The ’00s and even the ’10s saw a fantastically high frequency of whimsical and creatively technical watches and today IWC pays a re-engineered tribute to one of those playful executions with the new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Markus Bühler watch (reference IW329901). This “turbine-equipped” is based on the 2003 concept of then-apprentice watchmaker Markus Bühler that was turned into a limited edition of just 12 pieces in 2008. Today, it returns in a limited edition of just 51 pieces with an all-new movement and indeed realization.

Mr. Bühler had quite the career in watchmaking, despite his family traditions and first experiences dedicated not to horology but to woodworking. He joined IWC in 2001 as an apprentice watchmaker at the age of 28 and immediately displayed a talent for this naturally demanding and trying field of work. His turbine-equipped watch was an entry for Richemont Group’s 2003 contest of the Institut de Formation à la Haute Horlogerie where he won first prize out of some 64 applications. His road led to IWC’s prototyping department where the Markus Bühler turbine watch was given the green light for further development, ultimately becoming a 12-piece limited edition that was finalized in 2008. Visit this Watches by SJX article for a closer look at one of those 12 IWC watches.

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Markus Bühler, Associate Director of Watch and Movement Assembly at IWC Schaffhausen.

Due to the limitations within the rules of that contest, the original IWC Markus Bühler turbine watch was built on the 6497 Unitas workhorse movement — a caliber that is relied upon not only during the training of every beginner watchmaker but also for a wide range of creative complications thanks to its robust architecture and ample torque. Well, the new-for-2023 IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Markus Bühler watch is built on an in-house movement with an expensive flying tourbillon that drives the turbine — on the 2008 variant it was driven by the seconds display.

The turbine is crafted from lightweight titanium because every fraction of a gram makes a huge difference in the performance of a tourbillon. The tourbillon could best be described as a cage that encapsulates the escapement of the watch (the oscillating balance wheel, escape wheel and pallet fork and all the little plates that hold these in place) that is then constantly rotated on a one-minute axis. The pointlessness of this device in a wrist watch is something enthusiasts have been pondering for decades, but it is difficult to argue against the mechanical beauty that is immediately apparent from its operation.

The tourbillon of the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Markus Bühler watch weighs 0.663 grams (0.0234 ounces) made up by 56 parts, so the average weight of a component in the tourbillon is 0.0118 grams (0.00042 ounces). It really is difficult to comprehend just how tiny these accurately machined parts are in a well-made tourbillon. It should, then, surprise you to hear that over half a gram is considerable weight for a tourbillon, a device that has to be as light as possible because it will always be considerably heavier than the filigree and light balance wheel that is driven by the mainspring in every other ordinary watch without such additional hindrances.

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The extra weight, of course, comes from the titanium turbine. To make the assembly even lighter Markus Bühler and his team delegated additional functionality to it: The turbine now serves as the upper part of the tourbillon cage and replaces the regulator so now the hairspring attaches to the underside of one of the turbine’s blades allowing the watchmaker to adjust the zero crossing of the balance by turning the turbine. This saves considerable weight when compared to having a complete tourbillon with all these essential components in place and slapping a metal turbine on top. The IWC 82905 caliber inside the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Markus Bühler watch has a power reserve of 80 hours, replenished by a Pellaton winding system reinforced with ceramic components, and displays black PVD-coated, laser-engraved and rhodium-plated parts through a sapphire crystal caseback.

Whimsical, cool, and on-brand, the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Markus Bühler watch with a “turbine” costs 125,000 Swiss Francs including VAT. You can learn more at the brand’s website.

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