Flying used to be romantic. Passengers dressed in their finest threads (and finest watches) to catch a flight. Even the pilots had a stellar wrist game. We generally think about the Rolex GMT-Master when it comes to the golden age of flying. It has a certain cosmopolitan, jet-set spirit. But the pilot’s replica watch itself has a much grittier legacy, and it’s that pilot watch which we associate with IWC. Its entire Pilot collection is steeped in a fighter pilot tradition – and the brand continues to iterate on that very aesthetic to this day.
At Watches & Wonders 2021, IWC released a slew of new pieces into that very Pilot’s collection – including a top quality replica IWC Pilot’s Chronograph in a new ( smaller) 41mm size. The kicker was two new blue and green dial options. Outside of the Le Petit Prince Collection, IWC Pilot watches are stern and serious. These splashes (it’s the whole dial, so maybe it’s more a bucket) of color give the watch a bit of that golden-age flair. I’d wager this watch would be as at home in first class as it would be on the wrist of a first lieutenant.
The 41mm sizing works in this watch’s favor. Wearability and versatility are significantly increased with the size decrease. I have a 7.25-inch wrist and often gravitate toward watches between 36 and 42mm. That would take previous iterations of this watch out of the running. I’ve worn the larger Pilot’s Chronograph in the past, and while the 43mm case diameter wasn’t a gargantuan thing, it did occasionally feel unwieldy. The new size changes that.
IWC has implemented a new quick-release strap system that allows you to attach or detach a strap (in my case a handsome blue leather strap) in mere seconds via a push-button hook system on the underside. I’m usually a bracelet guy, but the strap is pretty terrific. So is the dial. The most surprising aspect to my eyes was undoubtedly the shade of blue. In the shadows it can look almost like a dark navy. In other lighting conditions, the sunray finish radiates light. The red accents on the dial provide an unexpected playfulness.
The more time I spent with it, the more I felt like a globetrotter – a strange sensation at a moment when I haven’t been on a plane in two years. There’s just something about the look. It’s cosmopolitan. It has plenty of capability under the hood, but there’s something freeing about disregarding all that capability and just wearing it, as a super clone watch that tells the time (and the day, and the date, and chronograph data but you get the idea). The closest I came to traveling with this watch was taking it out to dinner. But these days just leaving the house feels like an epic safari.
If I may make a confession, I very rarely partake in movement gazing. I’m a dial-side guy, and IWC makes some of the most interesting-looking dials out there. In this case, though, there’s something worth checking out on the backside. That would be the column-wheel caliber IWC 69385, the same movement found in the Portugieser line.
The IWC Pilot’s Chronograph copy with blue dial is not a slim watch, but it’s also not supposed to be one. While the chronograph would no doubt be capable of timing all manner of…you know…airplane stuff (I’m not exactly an aviator, as perhaps you could guess), it’s just as useful measuring the time it takes between ordering and receiving restaurant food. As a tool watch, it’s designed to make sure the crystal stays in place in the event of rapid pressure loss. In my use case, that would mean a loss of pressure due to one too many bottles of wine.
The Swiss movement fake IWC Pilot’s Chronograph takes the straight-faced flieger mentality and makes it smile. That’s what a green and (in this case) blue dial will do. It’s just got a new attitude. Sometimes a few tweaks and upgrades, like a smaller case and new dial, go a long way.