For years now, IWC has dabbled with the idea that the classic German-style flieger watch can be just as much a lifestyle product as a tool watch. The idea is that the traditional aviator timepiece aesthetic could serve as a handsome men’s jewelry item — in addition to being a sport’s watch. The concept is hardly novel, even at IWC, but recently I see the brand “dressifying” the pilot’s watch in a way that makes it clear that IWC wants its flavor of pilot’s watches to be an iconic and a status symbol. An interesting question to ask is, “a symbol of what status?”
Practically speaking, the effort to turn the pilot’s watch into a design icon means that IWC has segmented part of its collection in a more fashion-forward direction, while other watches are still very tool-like in their positioning and pricing. This gives the IWC Pilot’s and Big Pilot’s watch family appeal to various categories of customers, but that also means that it becomes challenging for IWC to speak to multiple audiences at the same time. Part of this is because the messages that will appeal to a status watch seeker are different from those that appeal to a dedicated watch hobbyist. Believing that IWC has status seekers in mind who are looking for a “design icon” men’s jewelry watch, I will try to have that type of wearer in mind as I continue this watch review.
A big part of me taking this particular review direction is because the retail price of the 2021 IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43, is nearly $10,000 USD, which is about $2,000 higher than the recent (and also new-for-2021) IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 (aBlogtoWatch review here). Both watches have in-house movements, similar steel cases and bracelets, and high-quality dials. The Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is indeed 2mm larger, but that doesn’t really have a great effect on the manufacturing cost and its three-hand, no-date movement is arguably simpler than the automatic chronograph. Thus, while I entirely respect IWC’s pricing strategy, I cannot immediately explain the cost of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43, aside from it being related to IWC’s plans on how it wants to strategically position this product in the market.
As such, it sees the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph as a more enthusiast-oriented watch for timepiece hobbyists, and I think the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is supposed to capture the same look and feel but for a more generalized luxury audience. The Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is further priced in between IWC’s more entry-level-priced luxury pilot’s watches and more expensive forms of the Big Pilot’s Watch, along with limited-edition models such as the IWC Tribute to 3705 watch that we also recently reviewed on aBlogtoWatch here.
With that in mind, I will simply discuss the areas in which IWC offers good value for the money, and where they might want to improve the value proposition at this price range in the future. Generally speaking, however, that Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is a beautiful and simple execution of a classic flieger watch for men who want something both fashionable and manly on their wrist. When I look at the watch, I think of a conversation I had with IWC CEO Chris Grainger, who commented that pilot’s watches are for risk takers and bad boys. I’m sure that more than enough people identify with that characterization — and when presented with something both classic and purposeful (such as this design), it will make an excellent wrist companion that does a bit more than suggest “$9,000.”
Having said that, a big part of the jewelry watch experience is the price… and in a sense, a higher price is a good thing. That’s because people typically wish to feel their worth on their wrist. IWC has apparently calculated that it does particularly well in the roughly $9,000 sport watch segment, and so pieces like this blue-dialed reference IW329304 can fit someone’s bill rather nicely.
As I mentioned when debuting the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 on aBlogtoWatch here, this 43mm-wide timepiece is the smallest of the Big Pilot’s watches that can go up to 48mm-wide in size. At the time, I nicknamed it the “Littlest Big Pilot.” IWC probably has a new customer base in mind, who is going up to 43mm from perhaps 38-40mm, being their main watch size preference. The entire wearing experience of the Big Pilot pieces over the years has been to own the “oversize” look. For some people, that comes in at 48mm-wide, and for other people’s anatomy, that could be 43mm-wide. On my wrist, I certainly don’t consider 43mm-wide to be “big,” but it is bold in its proportions, and I actually find the size very comfortable.
The steel case is also 13.6mm-thick and has a lug-to-lug distance of about 52mm. The case is water resistant to 100 meters and has a domed AR-coated sapphire crystal over the dial. Another sapphire crystal is placed on the rear of the watch as an exhibition window offering a view of the manufacture movement produced by IWC in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. The most distinctive “Big Pilot” design feature on the case is of course the classic “turnip-style” crown. The crown also happens to be very easy to grip and operate — such designs originally served as crowns a pilot could operate while wearing gloves.
