IWC Big Pilot's Heritage Watch - Please welcome the ultimate Observation Watch
If you were to ask me which two key points of the 2016 SIHH fair I am going to remember for a long time, I would reply with two nouns; details and tradition. Those were the main motifs that most of the brands belonging to the Richemont Group have focused on and those two nouns, when applied to IWC, mean a revamping of the Pilot's collection and the launch of the modern edition of the 52 T.S.C.
In the past, IWC have accustomed us with the revamping of an entire collection on a yearly basis but the IWC Big Pilot's Heritage Watch 48 was something that was more than a surprise, it was some sort of a ”game-changer” to mark the brand's historical leadership in the sector of the so-called Observation Watches.
As Christian Knoop (IWC Creative Director) confirmed during our interview, the logic that lies behind a simple and faithful re-editing process has been avoided in this special re-vamping effort as it would have betrayed, at least from an aesthetic point of view, the innovation spirit that has always characterized the brand from Schaffhausen and that has dramatically increased in the last 3 years.
Besides, from a simple communication point of view, a simple re-launch would have had a counter-effect on the new 52 T.S.C.'s impact since many brands, in the last 10 years, have made that type of aesthetics theirs by imitating the original one, size included.
The history that takes us to the crafting of the IWC Big Pilot's Heritage Watch started before 1940; from a simple mechanical point of view, the 52 T.S.C. is the heir of the movements series called “IWC Calibre” that were produced in 1888 and were based on the 1886 “Elgin III” calibers. Back in those days, this type of timepieces weren't aviator's watches yet and the 52 caliber, which derives from the “Calibre”, was inserted for the last time within the case of 1,200 Big Pilot's Watches and a desk clock requested by the British Royal Navy that year and that, in its latest version, featured central seconds. If you want to find out more about the history that lies behind the 1940 Big Pilot's Watch, I would recommend reading the article called “Time in your pocket” that I used as my source of information and that was written by Michael Friedberg, moderator of the official IWC forum, you can find the link to this article on here.
IWC presented a collector's piece version measuring 55mm (ref. 5104) and produced in 100 pieces only and also a second version that was produced in 1,000 pieces and whose case measures 48mm (ref. 5103). The first version is clearly a collector's piece and it is mainly geared towards those who are fond of the military style, it is definitely not something that you would wear on a daily basis and its main purpose is to become the collection's flagship thus improving the brand's awareness even further. In the next few years, this collection will likely become the focus of some themed-auction. How do you distinguish between the 55mm-version and the 48-mm version? Leaving aside the difference existing between the in-house-built calibers used (they belong to the 98000 family in the first case and to the 52000 family in the second case) it is not a very complicated task indeed: take a look at the distance between the indexes located at 5 o'clock and at 7 o'clock and also at the baton index located at 6 o'clock and the small seconds counter that replaced the central counter. On the 48mm-version timepiece the two Arabic numberals are almost touching the small seconds scale.
The IWC Big Pilot's Heritage Watch was the first Pilot's timepiece to be unveiled at the fair and it has therefore unveiled some technical solutions that have been adopted on the entire collection too; the glowing triangle has gone back to its previous location – underneath the glowing baton index located at 12 o'clock – while the number 9 has made its comeback on the dial, despite the fact that the graphical aspect of those numbers has dramatically evolved if compared to the year 2002's.
IWC has gone back to the dial of the first 2002 Big Pilot's Watch (ref. 5002), one of the most sought-after and more valuable Big Pilot's timepieces still for sale. Despite the fact that these specific timepieces started their production just 14 years ago and were not part of a limited series, they are still selling for lots on money in the market of second-hand watches.
The IWC Big Pilot's Heritage Watch 48, we are reviewing in this article, is equipped with a manual in-house-built 59215 caliber that guarantees up to 8 days of power reserve. The timepiece is 48mm large and 14.5mm thick but it is extremely light because the case is made of titanium and it only weighs 120 grams. Focusing on the details, we can see that IWC has improved something that, in my personal opinion, should have been improved on the entire previous Pilot's collection; the strap.
The manufacturer has gone back to a soft brown calf leather strap with contrasting ecru stitching that had previously been used in the 2002 series. In the case of the Heritage timepiece, it is not a traditional strap but rather a bracelet-strap that resembles the original aviator's watches. The only con is that the strap is a bit long, at least on the samples that were presented at the fair in Geneva, even when wrapped around an important wrist like mine and buckled up, the end of the strap tends to almost touch the lower edge of the case.
IWC has decided not to abandon the power reserve's viewing feature and have moved it to the back case (but only on the 48mm-version), a practical solution that the manufacturer has had to match with the characteristic magnetoresistance that is typical of all Pilot's watches. The retail price of the IWC Big Pilot's Heritage Watch 48 is about 14,000 Swiss Francs (the 55mm-version is about 2,000 Swiss Francs more expensive.) It is an important price for what you can consider as the ultimate aviator's watch with a pedigree and superb technical features and finishing.
The manufacturer will only craft 1,000 pieces of this particular timepiece and that gives a unique value to a watch that can already boast a great manual in-house-built caliber with a Breguet balance-spring, that guarantees up to 8 days of power reserve. We need to praise IWC for having the courage to be the first haute-horlogerie brand to have listened to the voice of its collectors and the requests of watch connoisseurs. Thanks to their new ideas, IWC have given us additional choices to source from when it comes to military watches from the 30s and 40s and they have shown once again their leadership in the sector of historical aviator's watches after triumphing in the sector of modern pilot's watches too.
For full details about this watch, check the watch data sheet at WatchBase.com
(Photo credit: courtesy of IWC Watches; Horbiter's proprietary photo-shooting by Entropik)
Gaetano C. @Horbiter