Swiss brand IWC has a strong collection of new watches for 2021 that, thematically speaking, are really about making even better the products that IWC is best-known for: pilot’s watches. Today, we are going to learn about the new IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43. What most brand devotees may think when they read the piece’s name is, “That’s a bit petite for a Big Pilot’s Watch.” Historically speaking, that is true given that many previous IWC Big Pilot’s Watches were 46-48mm wide (and that includes two Big Pilot’s watches that are new for 2021). With the Big Pilot’s Watch 43, the iconic brand now has a “littlest giant” among its signature “oversize” flieger-style luxury sports watches.
The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 will debut in three styles (as the references IW329301 in black on the strap, IW329303 in blue on the strap, and the IW329304 in blue on the bracelet) but in a package that will, no doubt, take on lots of versions featured in additional releases in the coming years. The Big Pilot’s Watch 43 platform is what watch enthusiasts will most enjoy given the blend of size, overall detailing, the use of an in-house movement that is visible through the caseback, and a quick-release strap changing system. The size of the watch is large by today’s standards but not so large as to completely be unwearable on small- to medium-sized wrists.
What is missing in the new crop of Big Pilot’s Watches from IWC is its week-long power reserve movements, which were the basis of many previous Big Pilot’s Watches. These larger watches with the seven-day power reserve movements are still being made, and confusingly, with the same name. Will the larger Big Pilots be called “Bigger Pilot’s Watches?” Inside the 43mm-wide model is the new caliber 82100 in-house IWC movement. This robust mechanism is said to be a great performer and offers 60 hours of power reserve. IWC makes these pieces distinctive enough that the collector’s market should still be interested in the legacy Big Pilot’s Watches that diverge enough from the 43mm-wide models to hold independent collector appeal.
The 2021 IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 cases are currently all in steel and 43mm wide and capped with a domed AR-coated sapphire crystal. The cases are also 13.6mm-thick and water-resistant to 100 meters with a screw-down vintage pilot’s watch style crown. IWC says that despite the “smaller” size of the new Big Pilot’s Watch, a lot of design steps were taken to ensure that the 43mm-wide watches wear as boldly as possible. A good example is the entirely clean dial, which has only the time (no date window or subdial). This helps give the watch face a more expansive look and thus, visually, makes it appear larger. The elegant time-only dial is symmetrical and conservative. It might seem lackluster for some watch lovers, but IWC is clearly going for timeless versatility with the design of the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 dial.
Unlike previous Big Pilot’s watches, the new 43mm-wide models feature a sapphire crystal display back — which is a good idea for wristwatch hobbyists and also positions the pieces thoroughly. By that, I mean that IWC is clearly making a contemporary watch that has vintage style, not a vintage re-release watch. This is an important distinction to make because a lot of collectors are prone to get confused during today’s mega-selection of watches designed to look old, and those that are also designed to act old. IWC has gone the modern route, and for the better.
The IWC caliber 82100 automatic movement operates at 4Hz with 60 hours of power reserve. It features the Pellaton winding system that many in-house IWC movements are known for. In addition to winding efficiency, the movement includes a series of previously metal parts now in zirconium oxide (ceramic). The ability to make small ceramic parts is very challenging, but being able to do so offers parts whose wear resistance is far superior to metal. You can see the ceramic parts, as many of them are colored black.
The pilot-style straps have that interesting tapered segment and the iconic rivets (now decorative) near the strap ends. The straps and bracelet have IWC’s new quick-release system, which I really like. The reason is that they use a traditional spring bar, which allows the watch owner to use official IWC straps or any number of third-party straps. Most proprietary quick-release straps systems make it impossible to used straps without those special attachment systems. So kudos to IWC for offering what you might call the best of both worlds in the strap-changing system.
The available matching steel bracelet is similar to that offered on the also new IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41. That means a five-link design, but now one where two of the link columns are polished, as opposed to all brushed. This is IWC trying to make its pilot’s watches a bit flashier, but the look will not appeal to all watch enthusiasts. The bracelets have IWC’s excellent (and compact) foldover deployant clasp, which further includes a handy micro-adjust system.
IWC is trying to keep the Big Pilot’s Watch a more high-end item, and from a pricing perspective, they are trying to price this new collection between the smaller Chronograph 41 models and the even larger Big Pilot’s Watches. That said, there are going to be a lot of consumers who need more information from IWC as to why these steel Big Pilot’s Watch 43 three-hand models with in-house automatic movements have a price premium of $1,000 – $2,000 over the steel IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 models that have in-house automatic chronograph movements.