The Top Ten IWC Pilot Watches

The Top Ten IWC Pilot Watches

IWC is a brand that rubs shoulders with the industry heavyweights. While perhaps not as known outside the industry as brands like Rolex, Omega, or Breitling, its products have, for decades, been highly regarded and known for standing the test of time aesthetically.

In a crowded marketplace, IWC’s stoicism can sometimes consign it to the fringes of the mind, but something is reassuring about its ever-presence. Designs like the Ingeniuer, the Portugiser, and Portofino are among watchmaking royalty, but it is perhaps best known for its military and pilot watches that (and rightly so).

IWC was a member of the “Dirty Dozen”, earning its stripes in the closing stages of World War II. The Dirty Dozen is the nickname given to the 12 companies selected to design and produce watches for military personnel. IWC’s entry is seen by many to be the finest among them. Collectors, therefore, pay thousands for a well-preserved (or even thoroughly battered) piece on the pre-owned market these days.

While the “Dozen” watches were tools designed for the field, much of their design (bar their noticeably reduced size) recalled the legible pilot's watches of the time. Pilot's watches are big. They are easy to read at a glance. Broad hands and high-contrast numerals make digesting information in a split second possible. Few brands have come to define what pilot's watches are as much as IWC. As you will see from this top ten selection of IWC pilot's watches on, there is a surprising amount of variation and character to be found within this relatively “basic” blueprint.

10. IWC Pilot's Mark XVIII Automatic Black Dial Men's Watch IW327009

IWC Black Dial Watch

When talking about the basic blueprint of pilot watch design, the IW327009 is a great place to start. While it is about as small as you should expect to find a pilot’s watch from IWC — it measures just 40mm across (excluding the crown) — all of the regular tropes are present and correct.

This is, in fact, the perfect daily beater for someone who admires the clean-lined aesthetic of a pilot’s watch. It is also for someone that doesn’t want to feel like they are lugging around a dashboard instrument with them all day long. At 40mm, this watch has versatility in its corner. It is robust enough to stand up to a regular battering in the outdoors and sleek and sophisticated enough to work with business attire.

At 11mm thick, it is truly a jack of all trades and a fine place to start this rundown of the top 10 pilot’s watches from IWC on Jomashop today. Coming in at a shade over $4,000, it is also a relatively accessible price point for a collection that occasionally crests above five figures.

9. IWC Pilot Black Automatic Chronograph Men's Watch IW377709

IWC Black Chronograph Watch

If you liked the straightforward design of the IW327009, but you are leaning towards a watch with more information on the dial, the 43mm IW377709 might be the right direction to take. This model has similar legibility to the time-only model, but it also packs the added functionality of a chronograph on top.

The case grows by 3mm in diameter, thickening up to 15mm in the middle, but this remains a relatively compact design for a Pilot’s chronograph. It displays both the day and date at 3 o’clock. It also shows the running seconds (indicated by IWC’s signature red seconds hand) at 9 o’clock, and the elapsed minutes at 12, and the elapsed hours at 6. This is truly a practical tool for anyone that calls a cockpit home or, at the very least, dreams of doing so.

8. Pre-owned IWC Pilot Antoine de Saint Exupery Chronograph Men's Watch IW377713

IWC Antoine de Saint Exupery

This is an unusual version of the same watch as described above. This rare, brown sunburst Antoine de Saint Exupery Chronograph will certainly divide opinions, given its color, but its provenance and quality should never be in doubt. While this is not your typical pilot’s watch fare, it is one of the more interesting and off-beat examples available from IWC. It also will no doubt appeal to would-be buyers that have found themselves put off by the starkness of regular pilot’s watch designs.

7. IWC Pilot Spitfire Chronograph Automatic Green Dial Men's Watch IW387902

IWC Green Dial Watch

If the warmth of the Antoine de Saint Exupery appealed to you, then this bronze-cased, green-dialed version might also strike the right note. Bronze cases started to become popular in watchmaking circles more than ten years ago with the seminal release of the Panerai “Bronzo”. Since then, this controversial material has crept into all corners of the industry, leaving its more sensible (perhaps) marine roots behind and taking to the skies in all manner of pilot’s watches.

Why is it controversial? Because of bronze patinas. By that, I mean it oxidizes (and pretty quickly, too). For some people, this aging process is the very reason why the material remains so attractive to them. For others, however, it will be a dealbreaker in the opposite direction.

The pairing of green with bronze has always been a natural move, and here in this eccentric pilot’s model from IWC, the popular colorway is once more deployed with great success. At nearly $6,000, this remains a good value chronograph from a respected brand.

6. IWC Pilot's Timezoner Edition "Le Petit Prince" Automatic Blue Dial Men's Watch IW395503

IWC Timezoner Edition

This is something extremely unusual and will no doubt have its fans and detractors alike. Reference IW395503 stands out on this list for its eye-catching sun-ray blue dial, busier, world-timer bezel. It also has a unique central 24-hour indicator that arches over the hands, usurping the logo’s regular position between 12 and center.

Its frankly enormous 46mm diameter appears much reduced due to the thick and visually dominating bezel, and low-profile case standing just 15mm tall. It is an odd combination of elements that leaves the watch (that could quite easily have become unwieldy) more wearable. It also makes it more optically demure than one might expect from the specs alone.

