Yes, the IWC Big Pilot is a great watch. That’s not a big statement or even an uncommon one. One look at this marvelously oversized watch tells you it’s something special. But why? Let’s dive into that with a closer look at this classic aviation timepiece.
IWC Big Pilot Watches
1: It’s Big in the Best Possible Way
So, how big is the IWC Big Pilot? Well, if we’re talking about the traditional models, they have case diameters of 46.2mm with 15.6mm thickness. And yes, that’s big. And its crown is big, hanging out there like a sturdy faucet handle ready to shut off the hot water. This is not a watch that easily slips under the sleeve of a dress shirt. It wasn’t designed for that, nor was the original model that measured a whopping 55mm across and 17.5mm deep.
But its simplicity of the design means it doesn’t feel so big. It doesn’t overwhelm the wrist. We all know of watches that are just “all face,” loaded with subdials, complications, extra hands, extra indices, more of this, and more of that. Even smaller watches of this sort can feel “big,” whereas the no-nonsense design of the IWC Big Pilot serves as a relieving counterbalance to its generous proportions.
2: It Has Some Serious History
For most of us, the IWC Big Pilot came onto our radars in 2002 when the watch was re-released. It grabbed attention. With a 46.2mm diameter, how could it not? But the history of the watch goes back much farther.
That timepiece we met nearly 20 years ago followed the design of a watch that was produced for the German Air Force, an even bigger Big Pilot, the largest IWC has ever made, with a diameter of 55mm! It had design aspects we still see to this day, both in IWC watches and a host of aviator watches from other manufacturers that have copied its style (we’re looking at you A. Lange & Söhne!). The oversized conical crown was made for easy use by the gloved hands of pilots. The big Arabic numerals in san serif font were made for easy visibility at a glance. Today, IWC pays tribute to the original’s size with the Big Pilot Heritage 55.
IWC’s connection to aviation goes even deeper. An IWC pocket watch was one of the first timepieces to ever take flight, back in 1896. And IWC’s forefathers to the Big Pilot, which look and function unsurprisingly similar to today’s incarnations, were made for aviators in 1936. So, when you strap on a Big Pilot, you’re wearing an honored piece of aviation history.
3: It’s Got a Finer Side
No question, the Big Pilot is a workhorse, a tough watch built for on-the-go use. But it’s still a luxury timepiece, and IWC seems to understand the importance of the latter fact very well. Look to the strap, crafted by renowned Italian leather maker Andrea Santoni at his workshop in Corridonia. Santoni’s handcrafted creations can be found in upscale boutiques across the world, from Milan to Tokyo, and add a special air of refinement to Big Pilot watches.
Then there are the IWC Big Pilot cases to consider. While the originals are made of stainless steel, the collection has since grown to include precious metals such as platinum, titanium, bronze, and gold. Anti-reflective for practical use, convex sapphire crystals of the highest quality protect the faces. They may be made for action in the air, but Big Pilots are just as at home in sophisticated settings on land.
4: It Embodies the Best of Swiss Timekeeping
Since setting up shop alongside the River Rhine in 1868, IWC has been at the forefront of Swiss watchmaking. From their state-of-the-art factory on the outskirts of Schaffhausen, IWC manufactures in-house movements including the renowned A51000 and A52000 automatics. All watches are assembled by hand and go through a rigorous testing process, which includes about 30 tests over several months. Impact, abrasion, corrosion, and harsh climates are all recreated to ensure that your IWC has a long life.
5: Special Editions That Are Truly Special
Many times when we see that a “special edition” of a well-known watch is hitting the market, you can almost feel the collective eye roll among watch enthusiasts. The same with “limited editions” as the difference between “special” and “limited” is sometimes none. I mean, do we really need a new timepiece for all of those action movies? Is the world really clamoring for editions designed by sports stars? And do we actually believe these elite athletes have dug in deep, pouring over blueprints and design specs at labs in Switzerland? Of course not. They’ve just slapped their names on that year’s “special edition.”
That’s not to say IWC doesn’t like to court its share of high-profile brand ambassadors. They’ve got legendary quarterback Tom Brady, Brazilian model Adriana Lima, and Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper (Four nominations with no wins? Come on Academy, were you really watching A Star is Born?) IWC just doesn’t pretend that these folks are watch designers!
So, when IWC makes a special edition of the Big Pilot, it means something. Consider the IWC Big Pilot “Right-Hander” special edition with the trademark conical crown on the left side of the case, designed for those who prefer to wear their watches on the right wrists. That’s a practical special edition, as about ten percent of the population is left-handed. Or look to the Le Petit Prince edition, paying homage to the author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic book. We can all agree that’s just a little classier than stamping a superhero on the dial.
Chances are you’re not hopping into a cockpit to navigate a plane anytime soon. You may not even like to fly at all. But you can certainly put some of that aviation spirit on your wrist, in a big way, with the IWC Big Pilot.