IWC displays the history of the Pilot's Watch
Are you a big fan of Pilot's watches? You can show your true passion for them by visiting Rome between the 2nd and the 8th May when one of the most relevant aviator watches’ collections in history, probably even the most important one, will be presented in a 45 square meter space.
The space I am talking about is IWC boutique situated in Piazza di Spagna and the collection I am referring to will showcase timepieces with an incredible historic value, milestones in the history of the brand from Schaffhausen and in the history of the entire military air force. For the first time in their history, IWC have accepted to display outside of their own museum, seven of their special watches that represent the very origins of the Pilot’s collection. Among them are some models that only those people who have had a military aircraft’s pilot in their family in the 40s or that successfully participated in a Christie’s auction, have had the luck to either own or tell about.
I had the privilege to preview what other fans, firstly those who have subscribed to IWC’s newsletter, will have the chance to see at the beginning of next week and that everybody else will also be able to see after scheduling an appointment, if any is still available, with the sales assistants and managers of the Roman boutique. Let me start off with three numbers out of the seven ones on display; 436, 431 and Mark XI.
Most of you won’t recognize these three figures straightaway but a real fan’s eyes will immediately start sparkling with joy when they hear them. Reference 436 is the true origin of the Pilot’s Watch collection’s myth, the very first aviator timepiece ever crafted in Schaffhausen that IWC reproduced on a limited series scale a few years ago. The watch was originally released in 1936 and it sported a “chemin de fer” minute ring and an arrow-shaped indicator positioned on the bi-directional bezel that was used to synchronize the time between all the pilots and the staff deployed at ground stations during war operations.
This timepiece is probably the least known of the entire collection since, somehow, it has always been put in a corner by the fame of the 52 T.S.C., the father of the modern Big Pilot’s Watch that was commissioned by the Luftwaffe in 1940. The watch sports central seconds and a big glowing triangle located at 12 o’clock that allows the user to check the time even when there was not light around.
Today, an aviator watch is an item for everybody and the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 2016 is, in my opinion, the best Big Pilot’s ever crafted – together with the 5002 - yesterday, however, this type of timepiece played a completely different role. It was the faithful companion of military pilots, it had to be even more precise than the instruments positioned on an aircraft’s navigation panel and it was instrumental to successfully complete complicated military operations during a time when flying was still being perfected. It was a time when the success of a mission was solely based on the perfect synchronization between a pilot and their T.S.C. and between the flying staff and the ground personnel.
The size of this timepiece (55mm of diameter) was chosen both to guarantee an extreme lightness and, most of all, to make sure that it was extremely precise and that’s also why it was equipped with a big manual caliber measuring 19 lines that would guarantee a superior level of precision. The 52 T.S.C. is a desire item and the price of the still existing samples has grown exponentially with the passing of time. In 2012 Christie’s sold one of these watches for about 26,000USD and, in 2015, another one for over 33,000USD.
The model that we saw at the SIHH 2016 event takes inspiration from the T.S.C. and was released in only 100 pieces, 4 of which are being sold in two Italian boutiques, namely in Rome and Milan. IWC boast many boutiques located all around the world but Italy was the first country that was granted in exclusive those seven historic watches and it is great to see how Italy and Italian watch aficionados are becoming a strategic point of reference for the brand.
If you are curious to find out how a pilot used to wear a 52 T.S.C. back in those days, you simply need to take a look at my wrist, at the vintage glove and at the IWC Heritage Big Pilot’s Watch 55. Big, featuring the IWC Schaffhausen logo that on the original, which was crafted following specific military requirements, was probably considered as a useless frill.
Ivan Brambilla, Sales & Retail Director IWC Italy, led us through the history of Pilot’s watches by telling us how the first timepiece of the Mark series – the Mark XI, the year 2016 will see the arrival of the Marx XVIII – was first born in 1948.
The timepiece was created for the Royal Air Force and, still today, it is an extremely current watch from an aesthetic point of view. This watch is one of the most sought-after items of all time, it is anti-magnetic and it sports an oversize crown, it can be immediately recognized because of the presence of the historic logo of the RAF. The total absence of a date on military watches makes them even more fascinated and it is something that IWC should start thinking about since a “no data” Mark could easily become, in my opinion, a fan’s most coveted wish (Photo property of Live Auctioneers).
Everything that today sports the name “Mark” up to the 2016 Mark XVIII started off from here. To better understand what wearing one of these timepieces on a daily basis actually means, I would like to interview Hans-Conrad Stamm, a Swiss Air pilot who has been wearing a 1951 one during his flying, after having inherited one from his father.
After an interesting description of the brand’s modern chronographs (I would have continued to call them Fliegeruhr Chronograph and Doppelchronograph) that pushed me to issue a purchase proposal for a 3711 in same-as-new conditions during my return journey from Milan to Rome, Ivan explained to us in details the entire IWC 2016 collection. On that particular occasion we were not able to view the Le Petit Prince Chrono, simply because all of those available in the boutique had been sold already (one of the pics that we took at the Geneva Salon actually showed us why these timepieces sold out like hot cakes!)
This event was organized in a perfect manner, the location where the boutique is situated requires no further presentations – the beautiful Piazza di Spagna – and the idea to take to Italy such an important part of IWC’s history represents an extremely original initiative and also a smart way to put together the brand, their fans and journalists alike.
The manufacturer from Schaffhausen isn’t simply an haute horlogerie brand but it is also a manufacturer with a rich history on its shoulders, the collection value of its watches grows as fast as new models and complications are being released. Back in the days this type of watches used to be worn by Luftwaffe and RAF staff but today they can be seen wrapped around the wrist of Miramar Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) pilots and it would be nice to talk about the next Pilot’s collection next to a Spitfire. I would like to sincerely thank Ivan Brambilla, Francesca Mirra (PR Assistant for IWC Italy), Melissa Faraone (Boutique Manager) and her staff for the unforgettable day that we spent together.
(Photo credit: courtesy of IWC, Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®