IWC claims that the watch crystal is also secured from popping out if there is a rapid change in air pressure, which is a real issue in some limited aviation scenarios. So, I hope that at least some Big Pilot’s Watch 43 wearers will take them up into the skies in an unpressurized airplane cabin! Otherwise, the steel case is mostly about clean lines and nice finishes featuring mostly brushed surfaces with some fine angles (and the sloped bezel) done in a polished line.
The steel bracelet features contrast brushed and polished links and includes IWC’s excellent EasX-CHANGE strap changing system. It uses a traditional spring bar, allowing you to use a wide selection of third-party straps (though in the odd 21mm0wide size) — but at the same time allows you to remove the bracelet without any tools. The bracelet itself also features a quick(er) system to adjust the size (remove and add links). Finally, it features IWC’s refined micro-adjust system inside the push-button fold-over deployant, which can increase or decrease the length of the bracelet by a few millimeters on demand. The weight of the bracelet feels good and wears nicely on the wrist. A lot of people will opt to pair this watch with the traditional pilot-style leather strap, but the bracelet really gives the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 that status symbol look I feel IWC was going for.
The dial of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is extremely simple, which, on some days, is going to be exactly what you wish to wear, and on other days you might want a timepiece with a big visual dial extravagance. To give it the most fashion-friendly look, IWC totally stripped back the pilot’s watch look to its core essence. It is beautiful and effortlessly legible, but like I said, simple. The wide diameter dial on this model is metallic-blue done in a sunburst finishing, with thick-printed Arabic numeral hour markers and a complete scale of minuter markers. The perfectly sized pilot watch hands complete this conservative sports watch look. I can’t see too many people not being excited to wear it out, at least from time to time.
Inside the watch is the IWC-made calibre 82100 automatic movement. It operates at 4Hz with 60 hours of power reserve and features IWC’s Pellaton efficient automatic rotor winding system. The most interesting technical feature of the watch is some parts produced not from metal, but rather from ceramic. You can visually spot these ceramic parts because they are colored black and visible in the movement. Ceramic parts have a lot of advantages over metal parts when it comes to durability over time (they really don’t wear out), and they need less, if any, lubrication. These special ceramic parts do add value and are part of IWC’s explanation for why this caliber is among its more elite standard movements.
The caliber 82100 movement is also particularly nice to look at. In addition to a variety of finishes such as perlage, the movement bridges and components are designed with skeletonization in mind. That gives the viewer a deep, less obstructed visual experience of what is going on in the movement. The 82100 is among the nicest looking modern, simple three-hand automatic movements around in my opinion.
The 2021 IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 debuts in two colors, with dial options being either the pictured blue or black. The black reference IW329301 comes with a brown pilot-style tapered leather strap, which is the same retail price as the blue-dial with blue leather strap IW329303 at $8,400 USD. This pictured IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 reference IW329304 has a blue dial and comes with the matching steel bracelet at a retail price of $9,350 USD. Learn more or order at the IWC website here.
>Model: Big Pilot’s Watch 43 (reference IW329304 as tested)
>Price: $9,350 USD
>Size: 43mm-wide, 13.6mm-thick, and ~52mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a fashionable and slightly flashy socializing watch that, at heart, is a tool timepiece.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Mainstream luxury seeker wanting a conservative but expressive iconic men’s watch that comes from an authentically historic timepiece maker.
>Best characteristic of watch: Beautiful and simple, wears comfortably, and has a highly versatile style. Movement is excellent to look at and has some high tech parts. Strap changing system – along with the available straps and bracelet are of appropriate quality.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Pilot watch traditionalists might not immediately take to the flashy polished surface treatments. Dial design is effective but might benefit from a bit more pizazz at this price point. Not as competitively-priced as some other IWC sports-style watches.