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JOURNAL

Ready For Take-Off

The dream of flying has always inspired, and fascination with aviation inspires IWC to design and construct the best pilot watches in the world.

The first British Spitfire aircraft made its debut flight on the fifth of March in 1936. Meanwhile, in the Swiss town of Schaffhausen almost 800 kilometers away, a team of engineers were finishing work on a completely different prototype – the IWC Pilot’s watch. It was one of the first aviator watches. The flight and the watch have something else in common; the original models were revolutionary in the fields of mechanics and functional design

The Spitfire was a technological and aerodynamic wonder. To this day the production of twenty-four models of 20,000 airplanes in the mid-1930s is unprecedented in the United Kingdom. At the time, IWC responded to the demands for timekeeping in the air with its first pilot watch. The watch is designed to withstand extreme fluctuations of temperature, and, given the powerful magnetic field in the cockpits of the time, it is also anti-magnetic. The black dial with the contrasting luminous display set the fashion and are archetypical features in pilot watches to this day.

From the start IWC’s pilot watches were shaped by the modern design principles that the Bauhaus movement stands for. Bauhaus was founded in Weimar in 1919, and was an educational institution whose principles in the fields of industrial design and architecture have been highly influential ever since. A leading figure of the movement was Walter Gropius, who believed that form follows function.

The redesigned version of the Spitfire pilot series launched this year faithfully follows the same principles in which shape and expression are dictated by the parts within. The IWC designers leave no void in the construction of their impressive instruments. The watches do well with no frills. The clean and simple idiom of IWC is in harmony with the opinion of the Antonie de Saint- Exupéry, the French pilot and author of The Little Prince.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

The spirit behind these words remains essential. Just as it did in the past, they still guide current IWC Pilot collections.
The design of IWC’s new Spitfire collection is elegant and practical. Clearly inspired by the historic Mark XI from 1949 with numerous details that give a friendly nod to the past, the watches obviously conceived in the twenty-first century. The stainless steel version pairs black dials with green textile straps giving an old-school military reference, while the bronze versions pair matte, olive green dials with brown leather straps for a tactical military look. IWC has selected a dark bronze alloy that resembles the patina the material develops over time. The color scheme recalls the interior of the cockpit of the Spitfire fighter aircraft.

When the Spitfire collection was redesigned, the concept was based on “form follows emotions.” This has made a design originally guided by function even better. The Spezialuhr für Flieger, or “special watch for pilots,” was produced by IWC in 1936. It was an archetypical aviator watch with high-contrast luminous indicators on a black dial and a rotating bezel. The handmade shock-resistant watch contains a Caliber 83 movement and was thoroughly tested and measured for accuracy. IWC did not name the first model Mark IX, although that is the name by which the watch became known. The name comes from the next model, Mark X, which was classified by the British defense ministry and issued as a service watch for the military in 1944. It had the same caliber. On the dial is a broad arrow stamp denoting property of the British Crown. In 1945 the letters W.W.W. stood for watch, wrist and waterproof.

For four years the Mark X was used by a variety of military personnel until it was replaced by the legendary Mark XI, a model engineered to meet aviation requirements for military campaigns. The Ministry of Defense put out requirements for a navigation timekeeping wristwatch that could withstand magnetic interference. The model has a robust stainless steel waterproof case with a screwed ring and was protected from a sudden decrease of pressure. The watches were subjected to an exhaustive forty-four-day testing period and each year they were sent to the Royal Greenwich observatory in Herstmonceux for quality control. Although the last Mark XI was delivered to the Royal Air Force in 1953, the model continued to be produced until 1981. Its successor, the Mark XII with an automatic movement, was introduced in 1993. Although the Mark XII still resembled an aviation timekeeper it was made for civilians. The series continued to evolve with Mark XV, XI, XII and XIII. The first change was that the timepieces grew in size, and in later designs the contrast of the numbers and hands against the dial was sharpened.

The latest in the series is the Pilot Automatic Spitfire. Recalling the past, the instrument returns to its original smaller size. Robust and reliable, this watch functions even under the most extreme conditions, and still lives up to the historic requirement “always ready for takeoff.” Few designs are as archetypical and striking as the IWC Mark families. In production since 1936 and engineered to meet the specifications of experts in the field of aviation, the watch exemplifies the design principles of “form follows function” and “less is more.”