Hands On: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Spitfire in Titanium
A new look in a compact package.
Just last year, IWC launched its smallest Big Pilot watch to date. Smaller, but not small, the latest Big Pilot is 43mm, very large and clear, but more wearable.
The brand soon followed up with the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Spitfire, which features the same proportions but with new styles and materials. There are two variants to choose from: titanium or bronze, but the standout is definitely the lightweight metal model.
The original Big Pilot’s Watch 43 was inherently attractive, large enough to be an oversized pilot’s instrument, but small enough to fit relatively comfortably on the wrist. This is in stark contrast to the original Big Pilot, which was 46.5mm in diameter.
The original sold well, and the addition of the Spitfire version was a natural fit. The aesthetics of the Spitfire version are noticeably different from the steel standard model, which is great news for enthusiasts who want a little more fun. However, history zealots may frown upon the dial design.
Of the two versions of the Spitfire, the titanium version stands out for its unusual, history-inspired dial (although it’s not entirely historically accurate, as IWC replica doesn’t produce a B- uhr; see more below). It also has an atypical case finish that mimics a worn vintage case.
The bronze model, on the other hand, is identical to the steel model except for the bronze case and green dial—in fact, it sticks to the same formula that applies to other Spitfire models, such as the chronograph. The bronze version feels like another predictable variant, but the titanium model is novel.
Naturally, the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Spitfire Titanium costs more than the standard model, but at a modest premium. It’s about 7% more expensive than the stainless steel version, which is a good value considering the case material and dial design. That being said, the steel model isn’t particularly affordable to begin with, as it’s at the higher end of the price range, and this is a chronograph with a basic in-house movement (rather than a 7-day movement) in a full-size Big found in the Pilot).
Like the stainless steel Big Pilot’s Watch 43, the Spitfire titanium dial features a dateless, undecorated dial. But the beige luminous material in the titanium version does have a noticeably more retro look, giving it a contrived feel. This looks nice, but it’s used everywhere.
That being said, the titanium version has a more pronounced military flair, thanks to the scalloped dial with oversized minute numerals, a layout unique to the Big Pilot family, be it large or small.
In fact, this dial has never appeared in any IWC pilot’s watch.
The design is reminiscent of the baumuster B or “Type B” dial of the beobachtungsuhr or “B-uhr” of oversized nautical watches supplied to the Luftwaffe or Luftwaffe during World War II.
However, IWC only produced the B-Uhr with the “Type A” dial, which provided inspiration for the typical large pilot’s watch. Type A dials are typical of most pilot’s watches and were produced in 1940 before being replaced by “Type B” dials.
The fact that the “Spitfire” refers to the famous RAF fighter jets during World War II adds to the confusion in history. Having said that, IWC did supply watches to British and German troops during the conflict, so the mix might be okay.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the dial works well. It has an attractive aviation instrument look while also maximizing the space in the large chassis.
The Type A dial looks too drab in a 43mm (or 46.5mm) case. More elements on the dial, like the Type B design, help fill the space.
The dial also features subtle colors and textures that vary with its constituent elements. The dial itself is matte black with a grainy finish up close. The hands echo the matte black finish, making it the only Big Pilot’s Watch 43 to feature black hands.
The dial features three types of markings, each with a different colour to differentiate the indications on the dial according to their relative importance.
The innermost ring and hour numerals are discreet grey. Its Arabic numerals do improve legibility, but the grey font conveys the fact that the hours are not the most important indication on the dial. That’s because pilots need minutes and seconds at a glance, not hours. Swiss replica watches USA
In contrast, the Arabic numerals on the five-minute scale are larger and more prominent, printed in bright white.
The quarter markers are an antique bronze rectangle, while the 12 o’clock markers are a traditional B-Uhr style triangle and two dots. The quarter marks help determine the vertical orientation of the watch and can also be found in vintage B-Uhrs.
But the Spitfire dial does away with the minute numerals at the quarter, which the older examples had. It’s not immediately obvious, but once you notice it, the emptiness and imbalance of the dorms is evident.
Contradictory matte and polished
Besides the dial, another highlight of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Spitfire Titanium is the case. While titanium is a common material in watchmaking, it’s rarely seen in IWC’s catalogue these days, especially for the brand’s pilot watches.
Besides the material itself, the finish of the Spitfire case is also unusual. The case has an even, lightly worn look reminiscent of a vintage watch.
The process of making a brand new titanium case look old starts by fully polishing it, then sandblasting it, giving it a finely matte finish, but slightly reflective at certain angles. IWC sister company Panerai first used this finish when it launched the Radiomir 8 Days PAM 992. But thanks to the treatment Panerai has done on the steel case, the Radiomir PAM 992 looks more refined and shinier.
That said, the apparent texture on the Spitfire case is better, as the watch is more instrumental in style than the Radiomir PAM 992. The Spitfire’s muted finish complements its military-inspired flair, but it also means the case ditches the attractive polished bevels along the Big Pilot’s steel watch lugs.
Another attraction of the titanium Spitfire is the closed back, which is more traditional for aviation instruments than its steel counterpart, the sapphire back. A solid caseback has a real advantage, albeit a slight one. It allows the use of a soft iron inner shell or a Faraday cage to prevent magnetism.
It’s cal that jumps inside the box. 82100, IWC mid-range movement.
While not as complete as the 7-day movement in the full-size Big Pilot, cal. The 82100 is still a good-looking movement, thanks to its partially skeletonized bridges and symmetrical layout. It is also technically powerful, with a free-spring balance and a Pellaton winding mechanism.
Invented by longtime IWC engineer Albert Pellaton, the mechanism is a robust and efficient device that IWC has used for decades, but in recent years has upgraded the wear-resistant ceramic winding sprocket and pawl.
Additionally, the Spitfire version comes with a proprietary quick-release leather strap that can be removed by pressing the pull tab on the back of the strap. But the Spitfire pictured is a prototype, mounted on a standard strap.
IWC’s debut of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 was a business-savvy move, as it transformed one of the brand’s best-selling products into something more wearable while retaining a similar look and feel. Although simplified compared to its big brother, the movement inside retains most of the brand’s essentials – an internal structure with functions such as Pellaton winding.
The Spitfire Titanium Edition is a great follow-up to the steel model, the same size but with an unusual execution, a feat considering the number of pilot watches IWC has put out. It has a different case and dial – in a good way – which easily makes it the most compelling iteration of the Big Pilot 43.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Spitfire
Ref. IW329701 (Titanium)
Diameter: 43 mm
Height: 14.4 mm
Water resistance: 100 m
Movement: Carl. 82100
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Frequency: 28,800 windings/hour (4 Hz)
: Automatic winding:
Power reserve: 60 hours
Strap: Brown Calfskin