For 75 years, the historic Big Pilot’s Watch —52-calibre T.S.C.— was the largest wristwatch ever made at IWC in Schaffhausen. In preparation for the SIHH 2016, IWC Schaffhausen unveils its successor: with an amazing 55 mm case, the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 eclipses a record that was set back in 1940. Like its big brother, the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 48 looks very much like the historic original, but makes a few more concessions to modern ideas of aesthetics and comfort. With a case diameter of 55 mm, the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 follows on directly from the Big Pilot’s Watch of 1940. This enormous eye-catcher, available in a limited edition of just 100 watches, is aimed primarily at collectors and lovers of authentic pilot’s watches. With a slightly smaller but still imposing case diameter of 48 mm, the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 48 —limited to 1,000 pieces— is a practical alternative for everyday use.
But it is not only the watches’ size so much as their unmistakable visual features that will make the hearts of watch connoisseurs race. From the dial design and color of the luminescent numerals to the shape of the propeller-like hands, cone-shaped crown and historic leather straps, it is as if the Heritage watches were taking us on a journey back in time to the pioneering days of aviation. Except that now we have state-of-the-art IWC watch technology. Anyone with a Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 (Ref. IW510401) on his wrist can be sure of one thing: making an impression. IWC’s engineers took their cue from the original design and size of 1940 and brought the Big Pilot’s Watch back to life. Except this time it is in titanium. The lighter material is a nod to modern-day possibilities: weighing less than 150 grams, the watch is not quite as heavy on the wrist as the 183 grams of the original in stainless steel. Back then, size meant important advantages. Powering the IWC Big Pilot's Heritage Watch 55, is the IWC hand-wound 98300 calibre that features an elongated index for simple and precise setting of the active length of the spring, a highly effective shock absorption system and a 46-hour power reserve. The case back has been kept decidedly simple: the numbering from 01/100 to 100/100 is an unmistakable sign of this great watch’s exclusiveness. The Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 is limited to 100 pieces and available exclusively from selected IWC boutiques all over the world.
Trying to replicate the look of the original Pilot's watch from 1940, the dial is as close as possible. Back then, the dial was matte black, and IWC’s watchmakers had coated the big Arabic numerals and indices showing the minutes with a thick layer of beige-colored radium. The health hazard posed by radioactive luminescent coatings was only recognized years later, at which point radium was replaced by harmless materials. The current Super-LumiNova coating guarantees excellent legibility. As in the original, the chapter ring, Arabic numerals and propeller-like hands are beige.
As an unmistakable sign of quality, even today the hands are blued. The figure “9” —omitted in subsequent models of the Big Pilot’s Watch after 2002— is back in its old, familiar position. And taking the place of the “12” is a triangular index with dots on either side, which make it possible to recognize the relative position of the hands and read the time even with a cursory glance in the dark. Today, the black dial and triangle are two features typical of a classic pilot’s watch. The fact that IWC’s designers chose to place it below “12 o’clock” instead of integrating it in the chapter ring is a further evocation of the 1940 original. However, there is one small, visible difference: the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 does not feature a central seconds hand like the Big Pilot’s Watch —52-calibre T.S.C.–Tirette Seconde Centrale—, produced in accordance with military specifications. Back then, pulling out the crown stopped the balance, thus allowing pilots and navigators to synchronize their watches with down-to-the-second accuracy. Today, the small seconds is found at '6 o’clock', and the IWC hand-wound 98300 calibre can likewise be stopped by pulling out the crown.
As is usual in an observer’s watch, the titanium case is sandblasted to eliminate reflections that might be detrimental to the watch’s legibility or betray the wearer’s position to the enemy. The watch movement itself is protected against magnetic fields by a soft-iron inner case. The cone-shaped crown is a reminder of those early days of flying, when pilots in their unheated cockpits were forced to wear thick gloves. Back then, the crown needed to be unusually large and chunky to make setting and winding the watch possible even with gloves. And today, as in the past, the crown makes the daily ritual of winding the watch by hand a very special experience. With such a large crown, it would be easy to overwind and damage the mechanism, which for safety’s sake is equipped with a friction clutch to prevent this from happening.
The Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 48 (Ref. IW510301) makes more concessions to modern-day aesthetics and concepts of comfort. And that, of course, begins with its size. On the wrist, the 48 mm case is particularly impressive and is guaranteed to attract inquisitive glances at the office or the dinner table. The watch is suited to everyday use thanks primarily to its light titanium, which reduces its weight to 120 grams. The IWC hand-wound 59215 calibre gives the owner the convenience of a 192-hour power reserve that guarantees accurate running for 8 days before it automatically stops. Just how much energy remains can be seen on the power reserve display visible through a small aperture covered by sapphire glass on the back of the watch. Despite the aperture, this Pilot’s Watch also has a soft-iron inner case that guides magnetic fields safely around the movement. The 48 Heritage Watch likewise features a friction clutch against overwinding and is supplied with a riveted calfskin strap.
For the brown calfskin strap, the designers took their inspiration from the historic leather strap found on the Big Pilot’s Watch. This allowed the timepiece to be worn over a thick flying suit. The strap is divided in two and sewn together at the ends, which makes it impossible to drop the watch accidentally when putting it on your wrist. Then, as now, two rivets on the spring bar hold the strap together. After all, some of the features that made the 1940s Pilot’s Watch so special simply cannot be enhanced.
Stay tuned for the live pictures of this watch as we bring you our hands-on review during the week of the SIHH 2016 straight from Geneva.
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