The History of the IWC Pilots Watch

To celebrate the launch of the Watches of Switzerland 20th Anniversary IWC Pilots Chronograph we had our Watch Editor Tom Mulraney look into IWC's long history of creating wrist instrumentation specifically for professional aviators.

IWC Schaffhausen has a long history of creating unparalleled pilot watches. Since 1936, the Swiss watch-manufacturer has released innovative and impressive timepieces for aviators and aviation enthusiasts. During SIHH 2016, IWC launched a range of new pilot watches from the Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII to the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 to the Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince.” This collection builds on the rich heritage of expert instruments dating back almost a century. Read on below to learn about some of the significant models along the way.


Special Watch for Pilots

The birth of the professional pilot’s watch can be traced back to the Special Watch for Pilots released by IWC in 1936. Powered by the Calibre 83, this aviator’s instrument offered its wearer the ability to record short instances of time via a rotating bezel. Capped with a shatterproof crystal and fitted with an antimagnetic escapement the watch was also particularly robust for its time. Moreover, the Special Watch for Pilots was crafted to be highly resistant to changes in temperature within a range of -/+40 degrees Celsius. Born out of a love for the skies, this watch would go on to influence many of the pilot’s watches that came after it. 


Mark 11 Navigator’s Wrist Watch

In 1948, IWC began creating pilot watches for Britain’s Royal Air Force following a tender by the British Government. This request instigated the inception of the Mark 11 Navigator’s Wrist Watch, a now legendary timepiece. As a military grade instrument, it was mandatory for the watch’s movement to be resistant to the influence of magnetic fields. Consequently, IWC developed the Calibre 89 and began supplying the Mark 11 to RAF members and other nations within the British Commonwealth in 1949. As proof of IWC’s technical mastery, the model remained in service for over three decades.


Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph

Launched at Basel’s watch fair in 1992, the Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph was IWC’s first ever automatic double chronograph. Driven by the Calibre 79230, this automatic movement featured a rattrapante function, as well as day and date indication. Boasting a black dial and with white numerals and yellow highlights, this watch is a timeless piece thanks to its classic, elegant design.


Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Ceramic

IWC moved into the future in 1994 with the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Ceramic, which was made from a zirconium oxide ceramic, which was as hard as sapphire. Encased in a virtually indestructible material, this aviator’s timepiece was powered by the Calibre 7922 and had a sleek monochromatic look appropriate for a technologically advanced instrument.

Pilot’s Watch Mark XII

Another significant watch for that year, the Pilot’s Watch Mark XII continued in the footsteps of the Mark II. A revamped version of a beloved classic, this timepiece merged the vintage pilot watch look with up-to-date mechanics and movement. Featuring the automatic Calibre A8842, a date window at 3 o’clock, and a restrained overall design, the Mark XII does its predecessor proud.


Pilot’s Watch UTC

Recognising the interconnectedness of the world and the steady increase in international travel, IWC released the Pilot’s Watch UTC in 1998. Equipped with the ability to indicate Universal Time, this revolutionary timepiece enabled its wearer to register the world’s different times and dates. Powered by the Calibre A30710, this watch was also easy to use as changes to its time and date setting only required the turning of a single crown.


Chronograph Spitfire Automatic

In 2000, IWC introduced a beautiful limited edition timepiece named after the legendary fighter aircrafts used in World War II by the British Royal Air Force. The Chronograph Spitfire Automatic had a run of only 1,000 watches, however, just two years later — to the delight of watch and aviation enthusiasts — the Manufacture released a collection celebrating this popular combat craft.


The Big Pilot’s Watch

Appropriately named, the Big Pilot’s Watch launched in 2002 was sized at a generous 46.2 mm in diameter — one of the largest watches in IWC’s line-up. This increase in size allowed for the fitting of the Calibre 5011, a high-performance movement that enabled the timepiece to boast an incredible seven-day power reserve, a central seconds hand, and a date aperture at the 6 o’clock mark.


Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Paying homage to the pioneering aviator and writer, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, IWC released the Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint Exupéry in 2006. That year marked the 75th anniversary of the publication of Night Flight, Saint Exupéry’s best selling second novel, and as such IWC created a limited edition vintage inspired timepiece with a bronze colour scheme and silvered sub-dials. Today, the pilot watches dedicated to Antoine de Saint Exupéry remain favourites among the Manufacture’s fans.


Double Chronograph Edition Top Gun

IWC’s collection of pilot watches bearing the name Top Gun originated in 2007 with the unveiling of the Double Chronograph Edition Top Gun. Named for the honorific title given to those that undergo an intense training course developed by the US Navy Fighter Weapons School dubbed the “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor,” the Top Gun pilot’s watch is a pro aviation instrument with a slick design. Moving away from the more monochromatic look, this watch features a number of elements in red giving the piece an overall contemporary style. 


Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar

Paying homage to military timepiece of the past, IWC released the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar in 2012. A ceramic encased watch, this piece is notable for its anthracite-coloured dial and green calfskin strap. Two registers at 12 and 6 o’clock, a date window at 3 o’clock, yellow tinged hands and detailing, and a red inner circle adorn the dial giving the watch a vintage look that would please any aviation enthusiast. Fitted with the Calibre 89361, this automatic movement offers a fly-back function, protection against magnetic fields, and a 68-hour power reserve.


Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph

IWC developed the ultimate watch for the frequent flyer with the 2016 Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph. Combining the features of three of their successful timepieces, this watch includes the city ring found on the Pilot’s Watch Worldtimer, the spring-mounted bezel once used in the 1980s Porsche Design Ocean 2000, and the external/internal rotating bezel of the Aquatimer. Powered by the Calibre 89760, these elements enable the wearer to simultaneously read the current time of all the different time zones across the world, each of which is represented by a city named on the bezel. An impressive instrument, it also boasts a crystal that has been secured against displacement by changes in air pressure during take-off and landing — a critical feature to take into consideration by those that constantly travel.

To view the details of the Watches of Switzerland 20th Anniversary IWC Pilots Chronograph please click here.





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