Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire's column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world since March 2020. This week, we're working with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie as Media Partner of Watches and Wonders Geneva. Visit Watches and Wonders' website for news and video panels daily, and keep checking back here for all the updates you need to know about.
For fans of pilot watches, IWC, the Schaffhausen-based Swiss watchmaker, has long been a leading player. In the 1990s, the Pilot's Watch Chronograph was a popular choice among style nerds and watch lovers alike, who often referred to it simply as “the Flieger” (the German word for “pilot”) without even mentioning the brand. It was one of those “if you know, you know” things. The epitome of modern cool from a coveted tool-watch specialist, it formed the bedrock of the brand's offer.
But IWC pilot watches go back much further than the 1990s. Right back, in fact, to the middle of the last century, and World War II, when watches were made big, by which I mean massive. The grandaddy of them all was the IWC military observer's watch. At 55mm in diameter, it makes even today's large watches look titchy. The Big Pilot, launched by IWC in 2002, revisited those whopping dimensions, and that gravitational pull has kept IWC pilots—including the Flieger—if not quite up there, at least on the larger side ever since.
This week, however, IWC unveiled its new Pilot's Watch Chronograph in a new 41mm size in steel with two color variations to the sunburst pattern dial: a fresh-looking air force blue and a deep green. At 41mm, it is a 2mm drop from the existing 43mm version, confirmation that even traditionally bigger styles are feeling that trend towards more wearably sized (and arguably more universally popular) watches.
The sweet spot these days is 39mm, but 41mm is hardly a great leap, and as a chronograph, the Flieger probably needs that real estate on the dial to adequately display all the info it supplies, including sub dials at 12, 6, and 9 o’clock and a day-date window at 3. Fans are already speculating that the watch will finally make it to 39mm sometime in the future—it started out in the '90s at that size, in fact—and possibly with a black dial, which is the standard look for an authentic pilot’s watch to maximize visibility. Should you already be nostalgic for larger watches again, the 43mm version is not being discontinued for the time being.
The new 41mm Pilot's Watch Chronograph features an automatic, in-house IWC69385 movement with 46 hours of power reserve, with all the gorgeous workings visible through the clear sapphire crystal caseback. A newly developed quick-release strap mechanism allows you to change out straps (brown or blue calf and a steel bracelet are all available) without the aid of tools, or the services of your local watch guy.
Pilot's Watch Chronograph 41 ($7,200 on steel bracelet, $6,500 on calf strap) by IWC.
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