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A guide to the IWC Pilot Watch

IWC Schaffhausen is one luxury watch brand that has an incredibly strong connection to the aviation industry. These special roots stem all the way back to the Maison’s 1936 "Spezialuhr für Flieger” watch, developed especially for professional pilots. It featured a triangular index at 12 o’clock, luminescent elements across its already legible dial, and an anti-magnetic escapement.  Two models from the Pilot Watch range in particular - the 436 Mark IX and the reference 431 Big Pilot – became highly coveted timepieces for collectors and have since shaped the course of history taken by the prestigious watch manufacturer. To better understand the IWC Pilot’s Watch collection, a sound understanding of this broad and versatile range is fundamental in deciding which design is for you.

The IWC Pilot’s watch collection

Each of the IWC Pilot watch designs share one major thing in common – they all resemble historical IWC pilot’s watches from the 1940s, with sword-shaped hands, the familiar triangular symbol at 12 o’clock for instant orientation, and luminous Arabic numerals for quick and easy referencing. Those who are interested in the manufacturer’s heritage in creating traditional pilot’s watches will find the instruments from this IWC watch range particularly intriguing. The collection is home to several sub-categories such as the Mark Series, the Le Petit Prince Special Editions (inspired by French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery), and the popular Spitfire series.

IWC Pilot watches are also crafted from a range of different materials from classic stainless steel to bronze, to ceramic and even lightweight titanium, measuring from a discreet and very manageable 35mm to a very  55mm. These functional and practical tools are known for their legibility thanks to their luminous hour markers and hands that glow richly in conditions where lighting is compromised. Pilot’s watches by IWC can vary in terms of design and complications also. The collection offers chronograph models, perpetual calendars, tourbillons and moon phase iterations, as well as classic time and date versions. Many models from this range are fitted with in-house calibres that have been tried and tested at the company’s prestigious ateliers and are further leveraged by innovative anti-magnetic and shock-resistant technology for improved mechanical efficiency.

The IWC Mark Series

Released in 1948, the Mark 11 watch was developed by IWC Schaffhausen for the British Royal Air Force. Its design went down in history as one of the most iconic pilot’s watches of all time. Its functional design and reliable hand-wound 89-calibre movement, protected inside a soft iron inner cage made for a perfect marriage. This innovative framework around the movement led to superior resistance to the damaging effects of magnetism and the watch was used for over three decades by the British Military. Replacing the Mark 11 in 1994 was the IWC Mark XII watch with a self-winding movement and a date display. Five years later, the larger Mark XV watch arrived measuring 2mm wider in diameter and equipped with the automatic Calibre 37524 modified from the ETA 2892. After this, the Sellita SW300-1 movement went on to power watches from the Mark series. The earliest timepieces from this series, however, are the most collectable and desirable. Some of these can be distinguished by their lack of numerals at the 6 and 9 o’clock locations around the hour track. Models that collectors are particularly fond of are those such as the original Mark 11 watch and its direct successor, the Mark XII watch.

The IWC Mark XVIII ref. IW327009 is one of the most recent members of the Mark series. The luxury pilot’s watch is distinguished by its compact 40mm-sized stainless steel case with a legible black dial that features Super-LumiNova-coated Arabic numerals and hands. It sits on the wrist at a height of 11mm and features a screw-down crown, as well as a specially engraved caseback bearing an image of the famous Ju-52 aircraft. One of the most appealing factors of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII is the way in which its design is reduced to the bare essentials in order to ensure legibility is upheld. Key to this design is its triangular symbol with two dots that replaces the Arabic numeral at 12 o’clock and the date window that replaces the third Arabic numeral on the hour track. The watch is powered by the automatic Calibre, which produces a 42-hour power reserve and is completed on a stylish black calfskin strap to maintain a classic look on the wrist.

Our Pick


Reference: IW327009

Case/Dial: 40mm Stailess steel, Black
60 mt.

Movement: 35111, Self-winding

Style: Dress

The IWC Big Pilot’s watch

It was 1940 when the Big Pilot’s watch was met with resounding success. Its behemoth proportions were cleverly designed to fit over the sleeve of a pilot’s jacket and its aesthetics reflected the circular cockpit instruments found in aircraft during this era. It would not be until 2002 that the Big Pilot’s watch would be reintroduced into the company’s catalogue, however. When it did arrive, it was smaller than the original, but outfitted with an automatic movement that promises an impressive power reserve of 8.5 days. After seven days of inactivity, the watch, which went by the reference 5002, would cease operating, ensuring that accuracy was never compromised by insufficient energy inside the mainspring. The key feature of this design included a date window at 6 o’clock and a power reserve indicator to track the remaining energy of the movement.

