Watches and Wonders 2021: Aviation watches reach for new heights with IWC’s 2021 portfolio...

IWC Schaffhausen came to prominence in 2002 when they released the Big Pilot’s Watch – ref: IW5002. Inspired by already established IWC military watches made for the British RAF in WW2, the 5002’s chronograph dial, featuring a distinct cockpit-instrument look and an oversized 46.2 mm case which immediately became a benchmark for the genre.

For 2021 we see 43mm updates to the classic Pilot’s model, the introduction of a Perpetual Calendar and a re-imagining of the iconic TOP GUN watch. “I feel the need….”

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 - Image Credit: IWC

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is a faithful interpretation of this original design without any additional elements on the dial, but now in a 43-millimetre stainless steel case that combines presence on the wrist with increased wearing comfort. This model features a black dial, rhodium-plated hands and a brown calfskin strap. Visible through the sapphire glass case back is the IWC-manufactured 82100 calibre. The Pellaton winding system has been reinforced with ceramic components and builds up a power reserve of 60 hours. The practical EasX-CHANGE system and a choice of straps in calfskin, rubber or stainless steel provide a high degree of flexibility. Combined with the now 100m water-resistant case, this transforms the Big Pilot's Watch 43 into a modern, fully versatile sports watch.

References: IW329301: Black dial, IW329303: Blue dial, IW329304: Blue dial

Case width: 43mm
Thickness: 13.6mm
Movement: Mechanical automatic 82100 calibre
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds,
Power reserve: 60 hours
Case: Stainless steel with sapphire crystal case back
Water-resistance: 100m

Price: 8300 Euros on leather, 9227 Euros on a stainless steel bracelet
Availability: May 2021

First thoughts

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 - Image Credit: IWC

It's quite refreshing to see a new release watch that is stripped down with no date, power reserve gauge, embellishments or made of bronze. The new Big Pilot’s 43 is truly one of the most user-friendly IWCs we have seen for years. This classic simplicity really enhances the legacy of the watch and harks back to the 80-year-old models which were created as functional tools, not fashion icons. At 43mm it is by no means a small watch but by IWC standards it is much reduced. If legibility and an uncomplicated design are your principal criteria for selecting a luxury watch then the 43 will meet your demands. Whether you can justify the cost for such a simple watch is of course another matter.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL – Limited Annual Edition

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL – Limited Annual Edition - Image Credit: IWC

Following an 8-year engineering odyssey, IWC’s Experimental Dept, has developed a fundamentally new way of protecting the movement of a mechanical watch against shocks. The Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL (Ref. IW357201) is the first IWC watch to feature the patented SPRIN-g PROTECT system. The heart of this system is a cantilever spring that protects the movement against G-Forces generated by impacts. It cushions the movement, allowing it to keep moving independently of the case before bringing it to a stop more gently. A unique crown system with a degree of movement also had to be developed.

The cutting-edge in-house Calibre 32115 is a custom-made lightweight construction. During impact tests, the watch was subjected to accelerations generating forces in excess of 30,000 g. The case is made of Ceratanium, a new IWC-developed material based on a titanium alloy, as light as titanium but scratch-proof like ceramic. Due to the complexity of the manufacturing process, the annual production of the Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL will be limited to 10 pieces annually with a maximum of 30 units overall.

Reference: IW357201 – limited to 10 units annually, 30 units in total
Case width: 44mm
Thickness: 12.09mm
Movement: Automatic mechanical, Calibre 32111
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, central hacking
Power reserve: 120 hours
Case: Ceratanium (IWC propriety material)
Water-resistance: 100m
Dial: Black with sapphire crystal case back
Strap: 22mm black rubber

Price: POA
Availability: May 2021

First thoughts

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL – Limited Annual Edition - Image Credit: IWC

The XPL in the name of the watch is an acronym for “experimental” and is a reference to IWC’s Experimental engineering division. Clearly, this watch is a flagship for that division rather than a commercial proposition. Many industries have long since had “Special Projects” departments from the defence world to automotive giants. These units act as shop windows for what is possible rather than what will sell but they perform a valuable service in keeping the company ahead in the design game and displaying their technical prowess to competitors. The Shock Absorber XPL will certainly get attention but this is not the first time we have seen such mechanisms in mechanical watches – check out Formex. There is no overt price for the XPL, which suggests a hefty one, however, I suspect all 10 for 2021 are already spoken for!

The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41

The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 - Image Credit: IWC

Chronographs are a mainstay in IWC’s collection. The Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 is presented in a newly ergonomic 41-millimetre case and is powered by a latest generation IWC manufactured Calibre 69385. The dial design is an evolution of the successful Spitfire chronograph from 2019. The 41 also benefits from IWC’s new EasX-CHANGE system which allows instant strap change depending on surroundings. Combined with a new 100m water resistant standard, this the watch is much more versatile than previous incarnations.

