IWC Schaffhausen introduced to the world not just a watch, but a cockpit instrument that takes into account every pilot’s most pressing need.

The year was 1936. World War 1 had ended but not all things were celebratory. The Great Depression was upon the world’s key economies and looming on the horizon was the threat of World War 2.

One industry saw an injection of investment for research and development: aviation. After decades of full throttle flying, the transition to metal planes – nicknamed the Tin Goose – enabled aircrafts to push past the limitations that had remained mostly set in stone since the advent of flight. For the first time, planes began to hit the 200 mph mark, and are able to cruise at altitudes of 13,000 feet.

These new benchmarks also mean a new need for measuring instruments of all kinds – particularly time.

Enter IWC Schaffhausen’s Pilot watches, created specifically to measure precision down to the millisecond in the high pressure and split second urgency of life in the sky.

IWC Pilot’s Wwatch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition ‘Mojave Desert’

The IWC Pilot

IWC Schaffhausen introduced to the world not just a watch, but a cockpit instrument that takes into account every pilot’s most pressing need.

It is wound by particularly large crowns, specially designed for better grip and, hence, minimal space for error. Taking into account the unheated cockpits in which pilots have to face the elements, the conical crowns are also ribbed for added friction to withstand natural elements like cold and moisture as well as manmade challenges like the thick gloves and padded fighting suits of pilots.

A watch is only as good as how well the time it tells is read. Readability is enhanced with dials that are reduced to the bare essentials as well as numerals and hands that stand starkly out from the dial. Some models come with luminescent displays – an inspiration for the cockpit design of classic Pilot’s Watches for decades.

Most iconic of all is the triangular index at the 12 o’clock. It allows pilots in the cockpit to instantaneously recognize the position of the hands and the time at a glance. The upright equilateral triangle has two dots at either side to make the dial easier on the eyes, and is also luminescent.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Edition ‘The longest Flight’

Its history

Since then, IWC’s Pilot’s Watches  has continued to evolve with times. It honoured the legendary Spitfire fighter jet with the Spitfire in 2003. In 2012, it launched the TOP GUN collection with black ceramic cases that went on to be so popular, it spun off as a line of its own. There’s no forgetting the Le Petit Prince special edition time pieces with its trademark blue dials to commemorate the literary work of Antoine de Saint-Exupery and his novel of the same name that is one of the best-selling books in history.

Here, we have the full timeline of some IWC’s most iconic  Pilot’s Watches from 1936 to this day:

1936: Special watch for pilots
1936: Special watch for pilots

1936: Special watch for pilots

The first IWC pilot watch was produced in the mid 1930s for civil aviation purposes. It was particularly robust and resistant to fluctuations in temperature from -40 degrees Celsius to +40 degrees Celsius, and it was also anti-magnetic.

1949: Mark II Navigators Wrist Watch
1949: Mark II Navigators Wrist Watch

1949: Mark II Navigators Wrist Watch

In response to an invitation for tender by the British Government, IWC developed a service watch for the pilots of the Royal Air Force. Production of the legendary Mark II commenced in 1948. From November 1949, the watch was supplied to airborne personnel of the RAF and other Commonwealth nations and remained in service until 1981.

1992: Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph
1992: Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph

1992: Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph

The Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph, Reference 3711, was presented at the Basel watch fair in 1992. It was the first automatic double chronograph from IWC and featured the double automatic 79230-calibre movement.

1994: Pilot's Watch Chronograph Ceramic
1994: Pilot's Watch Chronograph Ceramic

1994: Pilot's Watch Chronograph Ceramic

In 1994, IWC launched a Pilot's Chronograph, reference 3705, for the jet age that came with another top flight feature: zirconium oxide. The high tech ceramic used for the case is as hard as sapphire and virtually indestructible. In 1998, the Pilot's Watch tradition was sustained by the Pilot's Chronograph.

1994: Pilot's Watch Mark XII
1994: Pilot's Watch Mark XII

1994: Pilot's Watch Mark XII

In 1994, the Pilot's Watch Mark XII succeeded the Mark 11. As expected, it was state of the art and featured an automatic movement and date display.

