Editor’s note: IWC’s Big Pilot is one of the most significant watches of the last 20 years. Its deceptively simple design belied the huge impact this 46mm monster had on the watch scene. But can it go dressy? Well, the IWC Big Pilot Edition “Le Petit Prince” makes a solid argument for the yay camp.
When IWC released the original Big Pilot in 2002 it captured imaginations, marking a defining moment in the early noughties trend for ‘big’ watches. It was a brute, with its hulking 46mm case and utilitarian aesthetics. And if the original ref. 5002 Big Pilot had been as pared back as its WWII inspiration, would it have captured the hearts and minds of the watch-loving public quite as much as it did? Probably not. The IWC Big Pilot was, without doubt, a luxury pilot’s watch. It’s a post-modern statement piece that’s the horological equivalent of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon.
This year, IWC revamped its entire Pilot’s collection, and today we’re taking a closer look at one of them: “Le Petit Prince” edition of the Big Pilot. IWC makes Little Prince versions of their Pilot’s watches across the board, and the defining features are a charming engraving of the young fictional royal on the caseback and a rich midnight blue dial. This dial softens the Big Pilot, toning down the military aesthetic just a touch. The other notable design tweaks on this 2016 version are the welcome return of the number nine on the dial, balancing out the seven-day power reserve indicator on the right. The other update is the strap. Gone is the glossy alligator, in its place a supple calfskin made by Santoni. Not only is the calf a better stylistic fit for the watch, the quality of the strap is immediately evident.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual. The calibre 51111 is ticking away behind the scenes, with its vaunted Pellaton winding system and long power reserve. The well-finished case is the same, offering a nice mix of brushed and polished surfaces. This was my first time wearing a Big Pilot for any length of time, and I was surprised how comfortable it was for such a large piece. The height (16mm) might be off-putting to some, but anyone genuinely in the market for a Big Pilot is unlikely to mind.
Fourteen years after its release, the Big Pilot still possesses that almost visceral appeal that made it such a hit in the first place, and this 2016 Big Pilot Edition “Le Petit Prince” has all the elements to make it an ideal power watch.
IWC Big Pilot Edition “Le Petit Prince” (ref. IW500916) Australian pricing
This IWC Big Pilot has an RRP of $19,300
Images by Jason Reekie.