Thinking Big With The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43

Thinking Big With The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43

One of IWC Schaffhausen’s more overlooked 2021 releases, the BP43 packs a big punch in a very versatile package.

By Josh Shanks

Years ago, pundits and armchair critics decreed the pilot’s watch was all but dead. They bemused that after years of development, marketing, and overselling, that there was no way a brand could rise to the occasion and make a relevant and, most importantly, a desirable pilot’s watch.

Enter IWC: The Schaffhausen-based brand has been doing precisely that for decades, but in recent years, it has taken the very concept into the stratosphere, literally! Over a few beers, a grizzled test pilot at a bar in California’s Mojave Desert might tell you that I’m just “blowing smoke.” But take it from a flight school dropout, IWC means business.

The “Year” Of The Pilot

I remember SIHH 2019 like it was yesterday, IWC's booth resembled a flight deck, and the brand loudly proclaimed, "2019 is the year of the Pilot's Watch!" Flash forward two years and a pandemic later, and the lust for travel and the ephemera that accompanies a journey has never been stronger. This is probably one reason IWC chose 2021 to release a slew of new Pilot’s.

And while much attention has been paid to the brand’s EasX-CHANGE strap system and the stellar Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41, few have focused on the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 (a.k.a. the BP43). Luckily, thanks to IWC, Watchonista was able to experience this new time-only Pilot in the metal over the last month.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43

Growing up in the Midwest, I’ve seen my fair share of ammo cases. But nothing prepared me for the monstrous presentation box for my demonstration model. This thing was about as impressive as a P-51 Mustang flying overhead at the Oshkosh Air Show. Inside the case was a blue-dialed BP43 with a choice of blue rubber strap, stainless steel bracelet, or blue calf leather strap. And since all are made to work with the EasX-CHANGE system, it is super easy to switch up your look.

The 43mm stainless steel BP43 is powered by IWC’s in-house 82100 calibre, which boasts 60 hours of power reserve and is finally viewable via a sapphire crystal caseback. For years, IWC hid their intricate and beautiful movements behind solid casebacks, and now thanks to the efforts of Christian Knoop, IWC’s Creative Director, movements are on full display.

Available with either a blue or black dial, the BP43 was inspired by 1940s military observation watches that were worn over a pilot or navigator's thigh or flight gloves. IWC first introduced these oversized (supersized at the time) watches in the early 2000s as the Big Pilot's Watch ref. 5002. New for 2021 is the continual refinement of the Big Pilot's and the integration of various technical and aesthetical changes.

Unlike previous Big Pilot's, the new BP43 doesn't feature a date or power reserve indicator. The watch is clean and refined while remaining faithful to the original.

“The Big Pilot’s Watch perfectly embodies IWC’s extensive heritage and expertise in engineering rugged and reliable instruments tailored to meet the needs of elite aviators. It exemplifies how a purely functional design can transform into a cultural icon. Today, the Big Pilot’s Watch is not only one of the most recognizable watch designs in the world but also an expression of a certain character and mindset,” says Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen.

In The Metal

As you can see from Watchonista's original images, the BP43 is well executed and finely finished. In-person, the 43mm case doesn't wear as large as its specifications indicate. The watch wasn't overpowering to wear on my relatively small wrists, yet it still had enough wrist presence and thickness (13.6mm) to carry itself as a luxury tool watch.

The oversized screw-down crown, a hallmark of the Big Pilot's collection, felt sturdy and robust. The EasX-CHANGE system held up to multiple uses, and it was downright fun to change up the watch's look in the span of just a few seconds.

I fully recognize this watch might not be for everyone. It is on the larger side of IWC's Pilot's watch collection, after all. And if it is not your cup of tea, there remains more than a few Pilot’s of multiple sizes, even going all the way down to 36mm. Yet if you are in the market for a faithful Pilot's Watch, one that can be worn on many occasions, the BP43 fits the bill.

Pricing & Availability

The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 starts at $8,400 on a calfskin leather strap and tops out at $9,350 on a stainless steel bracelet. IWC also has a range of strap styles and materials available for purchase after you acquire your watch. Purchasing a new strap is just as easy as using the EasX-CHANGE system and can be done by visiting your nearest IWC boutique or the brand's website.

For more information on IWC’s Pilot’s Watches, visit the brand’s website.

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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