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Essential Classics: IWC Big Pilot

The IWC Big Pilot Watch more than lives up to its name – it is indeed both physically immense and inspired by aviation. But it has also earned its name in a more metaphorical sense. The Big Pilot Watch is big – big league, big time – a popular, powerful, preeminent timepiece that has earned a permanent spot in the horological hall of fame. IWC fans have a passionate love affair with the entire Big Pilot family, and it’s easy to see why. It’s hard not to fall for that commanding, masculine size and those action-ready good looks.


iwc1During the pioneering days of aviation, most pilots had to navigate with the help of pocket watches. Wristwatches made especially for aviators were a distant dream for all but a lucky few. IWC came to the rescue in 1936 with the release of the first Special Pilot’s Watch, which featured an antimagnetic escapement, rugged glass, luminescent hands and numerals, and a rotating bezel with an arrowhead index for tracking short periods of time. Was aviation ever the same? Of course not.

Starting in 1940, the Schaffhausen-based manufacturer began producing the Big Pilot in accordance with military specifications for a navigation or deck watch. It was the largest wristwatch ever made by IWC, but extremely minimalist in its design. The dial was clearly organised and easily readable, like the cockpit instruments it was modelled after. Though the Big Pilot may seem too hefty or too simplistic to some, both features serve a purpose. Legibility is a must when you’re cruising thousands of feet in the air, so a large, easily read design is both functional and in keeping with tradition for aviation instruments.

Looking closer, the IWC Big Pilot has more to recommend it than its aeronautical origins. Since 2002, it has been the company’s flagship and one of the most recognisable watches in the luxury watch world. Connoisseurs love it for its massive 46mm case, its in-house manufactured 51111-calibre movement (the largest automatic movement ever made by IWC) with Pellaton winding system, and its impressive 7-day power reserve. The price tag makes it a serious investment, but the simple design and leather strap ensure the Big Pilot can be worn every day. You’ll never have to worry about getting your money’s worth.

In Popular Culture

iwc2Although it’s a classic with decades of history behind it, the Big Pilot remains relevant. Over the years IWC has updated the Pilot Watch family and released new editions to keep it timely. A chronograph appeared in 1988, followed by the introduction of complications such as the split-seconds mechanism. IWC has also unveiled special pieces with key cultural references, like a series of Pilot’s Watches dedicated to French author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and a collection of watches named after the US Navy’s Top Gun training course.

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