1998: Pilot's Watch UTC
1998: Pilot's Watch UTC

1998: Pilot's Watch UTC

In 1998, the Pilot's Watch UTC, where changes to the date and time can be made using simply the crown, was IWC's reaction to growing mobility in an increasingly globalised world.

2000: Chronograph Spitfire Automatic
2000: Chronograph Spitfire Automatic

2000: Chronograph Spitfire Automatic

Spitfire, a name already familiar to IWC enthusiasts, was given a limited special edition of 1000 watches for the year 2000. In 2003, IWC began producing the Pilot's Watch series named after the legendary Spitfire. However, the Spitfire owes more than just its name to this iconic aircraft.

2002: The Big Pilot's Watch
2002: The Big Pilot's Watch

2002: The Big Pilot's Watch

The Big Pilot's Watch of the 21st Century contains, in addition to the 7-day movement reserve, the new feature of the date display at 6 o'clock and the central seconds' display that is so essential for use in aviation. The high performance movement calibre 5011 took care of the preciseness and has a case diameter of 46.2mm with a height of 15.8mm.

2006: Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
2006: Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

2006: Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In 2006, IWC introduced a special edition Pilot's Chronograph named after Antoine de Saint-Exupery to commemorate the publication 75 years earlier of his novel 'Night Flight'. The Antoine de Saint-Exupery Pilot's Watches, all available in limited editions from IWC, remain popular to this day.

2007: Double Chronograph Edition Top Gun
2007: Double Chronograph Edition Top Gun

2007: Double Chronograph Edition Top Gun

In 2007, the first watches bearing the name Top Gun joined the IWC Pilot's Watch squadron. The name comes from the special training force offered by the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, the 'Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor', better known as Top Gun.

2016: Pilot's Watch Mark XVIII Edition Le Petit Prince
2016: Pilot's Watch Mark XVIII Edition Le Petit Prince

2016: Pilot's Watch Mark XVIII Edition Le Petit Prince

Celebrating the 80th anniversary of its Pilot's Watches, IWC introduced in 2016 the Mark VXIII in the typical design of 'Le Petit Prince' edition with a midnight blue dial - paying tribute to Antoine de Saint-Exupery's most famous novel.

2016: Pilot's Watch Timezoner Chronograph
2016: Pilot's Watch Timezoner Chronograph

2016: Pilot's Watch Timezoner Chronograph

For the Pilot's Watch Timezoner, IWC's engineers created a functional complication for frequent flyers. To set the watch to a different timezone, the wearer simply needs to push down on the bezel, turn it to the desired timezone, and let go. The hour hand, the 24-hour day/night displayed and the date automatically follow the bezel.

2018: Big Pilot's Watch Big Date Edition '150 Years'
2018: Big Pilot's Watch Big Date Edition '150 Years'

2018: Big Pilot's Watch Big Date Edition '150 Years'

The Big Pilot's Watch Big Date Edition '150 Years' is the first IWC Big Date Pilot's Watch to feature a large date display located below the 12 o'clock triangle. Created to mark the 150 anniversary of IWC Schaffhausen, this reference is only limited to 100 pieces.

2019: Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun Ceratanium
2019: Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun Ceratanium

2019: Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun Ceratanium

The Pilot's Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun Ceratanium is the first Pilot's Watch from IWC to feature a completely "jet black" design code.

2019: Pilot's watch UTC Spitfire Edition 'MJ271'
2019: Pilot's watch UTC Spitfire Edition 'MJ271'

2019: Pilot's watch UTC Spitfire Edition 'MJ271'

The Pilot's watch UTC Spitfire Edition 'MJ271' in high quality bronze is the first to integrate the UTC function in an in-house calibre.

(Swipe left for more)

From 1-9 July 2019, IWC Schaffhausen invites all to discover its storied role in aviation at the IWC Pilot’s Watch Exhibition.

Taking over the Centre Court of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, the thematic exhibition will showcase, alongside the company’s new fleet of Pilot’s Watches, 12 defining historical creations that have made their marks in the incredible world of aviation. Admission is free.

Log on to the official IWC Schaffhausen website for more information.

(Photos and video: IWC Schaffhausen)

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