iwc pilot’s watch chronograph spitfire

It’s a strange time to be deep into watches. As both auction and street prices for vintage steel watches have climbed precipitously over the past decade, so too has the demand for new steel watches from a handful of specific brands. And, as many of you are all too aware, when I use “precipitously,” I am describing a scenario of empty display cases, waitlists, and a secondary market full of flippers willing to help anyone skip the line – so long as you have well over MSRP in your wallet.
Along with this rise in pricing vs access, thanks to the internet we’re also in a new age of fast knowledge. It’s a time when any Johnnie on the street with an iPhone can rattle off reference numbers that used to be the secret code of those deep in the game. For anyone looking for a stylish steel sport watch, the game has changed and the competition – that is, the fight between those clamoring for certain watches – has grown with both in terms of size and appetite.
So what’s a normal guy or gal to do? When I first got into this whole scene, Submariners, both old and new, were available. GMT-Masters were plentiful and not only could steel be found in most display cases, but five large seemed to go a lot further than it does today. Thankfully, for those willing to look outside of the royal offerings, some strong alternatives are available.
And so this is where we find the handsome IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Spitfire. Tough but not overstated and certainly toolish but with a vintage flair, the Spitfire collection was recently overhauled and I’d wager that this new chronograph, which is available in steel or bronze, manages to offer IWC’s well-established Flieger aesthetic while being distinctive enough to stand apart as an expression of their form that attempts to capture a certain old-world charm. 
Chances are, if you’re thinking about pilot’s watches, you are imagining an IWC. The brand has become somewhat synonymous with the modern format of this classic war-time Flieger aesthetic. From the Big Pilot to the Top Gun and the various generations of their Mark series three-hander, you can have your IWC pilot’s watch in varying degrees of stoicism and case width. The Big Pilot is quite bold, the Top Gun feels somewhat more tactical, so where does that leave the Spitfire line?
Drawing upon IWC’s Mark XI, the Spitfire line looks to capture the rugged and capable charm of the watch that the brand created for the RAF starting back in 1948. Shown below, the Mark XI is a steel pilot’s design with both tan and white dial elements with an IWC caliber 89 movement surrounded by a soft iron inner case structure to help protect the movement from magnetism. 
Reportedly in service until 1981, the Mark XI helped to establish IWC’s mid-century pilot’s design language and, while that aesthetic would evolve, growing progressively more stoic as the brand headed towards more modern classics like the Pilot Chronograph ref. 3717, it’s easy to see the roots of the Mark XI in the execution of this new Spitfire chronograph. And while the basic building blocks of IWC pilot’s watch design offers strong legibility and a certain gauge-like layout, the Spitfire is a bit more relaxed. If the Top Gun pairs well with a flight suit, then the Spitfire really calls for a nicely broken-in leather jacket … and a motorcycle … and maybe Bradley Cooper’s wrist, too.  
Kidding aside, calling upon the famous World War II plane (which you can read more about here thanks to Cole), while some of IWC’s pilot watches replica can strike me as either a bit too serious or a bit too bold, the Spitfire finds a balance that both nods to the brand’s past and nails the vibe of classic aviation. The Supermarine Spitfire is easily one of the most beautiful planes ever designed and it’s hard to think of a better tribute for a line of pilot’s watches that offers a warmer and more classic appeal than many of their siblings in IWC’s line up.
Seen here in reference IW387901 with a steel case and a black dial, the new Spitfire Chronograph is 41mm wide, 15.3mm thick, and 51.5mm lug to lug. Powered by an IWC-made automatic chronograph movement, the IWC pilots Spitfire Chrono has a screw-down crown, a domed and anti-reflective sapphire crystal, 20mm lugs, and water resistance to 6 bar (60m/192ft). This reference comes on an excellent green textile strap, but the design is so versatile that it would likely work on any strap you throw at it.  
The sizing in combination with a quality movement from IWC ensures that this great-looking watch is more than just a pretty face, or the sort of watch that looks better in a display case then it does on your wrist. 
The appeal of the Spitfire Chronograph is pretty straightforward, and its presence is thoughtful and suggests that the wearer knows something about watches. It’s stylish, casual, detailed, and from the nearly invisible crystal to the fine dial finishing and the snappy action of the chronograph pushers, the whole package feels cohesive and very IWC.
