With SIHH 2017 only a few short days away, and with many brands almost assured to release at least a few historically inspired new watches, I have been gearing up by reviewing some of the most significant releases we have seen since last year’s show. Of these, I want to bring us back to IWC’s revamped Pilot’s Watch collection and, more specifically, the IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage Replica Watches.
As has become customary of IWC at SIHH, the brand each year revamps one of its six broad collections, with last year’s focus being the Pilot’s Watch series. The revisit to the series saw a host of updates and new watches, from the new Mark XVIII, to a new world-timer chronograph, to a 36-mm time-only piece, to 48-mm and 55-mm versions of the historically inspired Big Pilot Heritage Replica Watches. This year, IWC will revisit its Da Vinci series; more details on that will surely be forthcoming.
The Big Pilot series is based upon the B-Uhr–style aviation watch developed during World War II for the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe. After their initial development, undertaken by a number of Swiss and German manufacturers, these IWC Replica began to heavily influence military and aviation timepieces —encouraging larger case sizes, a more intense focus on legibility, and the use of soft iron inner cases to resist the effects of magnetic fields. Years after the fall of the Axis Powers, this style of watch has remained a very popular design, especially the ones in IWC’s lineup, and as such the brand has once again returned to the original piece to develop a more historically-oriented timekeeper.
The Cheap Replica Watches is available in both 48-mm and 55-mm titanium-cased variations, with very little aesthetic distinctions between the two other than size. Using a B-Uhr-style case with long lugs and a large diamond crown, the watch features a matte black dial with faux-patina numerals and accents. Within the outer minute ring is the iconic triangle at the 12 o’clock mark, printed Roman numerals for most of the hour marks, and a smaller subdial for the running seconds towards the 6 o’clock position. Note here that the 48-mm variation also hosts a date indicator within this subdial, while the 55-mm variant does not. The hands of the watch are typical of pilots’ watches, but IWC Replica Watches works to add a bit more historical flair to them by using a vintage-style blue steel for their coloring. Powering the 48-mm watch is the manually-wound, IWC-manufactured Caliber 59215, which stores an eight-day power reserve and can be observed through a small window on the solid caseback. The 55-mm piece uses the Cheap IWC Replica, with a 46-hour power reserve. The larger of the two is priced at $14,800 and was produced in a limited edition of 100 pieces; the 48-mm piece is priced at $13,400 in a limited edition of 1,000 pieces.
Both pieces, in comparison to their vintage predecessors, also show some pretty distinct changes. Most notable are the finishing practices not seen in the past, but less obvious changes involve the case material and seconds subdial. While seconds subdials were a popular design element on vintage pieces as a whole during this period, the feature did not appear on the B-Uhr style watch, making this design element “vintage-reminiscent,” but not necessarily “vintage-derived.” Even more subtly, the choice to use titanium instead of steel is a major change from the Big Pilots of the past. Whether this was done to reduce the massive weight the vintage pieces tended to have, or just to add an extra layer of modern luxury, it is a significant deviation from the heritage of the series.
Overall, Replica IWC work in creating vintage-inspired pieces — even with a few changes and relatively higher prices compared to other B-Uhr style watches — is for the best. The brand is a leader in horology, and has often been a trend-setter with its designs. Perhaps other brands with an aviation history will be inspired to follow suit once again in their historically inspired modern pieces.