We pick out two highly contrasting talking points from IWC’s wholesale overhaul of its pilot’s watch collection at SIHH 2016
IWC this week delivered a comprehensive overhaul of its pilot’s watch collection, doing away with certain models, redesigning and resizing others, and introducing newbies that include a new Big Pilot and a blimmin’ MASSIVE pilot, 36mm models for women, an entry-level Spitfire chrono on a bracelet and an annual calendar.
But for us there are two key headline watches, which are generating very contrasting reactions here in Geneva. These are on the one hand a watch for the old-school IWC purists, the Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII, which returns the classic pilots watch to its traditional look; and on the other, a watch for… well, certainly not purists anyway. Perhaps, though, big-wristed globetrotters with a yen for techy innovation. That’s the world timer that IWC is calling the “Timezoner”.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII
First off, then, the latest version of arguably the best-known aviation tool watch of them all, with a story that goes back to the legendary Mark XI made for the post-war RAF. No brand out there can claim ownership of the classic military flying watch style – black dial, white numerals, triangular 12 o’clock marker etc – but if you had to name a single watch that embodies it, the basic IWC Pilot’s Watch would surely be it.
Back in 2012 though, the last time IWC revamped the pilot collection, it messed with the formula, to the chagrin of plenty of fans of the classic style. For that year’s Mark XVII, the 12 o’clock triangle was squeezed up into the minute track, the date window was opened up into a strange, three-numeral affair with the date indicated by an arrow (it looked a little like an altimeter) and – most egregiously perhaps – the watch ballooned from 39mm to 41mm.
The running themes of the 2012 collection, in fact, were upsizing and macho, show-off styling, with emphasis on big ceramic pieces and the introduction of militaryish Top Gun Miramar look; IWC even ran a Top Gun-aping ad in cinemas in which it debuted its new, subtle-as-a-brick slogan: “Engineered for men”.
Boy have times changed. That slogan is nowhere to be found in any IWC communications – after all, it’s now the purveyor of cosmopolitan ladies’ watches in the Portofino collection, and this year introduces a 36mm model to the pilot’s line that really isn’t aimed at skinny-wristed chaps. And the classic Pilot’s Watch has got its mojo back. It’s lovely.
IWC has downsized things a bit, to 40mm – plenty would no doubt prefer one milimetre more, but them’s the breaks. More importantly, the date window is back to normal, the red arrow is gone, and the arrow is back in its rightful place above the IWC logo and below the minute track. Phew.
Meanwhile, you have the traditional anti-magnetism measures, with a soft iron inner case housing the automatic movement (not in-house), while a Santoni strap (the Italian shoemaker which has a strap partnership with IWC) adds a non-utilitarian touch of luxury. Oh, and there’s a host of different styles, including a white dial, a bracelet version, a Saint-Exupery version with an electroplated blue dial, and a Top Gun Miramar style. The classic black dial, however, remains the benchmark, and has been one of the most widely-welcomed watches at SIHH.
The same can’t quite be said for the new world timer in the collection, a hulking thing that replaces the little-loved, rather derivative world timer introduced in 2012. A 45mm behemoth the Timezoner may be, but it’s a watch of notable technical interest. This is a world timer that allows you to set the time zone by rotating the bezel.
Around 18 months ago IWC acquired the world timer patents of a watchmaker named Michel Vogt, who through his Vogard brand – and with the help of iconoclastic horologist Thomas Prescher – had developed a brilliant bezel-set world timer in 2004. We’d been wondering what would come from this – now we know.
To operate the Timezoner Chronograph, you simply press down the bezel, turn it to the time zone you’re after, and release. The movement keeps running while a small, red-tipped hands moves to the appropriate position on a 24-hour scale for the selected time zone. The bezel can be moved forwards or backwards, and the date display is also synchronized, whether or not the 24 hour hand passes midnight.
The technology is undoubtedly brilliant, and IWC has been able to combine Vogt’s invention with its own advancements in sprung rotating bezels, as found in its Aquatimers. What’s a little perplexing is the fact it felt the need to add a chronograph too – perhaps it gives a more techy “cockpit” feel, but it seems a rather overplayed hand. It does give you, however, IWC’s in-house chronograph caliber, with 68-hour power reserve, hour and minute counters combined at 12 o’clock, and a watch that’s nothing if not unusual. However, given the over-all move towards a subtler and more classic pilot’s watch style this year, this seems rather at odds.
For more information, go to IWC’s website.