It’s arguably the most totemic watch of a brand canon chock-full of classics but – believe it or not – the modern incarnation of IWC’s oversize aviator has only been around since 2002
By Alex Doak
Even though it is based on a military design from the late 1930s – the now-legendary “B-Uhr” observation watch that IWC (along with A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, Laco and Stowa, in much greater numbers) supplied to the German air force and navy during World War 2 – the Big Pilot’s Watch is very much a modern classic in its own right.
For one thing, there was no commercially available version of those wartime watches produced at any point until the brand decided to use the vintage aesthetic as inspiration in 2002 (almost ten years after it had revived the Mk series).
It launched in blue, strangely enough, complete with massive, near-conical onion crown, period-appropriate hands and triangle at 12 o’clock. Not only did it debut IWC’s 7-day automatic movement with power reserve but it clocked up a hefty 46mm diameter.
That did as much as any watch to ramp up the Noughties appetite for oversized watches, and even though fashions are now moving in the other direction, the Big Pilot’s exemplifies everything that is good about big watches. It’s sporty yet serious, pretty understated – verging on sombre – in its design and despite its size can genuinely be worn with a suit. Alongside Panerai, it continues to fly the flag for big watches that it’s ok to lust after.
In the 14 years since its debut, the Big Pilot’s Watch has seen the basic design elements come and go – an hour marker here, a typographic upgrade there – but has also proved a flexible platform for more complicated watches, most recently a 250-piece “Le Petit Prince” annual calendar in gold, with profits going to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation, as well as launching the Top Gun spin-off line in 2012.
In fact, there are so many Pilot’s watches offered by IWC that we created our very own handy online wizard for choosing your perfect Pilot – give it a go now!
Last year IWC took things full circle, launching a brace of Heritage pieces – the closest that it has ever come to referencing the original design of its B-Uhr – one in full-fat 55mm guise limited to 100 pieces, the other a mere 48mm and limited to 1,000 (pictured above, £10,500), both in titanium to keep the weight down.
This is part of our Modern Classics series, profiling the most significant watch designs of the last 30 years. You can view the rest of the entries here. Disagree with our choices? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or by email.