The IWC PIlot’s collection is a quintessential classic. The series, which features a plethora of watches ranging from the time-only pieces, up to the Chronographs and Perpetual Calendars, mean that there is certainly almost something for everyone.
In one of the articles that we have written earlier this month, we covered some of the novelties that IWC had launched during Watches and Wonders 2021. As per the brand’s usual tradition, they tend to focus on a particular collection whenever they decide to revamp a collection during a major watch exhibition. This year, the collection belongs to the Pilot’s series.
Review: IWC Pilot’s Chronograph 41 2021 Edition
Retail price is SGD 9,750 for the calf leather strap version, and SGD 10,800 for the “beads of rice” stainless steel bracelet. Both prices are inclusive of GST.
For collectors who have been in the watch collecting scene long enough, the IWC Pilot’s Chronograph is definitely a watch that many are familiar with. First introduced in 1994 under the Reference 3706, the Pilot’s Chronograph has seen numerous updates and iterations over its lifespan.
Indeed, the evolution of the Pilot’s Chronograph had been tremendous. The last 27 years have seen the watch taking on new materials, movements, as well as complications (think the Doppelchronograph). One thing, however, remains. That is the classic layout of the watch. It is almost instantly recognisable with that 3 sub-dials at 12, 6, and 9 o’clock position, as well as the day and date apertures at the 3 o’clock placement.
So, what does the new 2021 edition bring to the table?
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The most obvious difference (so far) between this watch and its predecessor, as its name suggests, is its size. The Pilot’s Chronograph 41 is now cased at 41mm, a mere 2mm smaller than the Reference 3777. While it does not sound a lot on paper, the difference can be felt when the watch is worn on the wrist. The 41mm timepiece fitted more snugly, and the dial is seemingly more compact.
For the more keen-eyed, the negative space between the sub-dial and the indices at 12, 6, and 9 o’clock are lesser as well. We think that while it is subtle, it does make the watch appear more well-designed.
There is also a switch between the sub-dials. For the newer iteration, the running seconds sub-dial is now at the 6 o’clock position. This means that the hour counter of the chronograph has been moved to the 9 o’clock position. We are rather indifferent with this change.
Moving on, we have the dials. The watch is available in two different colours: blue and green (as seen in the first picture). The dials have a sun-burst finish, which creates a rather beautiful visual effect when it is exposed to light sources. The fact that it is in blue and green enhances this aspect even further, especially with its vibrant colours.
Lastly, we have the hands. The watch is paired with sword hands, in which they are plated in rhodium and are filled with luminescent material to enable the owner to tell time in the dark. Amongst the hands that are filled with white luminescent material, there is one that is done conspicuously in red. That lies the running seconds hand, which IWC perhaps tries to distinguish so that users will not be confused with the two other sub-dials present on the watch.
The rhodium plating treatment, which is now included for the central chronograph hands as well, gives the watch a more refined and elegant feel to it. While it is subtle, it certainly enhances how one feels about this watch.
The Movement – Calibre 69385
Powering the watch is the IWC-manufactured Calibre 69385. The self-winding movement features a column-wheel mechanism, and it has a power reserve of around 46 hours.
For fans of the IWC Pilot’s Chronograph, this is one of the rare times that the watch features an open caseback. This is because the brand typically fits a solid caseback for timepieces which feature the base Valjoux 7750 movement (such as the Pilot’s Chronographs of the past). The finishing is adequate for the timepiece of this price point, but we do think that fans will be more than happy with this change from IWC.
The Competitive Landscape
The new IWC Chronograph is priced at S$9,750 for the calf leather strap version, and S$10,800 for the “beads of rice” stainless steel bracelet. The new models also feature the quick-change system, where it allows the user to change between the different strap options with ease.
When it comes to Pilot’s Chronograph, there are not as many watches that are arguably as iconic as this. But we reckon there might be some watches that could perhaps give this timepiece a run for its money.
The first watch in contention is the Sinn 356 SA Pilot III. The 38.5mm watch is sized rather nicely, and it reminds us of the early Pilot’s Chronographs that IWC had produced in the past (think Reference 3706 and perhaps, the 3717). This is ideal for someone who wants a classic pilot’s watch, without the fanfare. The only drawback is perhaps the SW500 movement, and the slight lack of refinement vis-à-vis the new Pilot’s Chronograph 41. However, with a retail price at US$2,570 (or approximately S$3,410), it is pretty difficult to find faults with this one.
Next, we have another modestly-price alternative: Longines Avigation BigEye. This Longines is a modern interpretation of the brand’s chronograph that was produced in the 1930s. The 41mm watch retains a rather clean layout, with a very interesting large seconds chronograph counter. The watch houses the Calibre L688, a specially produced movement for Longines which also features a column wheel mechanism. This is priced at CHF 2,500 (approximately S$3,629). It is another handsome and well-made watch, albeit one that might not compete on the same level as the IWC Pilot’s Chronograph 41.
Finally, we have a brand that is synonymous with aviation. The Breitling Navitimer 8 B01 Chronograph is a more modern interpretation of the classic flight watch that shares the same namesake, with the former’s inspiration driven by cockpit flight instruments produced by Huit Aviation Department. The 43mm watch is powered by the in-house Calibre 01, and it boasts a power reserve of around 70 hours. Prices of the watch begins at US$7,710 (approximately S$10,230), and it is perhaps a strong contender especially with its rich aviation heritage and the refinement it brings.
I cannot speak for the rest of my colleagues at Deployant, but I was not really a fan of the older 43mm IWC Pilot’s Chronograph. Personally, I found that the proportions and placements were a little strange, especially since they had retained the Valjoux-based movement but had increased the size of the watch. This means that the sub-dials and apertures were fixed in a certain position, but the watch dial and case had expanded. The end result is that those components that were mentioned earlier were sitting a little too close to the centre. This is despite a mere 2mm increase, which in the grand scheme of things, threw the proportions a little off.
This is why many are still fans of the earlier versions, such as the Reference 3706 and 3717. The fact that the latest iteration, dubbed the Reference 3881, is now back to 41mm, is great news. Despite the minute changes, the whole watch certainly does look better because the proportions and placement seems much better. I still do have a very minor gripe: If both the day and date apertures are shifted more outwards towards the indices, it would have been close to perfection. But maybe that is just me nitpicking.
We really do like the latest Pilot’s Chronograph 41. Apart from its size, the open caseback is a very welcoming addition as well. We hope that this smaller version will sit well with consumers, and perhaps we will then see IWC introducing the 41mm variant to the existing base Chronographs models. After all, the smaller case variant was first reintroduced to the special Spitfire editions, possibly as a testbed to gauge collectors’ interest. We think it might just bring back the charm of this collection once again.
The IWC Pilot Chronographs were photographed in the Richemont Singapore offices. Hasselblad H3D-39 with HC 4/120 Macro and HC 2.8/80 with HC28 extension tube. Profoto strobes.