Four years after the last pilot’s watch collection by IWC Schaffhausen presented at SIHH in 2012, this year the brand is once again renewing its range of watches inspired by historic aviation patterns. IWC’s production in this area is significant because amongst the brands making versions of the classic Second World War B-Uhr watches (Beobachtungs-uhren, or Observation watches), IWC is the only high-end manufacturer. Other brands that made watches for the Luftwaffe and still continue to make contemporary versions are Laco, Wempe and Stowa, who work at the entry level of the market; brands that have drawn on the same heritage but weren’t suppliers to the Luftwaffe or RAF are Archimede, Steinhart, Tourby, Alpina, Sinn, Mühle Glashütte and Bremont. Glashütte Original and A. Lange & Sohne, both of whom supplied the Luftwaffe during WWII, have preferred to abandon the skies. Of all these, IWC is the only brand making a B-Uhr-type watch at a size comparable to the original, now in a massive 55 mm version. As far as I know, all the other brands mentioned above have downsized to between 36 and 45 mm.
IWC have provided a preview of its new 2016 pilot’s watch collection, with photos of two watches, the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55, and the like-named 48. They are both very close to the 1940s Big Pilot’s Watch 52-calibre T.S.C., which had a 55 mm case, now equalled by the new 55 which is IWC’s largest watch now in production. Christian Knoop, Creative Director at IWC, explains the thinking behind the new designs: “For us, it was vital from the start that the Heritage watches were true to the original – from the design of the dial and the colour of the luminescent numerals to the shape of the propeller-like hands and the riveted calfskin straps. It’s like jumping back in time to the pioneering age of aviation, except that we’ve got state-of-the-art IWC watch technology.” The new technology takes the form of in-house IWC movements, a sliding clutch that protects the hand-wound movements from overwinding, and titanium cases.
In addition, these two watches have soft iron inner cases that protect the watch against magnetic fields. This was part of the official specifications for WWII B-Uhr watches, and it means that there is no point in having a display caseback revealing the movement – something that has become de rigueur for most mechanical watches – because the soft iron case has to enclose everything. In the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 48, IWC have compromised between truth to the historical format and the modern desire to reveal something of the calibre by creating a small circular window in the caseback and soft iron inner case to display the power reserve. The other compromise that IWC have made in the 48 mm version of their Heritage Watch is the date display, that appears on the continuous seconds subdial.
The Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 has no date display, and this, along with its entirely solid caseback and its size, makes it the most historically authentic of the two timepieces.
A comparison between the 1940s IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 52-calibre T.S.C. shows another couple of significant differences. B-Uhr watches supplied to the Luftwaffe were generally unbranded. And this particular historical model had a central seconds hand (as indicated by the abbreviations TSC in the name). In these two pieces, IWC have returned to the even earlier pattern with subdial at 6 o’clock, a reference to the early pilot’s watches which had pocket watch calibres and a subdial for continuous seconds.
These two IWC models represent IWC’s tribute to B-Uhr tradition, right down to calfskin straps with two rivets, without the more fashionable orange linings of the Santoni straps used on most of the brand’s other watches. IWC’s 2016 pilot’s watch collection will include a whole range of watches, with two important innovations: the Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36 (reference 3240) is just 36 mm in diameter, ideal for customers with small wrist size, including women, and the Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph, in which the time zone can be adjusted by turning the bezel, with the date also moving backwards or forwards if necessary.
References and prices
The price of the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55, reference IW510401, a limited edition of 100, is €16,700, £11,750. The price of the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 48, reference IW510301, a limited edition of 1,000, is €15,200 incl. tax, £10,500 incl. VAT. The watches will be available from October 2016.