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IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetutal Calendar TOP GUN Ref IW502902
My favourite Big Pilot?
I am sometimes asked, whilst at social gatherings, “What is your favourite watch?”. I find this an impossible question to answer.
It is similar to asking me which is my favourite child. On occasion, after tripping over numerous items of clothing on my teenage son’s bedroom floor, my daughter’s halo shines with a greater brilliance. However, I must confess I have no favourite child, I love my two children equally.
I think it is because my children have distinct personalities and character traits which endear them to me for different reasons. The word “favourite” never enters my psyche.
The same applies to watches. I own several watches which I adore. I can cogitate the rationale for their purchase. It may be the history behind their creation, their exemplary finissage or an aesthetic appeal which I never cease to admire.
Moreover, there are many timepieces I covet. I am sure I am not the only watch collector who has a wish list. By virtue of my occupation, I get to see, touch and wear fantastic horological creations. I am an addict.
At times it is a fiscally perilous role for an addict to adopt. Imagine being an alcoholic and employed to serve beer and wine in a bar each day. Temptation is never far away. Writing about watches, temptation is laid in front of me every day.
My form of therapy is to postpone many purchases and ignore their silent calls to my materialistic heart.
There is a distinct difference between being an alcoholic and an obsessive collector of horology. After a drink is consumed, there is no sustenance afforded, no desire quelled, another drink is immediately needed. I do feel my appetite is satisfied for a significant period and I continue to feel replete after I have indulged in polishing my watches with glove clad hands and loupe clenched in my right eye-socket.
A question I find much easier to answer is, “Which watches do you like?” and “Which watches do you own?”.
This brings me to a watch I personally own and have written about in the past, the IWC Big Pilot.
IWC Big Pilot's Watch - reference IW500401
The IWC Big Pilot can trace its origin back to the 1940, Big Pilot’s Watch 52 T.S.C.. A behemoth of watch, it had a diameter of 55 mm. The watch was worn on the outside of the flying suit sleeve.
A large crown would aid adjustment with gloved hands.
Pulling out the crown, would allow the central seconds hand to halt, a hacking seconds. This was vital when synchronising watches for flying sorties.
The movement was encapsulated within a soft-iron inner case to protect it from harmful magnetic fields.
My watch, reference IW500901 encapsulates all of these features in a smaller, yet still substantial case, 46 mm in diameter.
It features modern day additions of a date aperture at 6 o’clock and power reserve indicator at 3 o’clock.
The Big Pilot’s Watch is a design classic. It is instantly recognisable and a model of clarity. Whilst my tastes have changed over the years, I have never tired of this watch. It always looks applicable to the period it finds itself in.
Now there is a new Big Pilot. It is possibly the most complicated Big Pilot ever made.
The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar features a magnificent, yet complex, complication.
IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetutal Calendar TOP GUN Ref IW502902
A perpetual calendar shows day, date and month but unlike an annual calendar it can correctly compensate for the shorter month in February and make allowance each leap year when there is an additional day in romantic’s favourite month.
In the year 2100, the conventional leap year cycle is abandoned, hence the watch will require attention by a watchmaker. However, I doubt I will see that year, especially if I trip over another discarded sports bag or pair of trainers.
The dial is black, with Arabic numerals depicted in white. Indices are used to mark 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock. At noon, a triangular marker or arrowhead index features, similar to the original Big Pilot of 1940.
In between the hour markers, neat indices indicate the minutes.
The hour and minute hands are white and outlined in black. The white centres are luminous, maintaining their perfect day-time clarity for nocturnal wearers.
The dial features four subdials. At 3 o’clock the subdial has a power reserve indicator, centrally placed and an outer circlet with a red-tipped hand to show the date.
At 6 o’clock a subdial shows the month.
At 9 o’clock a subdial shows subsidiary seconds using a white hand and an outer circlet imparting the day. Both the 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock subdials use a red-tipped hand, echoing the 3 o'clock.
At noon, there is a moon phase indicator. However, this is no regular moon-phase indicator. It shows the status of the moon from both the northern and southern hemispheres. Small aeroplane icons, bearing “N” and “S” at their centre, sit adjacent the moon phase indicator to identify the relevant hemisphere.
At 7 o’clock is a four-digit year display.
There is little additional information the wearer could possibly require.
The generous proportions of the dial, the careful choice of black, white and red hues, expertly used, ensure the dial retains superb legibility and ease of interpretation.
The case diameter of 48 mm is very large, 2 mm greater than my Big Pilot. It is a leviathan in horological terms and may not suit the petite wearer, but it would favour my welcoming wrist admirably.
The case material is very different for a Big Pilot. It is constructed from ceramic, zirconium oxide. This affords the watch modernity in stark contrast to the stainless steel used on previous iterations of the model.
The large crown is retained but constructed of titanium. This will offer a super-models mass when contrasted with steel, but also a contemporary character to the watch.
The caseback is solid, typical of all Big Pilot’s, but features the Top Gun logo of the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School.
The strap is again a departure from the original Big Pilot. The leather strap featuring four circular fastenings near the lugs has been abandoned in favour of a modern black soft strap. It is fitted with a blasted stainless steel deployant. The strap confers a neoteric appearance.
The Calibre 51614 contains 62 jewels and has an impressive 168 hour power reserve.
It provides the convenience of automatic winding. A blessing for those of a forgetful nature.
It has the same frequency of 21,600 vph of the calibre 51111 in my much loved Big Pilot, but offers the wonderful complication of a perpetual calendar.
This is a fine piece of mechanical watchmaking and underscores the IWC motto, “Probus Scafusia”, "good, solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen".
This brings me back to my original question; “My favourite Big Pilot?”.
This is where I struggle.
I am deeply impressed by this watch and it has already joined my wish list.
I admire the way IWC have provided a modern-day interpretation of a classic. It offers a new dynamic aesthetic, yet retains some of the design language of the original 1940 Big Pilot’s Watch 52 T.S.C..
I found I am being asked to choose my favourite child again. I can’t.
I know what I don’t like and can readily dismiss some watches which are quartz, highly fashionable with a intrinsically short shelf life. However, I simply love this watch.
In the perfect world, where I had greater adroitness with playing the stock market, I would buy it without hesitation. I would have to say it now shares top spot, as my favourite Big Pilot with my own 46 mm Big Pilot.
Then again, I do like the IWC Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar of 2011. May be I should have triplets and share my affection three ways.
- Model: IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetutal Calendar TOP GUN
- Reference: IW502902
- Case: ceramic; diameter 48.00 mm; height 16.00 mm; water resistantant to 6 bar (60 metres); sapphire crystal to front; solid case back featuring Top Gun logo .
- Functions: Hours; minutes; subsidiary small hacking seconds; date; day; month; moon phase display; moon phases for the northern and southern hemispheres; four-digit year display.
- Movement: Calibre 51614; self-winding; Frequency 21,600 vph ; 62 jewels; Power reserve 168 hours.
- Strap: lack soft strap with deployant in stainless steel, blasted.