Still measuring a hefty diameter, the 46mm Big Pilot’s Watch from IWC Schaffhausen became the predecessor to other models fitted on black alligator leather straps (as opposed to its original brown buffalo leather strap) and watchmakers began equipping the power reserve with a red zone to show when the mainspring was devoid of energy. Two additional versions of the Big Pilot’s Watch were later released in 2012, proving successful once again with their eye-catching vintage-inspired designs. These were the Big Pilot’s Watch TOP GUN Miramar ref. 501902 with a polished grey ceramic case and the Big Pilot’s Watch TOP GUN Ref. 501901 with a black ceramic case.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch ref IW501015 remains classic-looking in many ways, yet its striking green dial has a character of its very own. Its utilitarian and functional design is inspired by the racing green colour of British racing cars during the early 1900s and has been carefully engineered to offer effortless operation of its features through padded pilot’s gloves. Its broad 46mm size is faithful to its “big” personality, whilst inside its robust stainless steel case is the automatic 52110 calibre, which produces a 7-day power reserve and features a Pellaton winding system. The front glass of this Big Pilot’s Watch is secured against a sudden drop in air pressure and the movement is protected once again within a sift iron inner core. In addition to its power reserve indicator at 3 o’clock and legible date window at 6 o’clock, the watch extends its functional design onto the strap with a stylish brown calfskin leather band adorned with white contrast stitching down the sides for a vintage finish.

Our Pick

IWC Big Pilot

Reference: 501902

Case/Dial: 48.6mm Ceramic, Anthracite with luminescent elements

Movement: 51111, Self-winding

Functions: Date, Calendar, Power indicator, 168h power reserve

Style: Dress

The IWC Pilot’s Chronograph watch

There are several notable designs from the Pilot Chronograph sub-category including the Timezoner Chronograph, the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph "Le Petit Prince" watch, the Pilot's Watch Chronograph "Tribute to 3705”, released just last year, and the Top Gun Double Chronograph watch. Less conspicuous variations also prove equally as popular. Generally speaking, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph varies between the tri-compax dial layout with a white day-date feature at 3 o’clock and the tri-compax dial layout with a retrograde date display at 3 o’clock. The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph ref. IW377724 is notable for its stylish khaki green textile strap. Its sleek black dial offers a 12-hour totaliser at 6 o’clock, a running seconds counter at 9 o’clock, and a 30-minute sub-dial at 12 o’clock. The date-date feature is dressed against a clean white background for optimum readability. Furthermore, inside the case, the automatic 79320 Calibre produces a useful 44-hour power reserve whilst concealed behind a closed caseback. Perfect for accurate stopwatch timings whilst on the go, the watch is characterised by its piston-style push-pieces at 2 and 4 o’clock, along with an anti-glare sapphire crystal glass front.

Our Pick

IWC Pilot’s Chronograph

Reference: IW377724

Case/Dial: 43mm Stailess steel, Black
60 mt.

Movement: 79320, Self-winding

Functions: Date, Calendar, Chronograph, 44h power reserve

Style: Chronograph

The IWC Pilot Spitfire watch

Lastly, the Spitfire sub-category within the brand’s pilot’s watch range takes the parred-back design of the classic Pilot’s Watch and puts an elegant spin on it. The collection will appeal to enthusiasts with a preference for dressier-style timepieces, yet these watches lose nothing in the way of their distinct pilot-inspired DNA. The Spitfire watch series also offers some more unusual dial designs, like the model ref. IW329701. It features an outer minute track characterised in 5-minute increments, along with an inner 12-hour track. Its 43mm titanium case is lightweight on the wrist and completed on a brown calfskin leather strap integrated with an EasX-CHANGE system, which enables for the fast and effortless switching over of straps without the need for any tools. Of course, the watch pays homage to the British-made Spitfire aeroplane, with an engraved image of the aircraft upon the back of its 100-meter water-resistant case. The black dial nods to the display of historic observation watches, whilst its eye-catching military aesthetics are perfect for navigators and pioneering pilots alike.

Our Pick

IWC Pilot Spitfire

Reference: IW329701

Case/Dial: 43mm Titanium, Black
600 mt.

Movement: 82100, Self-winding

Strap: Leather

Style: Dress

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