Powered by IWC Calibre 82760, this model offers a very healthy 60-hour power reserve. This makes it the perfect weekday watch that can be taken off over the weekend and picked up on Monday morning, still running. However, its sporty aesthetic might make it the ultimate watch to wear while taking time away from the desk.

5. IWC Pilot Spitfire Automatic Black Dial Men's Watch IW326801

IWC Pilot Spitfire

The simple appearance of this rough and ready IWC pilot’s watch might trick you into believing it carries an entry-level price point, yet this model still tops the $4,000 mark. However, for that price, you still get an extremely timeless and wearable watch driven by the IWC Calibre 32110 with a very generous power reserve of 72 hours on a full wind.

“Three-day” watches are ever more popular these days, with customers expecting higher performance for their investment. This model’s charm is that it packs that substantial run time into a case that is 39mm wide and 10.8mm thick. This means you get modern sizing and a much more wearable watch than you might expect from IWC’s pilot canon.

The watch comes on a green fabric NATO strap, which promises a secure and comfortable fit on the wrist, but it would look fantastic dressed up with a black or brown leather strap of your choice.

4. IWC Pre-owned IWC Pilot Midnight Mark XVIII Le Petit Prince Men's Watch IW327004

IWC Pilot Le Petit Watch

The next entrant on this list welcomes another blue sunburst to the line-up. Some prefer their pilot’s watches to stick very closely to the original remit of high-contrast legibility, balking at anything other than a white-on-black display. However, some like the layout of the original concept but prefer to see it executed in a dressier fashion.

40mm wide, 11mm thick, and installed with a Swiss-made automatic caliber (reference 30110), this pre-owned option comes in close to five and half thousand dollars. The blue dial pairs nicely with the supplied brown strap, resulting in an overall softer affair. For fans of progressive pilot watch design, this could be the winner.

3. IWC Pilot Spitfire Chronograph Automatic Black Dial Men's Watch IW387903

IWC Spitfire Chronograph

Considering the trend for “heritage” inspired pieces on today’s watch market, reference IW387903 figures to be a popular entrant on this list. This is due to its matte black dial, accented by high-contrast white pad printing, and the warmer tones of faux-radium lume. It mimics the color of aged radium lume that is no longer allowed to be used in watchmaking due to its harmful radioactive properties.

Faux-radium (or “faux-rad” or, simply, “fauxtina”) lume is controversial. Some see this aesthetic choice as disingenuous and would outlaw its use across the industry. It does, however, have its fans (this writer included). The other, more positive camp believes that this attractive shade of luminous material should be seen as a color choice and nothing more serious than that. While the fauxtina wars show no signs of abating, this watch, at a very wearable 41mm diameter with a 15.3mm thickness, remains a very solid choice. It is especially a good option for someone looking for a sub-$6K watch that is smart enough to be worn with business attire, and rugged enough to accompany you on your weekend adventures.

2. IWC Pilot Le Petit Prince Automatic Chronograph Men's Watch IW377717

IWC Le Petit Prince

Securing the second spot on this list is another blue-dialed, Le Petit Prince model, reference IW377717. Here we have one of the finest executions of IWC’s pilot chronographs ever made. The 43mm diameter expertly meshes with the 15mm thickness, the steel bracelet, and the many dial elements that give this watch a highly technical appearance.

While pilot chronographs are not as legible as their time-only counterparts, they are somehow a more modern expression of the soul of the genre. They feel more at home about the clouds. The complexity of modern aviation machines probably has something to do with our innate vision of what kind of tools are needed to fly a plane these days, although modern navigation systems have rendered the original purpose of pilot’s watches all but obsolete.

When it comes to a non-GMT watch that exemplifies the jet-setter spirit, the IWC Pilot Le Petit Prince Automatic Chronograph Men's Watch IW377717 must be right up near the top of the list.

1. IWC Saint Exupery UTC Pilot's Watch Automatic Brown Dial Men's Watch IW326102

IWC Saint Exupery Watch

The top spot goes to the weirdest, rarest, and most expensive IWC pilot’s watch of the bunch. Reference IW326102 earned top-billing because it is so thoroughly bizarre. Its hardly-ever-seen UTC display in the center of the dial mirrors the layout of the IWC Pilot's Timezoner Edition "Le Petit Prince" Automatic Blue Dial Men's Watch IW395503 mentioned above, however, this time frames the information in a visually arresting manner.

Perhaps even more eye-catching is the interesting “A.” logo seen at 9 o’clock. A framed date window at 3 o’clock gives this eccentric dial a satisfying balance and manages to get away with a lot of curious elements coming together to create something immediately palatable at first glance.

At a second glance, however, one might come to appreciate the desperately charming vintage block font of the Arabic numerals at 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11. This marks a slight departure from the other watches on this list that either stick markers, blocks, triangles, or sans serif fonts. Here we have a model that calls back to the more distant past of the pilot’s watch evolution but does so in a thoroughly modern and characterful way. Its 44mm diameter will be seen by many as the sweet spot for an “honest” pilot’s watch, while its $12,650 price tag (down from a suggested retail of over $19K) offers those looking for a more premium option, something to think about.