References:IW388101 / IW388102: blue dial, IW388103 / IW388104 green dial
Case width: 41mm
Thickness: 14.5mm
Movement: Mechanical automatic, Calibre 69385
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph
Power reserve: 46 hours
Case: Stainless steel
Water-resistance: 100m
Price: 6741 Euros on leather, 7489 on stainless steel
Availability: May 2021

First thoughts

The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 - Image Credit: IWC

You will need to be a bit of an IWC fan to truly appreciate the design elements of the 41. The new movement is beautiful, robust, and efficient and on full display (so IWC obviously likes it), but will most buyers be able to distinguish it from a 7750? This watch has all the classic design elements expected from an IWC; at a distance, it simply could not be anything else and that will certainly appeal to buyers. I just hope that customers who select the 41, take time to learn about the new Calibre 69385 and appreciate that this is a fine evolution from the previous base model.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Perpetual Calendar

The IWC Big Pilot’s Perpetual Calendar - Image Credit: IWC

IWC’s perpetual calendar automatically recognises the Gregorian calendar’s different month lengths and leap years. No other complication has taken centre stage on the Big Pilot’s large dial as often as the perpetual calendar. In fact, 37 previous versions of this range have been issued with this complication.

Yet IWC has managed to evolve the movement and this new fully mechanical programme does not require any manual correction until 2100. Another distinguishing feature is the four-digit year display. An additional century slider is included within the case, enabling this timepiece to show the year until 2499. With all its displays perfectly synchronised, the calendar can be set easily via a single crown. The IWC manufactured Calibre 52615 drives the whole module using a single nightly switching impulse.

Reference: IW 503605
Case width: 46.2mm
Thickness: 15.4mm
Movement: Automatic mechanical, Calibre 52615
Functions: Hours, minutes, Perpetual calendar with displays for the date, day, month, year in four digits and perpetual moon phase for the northern and southern hemisphere, power gauge
Power reserve: 7 days
Case: Stainless steel
Water-resistance: 60m
Dial: Blue sunray
Strap: Blue calfskin

Price: 29,288 Euros
Availability: April 2021

First thoughts

The IWC Big Pilot’s Perpetual Calendar - Image Credit: IWC

Even though this movement is a mainstay for IWC it is hard not be impressed by the sheer level of engineering and how the company continues to evolve and not rest on technical laurels. Every square millimetre of the 2021 Perpetual Calendar is packed with features which makes the watch stunning to look at from either the back or the front. This is one model where the sapphire crystal case back is essential rather than desirable. If you cannot get your hands on one, then have a look at IWC’s innovative 3D viewing tool on their website to get an appreciation.
There are some impressive statistics attached to the watch. For example, if you were lucky enough to buy one of these watches today, the moon phase complication will not require any altering for 577 years. It adds a whole new meaning to being able to hand a watch down through the generations.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Top Gun Edition “MOJAVE DESERT” Perpetual Calendar & Power Reserve Display

The IWC Big Pilot’s Top Gun Edition “MOJAVE DESERT” Power Reserve Display - Image Credit: IWC

IWC has enhanced its successful series of TOP GUN models by introducing two new models constructed in sand-coloured ceramic. With dark brown subdued dials, sand-coloured hands and rubber straps, these watches have an unmistakable military design that takes inspiration from the arid colours of the Mojave Desert. It is over this vast expanse of land that pilots are trained as part of the US Navy’s elite Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program.

In this limited range, IWC have released a complex Perpetual Calendar model and a more standard Big Pilot with a power reserve indicator. Both new models are powered by IWC-manufactured movements from the Calibre 52000 family. IWC claim that due to its extreme hardness and scratch resistance, ceramic is ideal for daily use in the tough confines of a jet’s cockpit. The legendary TOP GUN logo is engraved on the titanium case back of the non-perpetual calendar model whilst the perpetual calendar watch has a sapphire crystal case back to allow full viewing of the impressive movement.

References: IW 503004 Perpetual Calendar, IW 506003 Power Reserve Display
Case width: 46.5mm (503004), 46mm (506003)
Thickness: 15.6mm, 14,6mm
Movement: Mechanical automatic, Calibres 52116 and 52110
Function 503004: Hours, minutes, Perpetual calendar with displays for the date, day, month, year in four digits and perpetual moon phase for the northern and southern hemisphere, power gauge
Function 506003: Hours, minutes, seconds, Power Reserve
Power reserve both models: 7 days
Cases: Sand-coloured ceramic, titanium, or sapphire crystal case back
Water-resistance: 60m
Dials: Dark Brown
Straps: Sand-coloured rubber strap with textile inlay

Prices: 503004 – 30,913.00 Euros, 596003 – 15,683.00 Euros
Availability: May 2021

First thoughts

The IWC Big Pilot’s Top Gun Edition “MOJAVE DESERT” Perpetual Calendar - Image Credit: IWC

Like them or loathe them the IWC TOP GUN editions are hugely evocative watches that capture the imagination and look like they should only be worn by F14 pilots who have callsigns like Maverick or Iceman. These watches are definitely not going to be to everyone’s taste but the market demographic they are aimed at will instantly fall in love with the desert look and the connection to the iconic military training base (and movies). With TOP GUN II not yet screened in cinemas the demand to acquire these models will be high. However, I do have one design criticism, considering the not insignificant cost of these models, I wish IWC had PVD coated the crowns. By keeping them base grey metal it makes the watches look unfinished.

To find out more about the IWC releases be sure to head over to their site here.