IWC’s brilliant masterstroke to leverage on their relationship with Antoine St. Exupéry and the “Le Petit Prince” story continues with this year’s SIHH crop. No less than 4 “Le Petit Prince” models were announced. And this one, the Annual Calendar is the choice of the Editor, and the subject of our review.
Read our press release coverage here for the details on all four “Le Petit Prince” IWC Pilot Watch announced.
Before we go into the review proper, allow us a deviation on IWC history, and her deep roots with avaiation, pilot watches and Antoine Saint Exupéry.
Who are the Homberger Brothers, and what have they to do with IWC?
The time was in 1936. The Managing Director of IWC was Ernst Jakob Homberger. His sons, Rudolf and Hans Homberger, were sports pilots in the 1930s and convinced their father to manufacture a ‘special.watch for pilots’. There were no actual records on what Ernst Jakob’s response was, but the boys must have have improvised with watches taken from the IWC factory for their use. Thus the association between IWC and Pilot’s Watches began.
During the WWII, Rudolf was a fighter pilot in the Swiss Air Force and flew a Messerschmitt Me-109. He was involved in a defensive action against German aircraft and was shot down in June 1940. IWC also started making the Big Pilot’s Watch (52-calibre T.S.C.), and Rudolf could well have been wearing that watch when he saw action that day.
In 1955 Hans took over as owner of IWC, the last of the private owners.
In 2005, IWC signs a special agreement to partner with the estate of the great novelist and aviator from the 1930s, Antoine St. Exupéry. This sealed the rights to the hugely popular novel, “Le Petit Prince” as an exclusive for watches to IWC.
The IWC Big Pilot Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince” Ref. 502701
Case, dial, hands
The case is the classical IWC Big Pilot with the characteristic big crown. Crafted in red gold, the case is nicely finished, with the case middle receiving a matt brushed treatment to contrast with the polished bezel. The bezel is rather small, and allows the dial to shine.
And shine it does. The dial is large, legible and very clear in its appliqués markings providing a good contrast. The dial carries the now signature “Le Petit Prince” midnight blue hue, which is mesmerizing.
The annual calendar indicators are shown in windows on the dial, arranged as a fan across the top half of the dial. This layout is logical, and the full calendar can be easily and legibly read on the dial. The power reserve sub dial at 3 o’clock nicely balances with the seconds hands at 9.
The movement: IWC Caliber 52850
Powering the IWC Big Pilot Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince” is the house manufactured IWC C. 52850. The movement is also used in the IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar Ref. 50350.
Instead of the regular gold IWC medallion reading Probus Scafusia in the Portugieser, the Big Pilot movement carries the image of the little prince staring in amazement at the sky. He stands on a tiny planet, which in its entirety forms the rotor and revolves eccentrically around its axis. The prince and his planet are made of solid red gold. This imagery is taken from St. Exupéry’s own sketches, and is an endearing tribute.
The movement has a 7 day power reserve, and carries the annual calendar module. The annual calendar displays the month, the date and the day of the week in three separate windows on the dial. The mechanism automatically takes the length of individual months into account, but not the two differing lengths of the month of February or the leap years. Once a year, therefore, at the end of February, it requires manual correction via the crown.
Finishing of the movement is at a competently engineered side of finnisage rather than the functional but highly decorative style preferred by haute horogerie houses. As a result, the finish does not look brilliant, but does its job. Take for example the fauss côtes on the plates. It is clear that the côtes are mechanically applied and that the intent is to create a surface which is difficult for dust to settle, more than for aesthetic reasons. The same for the anglage. The smallish balance wheel on a large caliber also upsets the balance of the visuals from the back. As can be seen clearly, the movement seems to be a bit too small, and there appears to be a movement ring between the movement and the case sides. The rotor can be seen to extend beyond the bounds of the movement.
The IWC Big Pilot Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince” does not make any horology breakthroughs. Neither will it boast of technical prowess that its competitors can offer. But it offers something more sublime. Something that only IWC can offer in a watch. It offers the linkage to Antoine St. Exupéry’s “Le Petit Prince”. More than that, it offers the magnificent midnight blue dial, and the imagery of the little prince on his planet as the rotor. It offers poetry and technology, writing and flying. These being two sides of the same coin.
This magnificent partnership of IWC and the Succession Antoine de Saint-Exupéry-d’Agay (Estate of Antioine St. Exupéry) makes the series stand on its own, sans competion. The field of pilot annual calendars is rarified. Perhaps the only one of recent memory is the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar. But the Zenith does not carry with it the allure of the “Le Petit Prince”. Technically, the Zenith is a more advanced movement, as it carries with it a chronograph based on the highly regarded El Primero high beat column wheel chronograph. However, the result is that the dial may look cluttered. The chronograph subdials, and the calendar apertures crowding the available dial real estate. The case is decidedly larger at 48mm.
In comparison to its other “Le Petit Prince” brethen, the IWC Mk XVIII “Le Petit Prince” will remain the darling of the masses. The IWC Chronograph LPP will be favored by those with a more practical bent. But for this author, the unlikeliness of the juxtaposition of an annual calendar with the utilitarian use of a pilot’s watch is alluring. The use of red gold, and the magnificent contrast it provides against the background of the midnight blue dial, accented by the SuperLuminova markers. Brilliant.
At 46mm case diameter hend by the beautiful Santoni strap, the IWC Big Pilot Annual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince” sits comfortably, despite its rather hefty 150 grams weight, and remain a firm favorite.