One possibly divisive aspect of this design, and indeed for the whole of the new Spitfire line – which also includes a 39mm three-hander, a 41mm bronze UTC (second time zone), and a special edition of the brand’s Timezoner (more on that in Cole’s write up that I linked to above, and also here) – is the use of mixed tones for the markings on the dial. While the combination of some white markings and some tan luminous elements on the may seem like nothing more than “new vintage” trendiness, the mixed tones are a longstanding element within both IWC’s pilot’s watch designs and are an effective call back to the Mark XI and many of its subsequent generations. 
While initially I felt I might have preferred to see either a full white or full tan layout, the mix grew on me, and I think it adds a distinctive character to the Spitfire that helps to differentiate it from the rest of the pack, especially now that IWC appears to have (at least for the time being) decided to forgo the use of bright silver dials for the Spitfire family. 
Lastly, while this model was originally shown at SIHH earlier this year with red “Spitfire” text on the dial, the production models will not have this branding. While the absence is certainly not a deal-breaker, I liked the use of red on the dial and definitely miss that dash of color on the production version.
Apart from the revamped Spitfire line and the 41mm sizing, the other noteworthy aspect of this new chronograph is the movement, as this is the first time that IWC has fitted a 69000-series movement in a pilot’s watch. Surrounded by a soft iron cage to aid in anti-magnetism, the Spitfire Chronograph uses the IWC 69380.
An evolution of the 69370 that adds a day to the date display, this is a column-wheel chronograph movement that shares some base architecture with the ETA 7750 but is entirely produced in-house, and benefits from IWC’s legendary chronograph know-how. 
Given the iron inner-casing, the Spitfire Chronograph opts for a solid steel case back to cover its automatically wound movement. Ticking at 4Hz and offering a power reserve of 46 hours, the 69380 offers time, day, date, and a 12-hour chronograph with central seconds. The pushers are very direct, and the action is crisp and mechanical, with none of the vagaries or noise one might associate with the 7750. Given the price point and the packaging (I’ll restate that the Spitfire Chronograph is 15.3mm including its domed crystal), IWC pushed to offer a great chronograph movement in a wearable and nicely proportioned watch.
While not entirely without its competition, the value statement is strong, and I think watches like the Spitfire Chronograph demonstrate the level of maturity IWC has been able to reach in their movement development, especially at a general consumer (luxury) price point.
On wrist the Spitfire Chronograph quickly impresses. The size is excellent and at a personal level, it’s simply a much more balanced offering than the ~43mm sizing common to some previous and comparable examples. It’s big enough to feel sporty but not large enough to overpower my 7-inch wrist, and the design feels loosely military-inspired, but not in a way that makes me feel like I’m wearing camo pants or dog tags from the mall.
As I’ve said in previous reviews, style is hard to pin down with watches but I think IWC has created something that feels both stylish and considered but never fussy. The metallic hands add highlights to the dial and legibility is always strong. Also offered on a leather strap (the IW387903), I think this green textile is perfect and, after a day or two, it broke in just a bit and proved quite comfortable. While I would likely switch between a suede-style leather or a NATO (I am a creature of habit), as I mentioned above, this design is so versatile that it’s hard to imagine a strap that wouldn’t work. 
Interestingly, there is no bracelet option, at least for now. While I am generally not a bracelet guy at all, and indeed would wear a watch like this on a strap, I do think that IWC should produce a bracelet for this chronograph (and for all I know they will sometime in the future). As they’ve offered in the past for other pilot’s chronographs, I think a svelte but nicely finished steel multilink bracelet would absolutely suit the watch, and much of the competition for this model offers the steel-on-steel combo. 
So that’s the new Replica IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Spitfire – a well-made, and nicely priced steel sport watch that offers strong versatility and a laid-back stylishness that never seems out of place. It’s legible, useful, really good on the wrist, and much more interesting than many of the commonplace steel sport watches you and I see all over Instagram and at every meetup. Yes, the classics are always great (and are classics for a reason), but it never hurts to try something new, different, or special. 
While I think drilled lugs and a bracelet option would be great additions to an already solid product, with the new Spitfire Chronograph, IWC is showing that you can still get a watch with a lot of personality from a great brand for around $5k – and you can do it without waitlists or resorting to the grey market.   

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