growing need for technically astute timepieces.
In 1936, under Ernst Jakob Homberger and his two sons' leadership, the trio of passionate aviators decided to create IWC's first "special watch for pilots". The watch, powered by the antimagnetic Caliber 83 movement, had a shatterproof crystal, high-contrast ornate hands and heavily luminescent Arabic numeral hour markers. Featuring a rotating coin-edge bezel with an index for recording short periods of time, this was quite an incredible piece of technology, given the period in which it came.
From there onwards, IWC's fate as a watchmaker with important ties to aviation was set, and the brand has gone on to create some of the best pilot's watches on the market.
History of IWC Big Pilot Watches
Like many iconic watches, the Big Pilot has its heritage deeply entrenched within important historical events that eclipse watchmaking. Tracing its origins as far back as WWII, the IWC Big Pilot began its journey in the chronological world as the IWC B-Uhr.
Released as a limited run of 1000 pieces for the German Air Force in 1940, these original watches had immediately distinctive dials and accurate pocket watch movements converted to allow for a central seconds hand. What made these dials so distinctive was their size – they had to fit the massive 55mm case.
With a choice of san serif typeface and the large military triangle flanked by a dot on either side to mark the 12 o'clock position, these timepieces were immediately recognisable and have since become a subcategory of watch collecting in and of themselves.
Created with the sole intention of providing a more ergonomic experience for a pilot in a cockpit, the Big Pilot's large conical fluted crown can be manipulated while wearing leather gloves. Furthermore, the large numerals sit next to equally imposing markers to give the watch unrivalled legibility in the darkness of a cockpit soaring through the air. Relaunched in 2002 as the IWC Big Pilot, the IWC B-Uhr can be considered the IWC's modern Pilot's Watch collection genesis.
With a massive array of complications, designs, colourways, materials and so forth, the Big Pilot represents IWC's very best. One of our favourites is the IWC Big Pilot ref. IW501001. Combining historical accuracy with modern design and engineering flourishes, this timepiece comes in at an agreeable 46.2mm diameter, is powered by the incredible cal. 52110 automatic movement and features a seven-day power reserve indicator and a date display at 6 o'clock.
By merging modern horology with the Big Pilot's heritage, IWC has created a timepiece that joins the watchmaking hall of fame as a truly iconic timepiece. Whether it's the IWC Big Pilot Chronograph or IWC Big Pilot in Rose Gold, you can rest assured the timepiece you're strapping onto your wrist is a finely built machine with over 80 years of history behind it.
History of IWC Le Petit Prince
Next up, we have Le Petit Prince. Not exactly a static collection like what you would traditionally imagine, Le Petit Prince models are special edition timepieces inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the pioneering French aviator, diplomat, writer and poet.
A humble nod from IWC to the importance of story-telling in the world of watchmaking, these timepieces commemorate Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's literary work.
Antoine himself was a thriving commercial pilot flying airmail routes before joining the French Air Force during WWII. Following the French armistice with Germany in 1940, Antoine moved to the US to try to convince politicians to join the war efforts. Following 28 months in America, he joined the Free French Air Force and is thought to have died in 1944 while on a recon mission.
Antoine wrote books during his time in America, the best known of which is "Le Petit Prince", a poetic, philosophical and self-illustrated tale in which a pilot becomes stranded in the Sahara and meets a young prince who falls from an asteroid. Written as a children's book Le Petit Prince seeks to understand the strangeness of the adult world and all that goes on within it.
Entering a partnership with the Saint-Exupéry-d'Agay's Estate in 2005, IWC sought to find ways for Antoine's ideas to remain alive. With themes of aviation, exploration and dreams being so vivid within IWC's history and Antoine's literary work and life, it began an organic and long-term relationship. Ever since the collaboration's first timepiece, IWC has released numerous other limited-edition watches based on this collaboration.
No matter what watch is being given the 'Le Petit Prince' treatment, IWC apply the eponymous book's level of fantasy to it and give the watch a new lease of life. With the signature blue sunburst dial symbolising the night sky and an engraved case-back with the little prince character's image, Le Petit Prince models have earned their stripes as some of the most stunning IWC Pilot's watches available. Successfully immortalising Antoine's creative essence, bravery and talent within a watch that he would have been proud to own, these IWC Le Petit Prince Pilot's Watches are deeply connected to both aviation and Antoine in perfect harmony.
Modern Day IWC Watches
IWC have since expanded the Le Petit Prince collection, introducing the hallmark design aesthetic to a wide range of their complication pieces. With the IWC Pilot's Watch Chronograph 'Le Petit Prince', for example, IWC have created a modern timepiece that combines the engineering brilliance that customers expect and the aesthetic DNA that IWC's customers love to create one of the best IWC Pilot's Watches around.
With their profoundly detailed history in the aviation industry, IWC have an immense range of Pilot’s Watches that go far beyond the scope of what has been discussed here. From the IWC Pilot's Watch Mark XVIII to the IWC Pilots Watch Chronograph, and everything in between, IWC provides some of the best pilot’s watches on the market.
As IWC’s only Authorised Retailer in Ireland, we are proud to offer you our expertise and help you find the best IWC Pilot Watch for you. Please feel free to reach out to us and we will help you pick the perfect IWC watch to suit your needs.