The Original
Statement Watch

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The Original
Statement Watch

How a functional military timepiece became an icon of high style

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IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot's Watch

Time flies, right? Since setting up shop alongside the River Rhine in 1868, IWC Schaffhausen has been at the forefront of Swiss watchmaking. Especially when it comes to producing timepieces for use in the cockpit. Nearly a century ago, IWC created its first watch specifically built for pilots. This inaugural aviator's timepiece incorporated a triangular index below noon, an anti-magnetic escapement and luminescent dial details. Eight decades later, The Big Pilot remains one of the brand's most popular models. Anything but understated, today's watches are just as tough looking but now boast cases made from titanium, 18-karat red gold and ceramic. While they're no doubt luxury timepieces, these hand-assembled watches go through a rigorous testing process over several months, from impact and abrasion to corrosion and climate, all to ensure that your watch has a long life. Here's how the heroic timepieces came to be and why they're such a good bet.

High Flying History

The provenance of IWC's legendary pilot watch stretches further back in time than the histories of most timepieces. IWC first made the timepiece for the pilots of the German Air Force in 1940. Observation watches inspired the distinctive styling of this 55-mm-diameter timepiece, which actually held a pocketwatch's mechanical movement inside. The oversized proportions not only made the watches easier to read but easier to wear—since they were designed to be strapped over the sleeve of a flying suit.

Return of an Icon

The successor to the original model wasn't unveiled until 2002, when IWC took its new automatic movement, changed it to central seconds, and revealed a modern watch dubbed the “Grosse Fliegeruhr” or Big Pilot's Watch. Bold, yet still wearable enough for daily use, the 46-mm-diameter steel case was sleek yet straightforward. The watch would soon distinguish itself as a masculine statement piece on the wrist—evoking both luxury design and military ingenuity.

Distinguishing Characteristics

The unique conical crown of The Big Pilot harks back to those early days of military aviation, when pilots were issued serious insulated jackets to fly inside unheated cockpits. The onion-shaped crown allowed pilots to set and wind their watch even when wearing thick gloves and a padded flight suit.

Other defining features that remain from the original watch are the military triangle flanked by two dots at 12 o'clock, a simple sans serif typeface for the numerals, and sturdy rhombic hands. These have become signatures that can still be found on all current IWC pilots' watches. But this sturdy tool watch is still a luxury timepiece, and IWC understands the importance of the finer details. Just look to the strap, crafted by renowned Italian leather maker Andrea Santoni at his workshop in Corridonia.

Thinking Big

This versatility, and the increased demand for the new model, in turn lead to the launch of several special editions. In 2012, the perpetual calendar Top Gun edition Big Pilot's Watch had a 48mm diameter. That size was a record until 2016, when a whopping 55mm Heritage limited edition was introduced with a titanium case. A second 2016 Heritage model was more wearable at a “mere” 48mm. But most iterations of this classic watch measure in around 46mm. Big enough to get noticed, yet discreet enough to slip under a sleeve. But then again, why not show it off?

Explore the Collection

IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot's Automatic 46.2mm Stainless Steel watch

Big Pilot's
Automatic 46.2mm Stainless Steel,
$12,900 by IWC Schaffhausen

IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot's Perpetual Calendar Rodeo watch

Big Pilot's
Perpetual Calendar Rodeo,
$33,000 by IWC Schaffhausen

IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot's Heritage Limited Edition watch

Big Pilot's
Heritage Limited Edition,
$13,200 by IWC Schaffhausen

IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot's Le Petit Prince watch

Big Pilot's
Le Petit Prince,
$12,900 by IWC Schaffhausen

IWC Super-LumiNova luminescent watch face


IWC uses Super-LumiNova as a luminescent material for dials, hands, indices and bezels, which improves the night visibility without using any radioactive energy.

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