IWC's Big Pilot Watches: An Odyssey from the Cockpit to the Collector's Box

IWC's Big Pilot Watches: An Odyssey from the Cockpit to the Collector's Box

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The origins of the IWC's Big Pilot Watch can be traced back to the 1930s. With the rise of air power, the pre-war Luftwaffe approached the IWC to produce an "observer's watch" for pilots.

This first "Big Pilot's Watch" had an enormous 55mm case diameter and was attached to the thigh by a leather strap, allowing for easy viewing during flight.

1940s: Defining the Big Pilot Design DNA

In 1940, IWC followed up with the reference 432 pilot's watch, introducing many design elements that came to define the Big Pilot's aesthetic. These included the distinctive triangular index at 12 o'clock, elongated arrowhead hands, and a large onion crown. The 55mm case size made reading the time effortless for pilots operating in cramped cockpits.

Mid-Century: Refining the Pilot's Watch

Over the following decades, the IWC Watch Brand continued refining the Big Pilot based on input from military and civilian pilots who valued its legibility and purpose-built design. In 2002, the brand brought back the 55mm case diameter with the reference 5002, appealing to aviation and horology enthusiasts who appreciated the bold, instrument-like wrist presence.

2000s: Modernizing an Icon

IWC has also integrated modern materials and technology into the Big Pilot's classic case architecture. The release of an all-ceramic Big Pilot in 2007 brought scratch resistance and lightness. In 2015, IWC debuted its first in-house automatic movement, the 51111 caliber, inside the Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition "Le Petit Prince."

Special Editions: From the Cockpit to the Collector

Staying true to the Big Pilot's tool watch roots, IWC has created special editions optimized for pilots, like the Top Gun series made for naval aviators. Yet the brand has also produced limited edition Big Pilot models catering specifically to watch collectors.

Recent examples include the Big Pilot's Watch Constant Force Tourbillon Edition "Le Petit Prince" unveiled in 2018, blending a high complication with the iconic Big Pilot design.

WC's Big Pilot. The Icon Endures

After over 80 years of continuous evolution, IWC's Big Pilot collection retains the large dimensions, excellent legibility, and functional design essential for aviation use. At the same time, through special editions and technological integration, IWC has ensured the Big Pilot continues appealing to watch enthusiasts around the world. Today it exists as both a capable pilot's watch and a revered contemporary luxury collectible.

Visit our online watch catalog to learn more about our historic IWC watch collection and purchase an iconic piece for your collection!