The IWC Big Pilot's Watch: fully revamped in 2016, the current Big Pilot's watch is a perfect nod to reference 5002 and a perfectly balanced watch
In watchmaking, success is all about details.
"The details are not the details. They make the design" the US designer Charles Eames used to say and Christian Knoop's team must have thought about this exact quote and also listened to the requests of the big collectors when they decided to upgrade the IWC Big Pilot's Watch.
My very first official encounter with timepiece reference 5002, the first watch of the modern era, was an online one, it took place when I came across a WatchTime article, the famous US magazine. The article was an interview to Pius Brida and Kilian Eisenegger, two engineers who are considered the fathers of the big aviator's watch, the adoptive son of the 52 T.S.C. that has been recently replaced by its natural son; the IWC Big Pilot's Heritage Watch.
That wonderful article is a must-read-piece for those of you who want to find out a bit more about the origins of the IWC Big Pilot's Watch.
The upgrade of the Pilot collection has brought with it updates of the product itself, new original functions (I am talking about the Timezoner Chronograph) and an overall aesthetic improvement of the IWC Big Pilot's Watch that, after a fourteen-year-career, reached in 2016 its full maturity.
What has changed with the introduction of the new Big Pilot's collection.
This new condition can be summarized in two words and a number: Spitfire, “Le Petit Prince” and the number 9. Let's start off with the Arabic numbers; do you think that a tiny number can make a big difference? It can indeed.
If you are the lucky owner of one of the 5002 reference timepieces, make sure that you hold on to it; one of the strenghts of this watch is its detailed black dial featuring Arabic numbers and a chapter ring on two concentric circles, a symmetrical pattern that IWC got rid of when they launched their second Big Pilot's Watch – IWC reference 500901 – maybe they were trying to achieve a cleaner style that could make the dial look bigger but, in my opinion, it has actually a bit over-simplified the dial.
The reference point: the IWC Big Pilot's 5002.
It comes to no surprise that, despite being very different from each other, the IWC Big Pilot's Watch 500901 has never had in my opinion the same bold personality as the 5002.
In 2016, it looks like we are partially going back to the origins by maintaining the points of strength of the last editions (mainly from a technical point of view, since the style depends on personal taste.) The glowing triangle with its two dots has gone back to its original location, that is to say below the indicator located at 12 o'clock, while the number 9 has made its come back with a thinner and evolved font type if compared to the previous editions. The overall idea that I get when I take a look at the black dial is much more rewarding than the look of the former IWC Big Pilot's Watch and it doesn't look heavy at all.
If you own an IWC Big Pilot's Watch, move it closer to the video and click on the image above, you will notice that this editing has made another one necessary; the rectangular glowing indexes that can be found next to the Arabic numbers are now all the same size.
The name “Spitfire” has come back (the split-seconds chronograph is unforgettable as is the Portugieser Double Chronograph), whose polished silhouette is engraved on the IWC Big Pilot's Watch's pink gold-made case back.
The small register of the power reserve with its circular motif and the perfect match between the slate-coloured dial and the pink gold-made case back are the testimony of how well these recently-carried out “surgical” interventions have worked out.
Another perfect coupling is given by the steel-made case and the blue dial of the IWC Big Pilot's Watch Edition “Le Petit Prince”, whose effigy sporting a cape and a sword in the hand replaces the effigy of the Junkers JU52 – the Luftwaffe bombardier from the 30s – of the IWC Big Pilot's Watch reference 500912.
That day IWC met Santoni.
Every new IWC Big Pilot's Watch 2016 is now equipped with its very own coat of arms that is engraved on the case back. By partnering with Santoni, IWC have basically eliminated the need to get an aftermarket strap. Unless you are looking for something different from the leather strap with ecru-stitching and an orange inside, I challenge you to find something better and of higher quality than this hand-made Italian leather strap.
If I were asked to highlight something that I would like to be different on this watch, I would probably think about closing the gap between the dial and the sapphire glass. There must be technical reasons rather than aesthetical ones for the existance of this gap but I am sure that if I managed to bring together the dial and the flat sapphire glass on such a large case (the diameter still measures 46mm, it hasn't changed since the last edition, actually the case of the Top Gun watches has been reduced by 2mm and it still works perfectly well! Conversely the case thickness is still huge) the final effect would look even better.
The starting retail price of the IWC Big Pilot's Watch 2016 totals 13,000 US dollars. Even with the current exchange rate US dollar-euro, the retail price still appears quite high on this side of the world. The general evalution, however, has to keep into consideration what has not been discussed in our article and what is not very discussed in the outside world either; the 51111 caliber.
This caliber is part of the big calibers' family of the 50000 series, it is the heir of the in-house-built calibers' family of the 5000 series. Historically speaking, this is the biggest automatic caliber ever crafted in the Schaffhausen labs, it has undergone numerous thermal, magnetic and mechanic tests (mainly shock-proof tests) before being released in the market and it is equipped with the Pellaton winding system (and a Breguet balance-spring.) The 5000 caliber had been originally crafted as a caliber running at a frequency of 2.5Hz while the 50000 caliber runs at a frequency of 3Hz, the first version also featured the biggest winding rotor made of steel and platinum in the world. Charles Eames was definitely right!
(Photo credit: courtesy of the IWC Forum; Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®