Walter Volpers is an enthusiastic protagonist of IWC Schaffhausen’s key stories, a role he sees himself playing until he’s 85 — much as the legendary movement creator Kurt Klaus does today. Volpers has been involved in many cool watchmaking developments since he joined IWC 12 years ago, and it’s no trouble for him to wax lyrical about the 2021 Pilot’s Watch Collection released this year.
IWC introduced the Pilot prototype in 1936. The Special Pilot’s Watch (Ref. IW436) was inspired by the sons — who were both pilots — of IWC’s then-owner, Ernst Jakob Homberger. The Big Pilot’s Watch calibre 52 TSC (Ref. IW431) followed in 1940. Its 55mm diameter is the largest ever to be applied to an IWC watch.
“That’s why it’s called the Big Pilot,” says Volpers. “Aircraft cockpit temperatures weren’t controlled then, so pilots wore leather jackets to keep warm. The watch had to fit over the jacket sleeve and have a crown so big it could be wound by a gloved hand.”
SIZE DOES MATTER
The Navigator’s Wristwatch Mark 11, produced for the Royal Air Force in the UK in 1948, is IWC’s most famous pilot’s watch. It required the movement to be resistant to the effect of magnetic fields, among other key features. IWC has made modern pilots’ watches since 1992, but the milestone piece was the Big Pilot’s Watch (Ref. IW5002) released 10 years later. The chronometer’s dial, mimicking the cockpit-instrument look, and the oversized 46.2mm case have made it one of the most well-known watch designs ever.
“This year, we’re bringing back the tool watch, which was used then for navigating, as a very versatile timepiece — a cultural icon,” says Volpers.
The Big Pilot’s Watch 43 features a stainless-steel case and an ingeniously simple EasX-Change system for a variety of strap options. “We took out the power reserve and the date [from the dial], and perfectly reduced the proportions. And we increased the value proposition of the watch by opening the case back so that the movement is visible through the transparent sapphire glass. It’s a great watch,” says Volpers.
“I love the quick-change system. It took a lot of time to develop, and we are very proud of it. Also, if you’re in a very hot climate and you move into an air-conditioned room, causing your wrist to shrink because of the coldness, you can fine-adjust the bracelet for the perfect fit.”
The Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar, with its patented double moon at 12 o’ clock, is presented for the first time in stainless steel. It also comes with a navy-blue strap. The piece features a Pellaton winding system fitted with ceramic components (IWC was the first to bring ceramic into movements), and the IWC-manufactured 52615 calibre developed by Klaus in 1985, which is visible through the sapphire glass case back.
“It’s a very robust watch. We test it to 5,000Gs. If the watch falls from the table to the ground, you might have a dent on the case but the movement should be OK. I’m going skiing this weekend and I will wear this watch without being afraid it will break. It’s a really nice sporty watch and, of course, accurate to 400 years-plus.”
The value perception for the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 has also been increased with the opening of its case back for the first time, all the better to admire the IWC-manufactured 69385 calibre. “A lot of people don’t know that a chronograph is a very high complication and difficult to make because its energy consumption is huge. Getting it right is not easy.”
The Big Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert” is the latest in the series developed for extreme aviation conditions and the first Big Pilot to be made in the very hardy, sand-coloured ceramic. This year IWC is introducing a perpetual calendar model to the collection.
“Because of the colour, there may well be more possibilities to wear the watch in Africa than in the Alps, but we expect there will be a lot of people wanting to add these pieces to their collection,” says Volpers.
The Big Pilot collection is not just about aviation, he says. “It’s about pioneer thinking and expanding your horizons. We are increasing the value of our products by making them more versatile, awakening wearer’s emotions and making them fly (figuratively speaking). I hope this coronavirus crisis is temporary so that when people are able to start flying again, they will want to be ready —and be sure they’re wearing the right watch.”