IWC’s famed pilot’s watch is so iconic for its scale that it’s literally known as the Big Pilot. Which makes the news out of this year’s big watch trade show that IWC’s Big Pilots are getting smaller a rather…big deal.
IWC, CEO Christopher Grainger-Herr explained, is taking the shrink ray to several of its most iconic pieces to make them that much more wearable. Grainger-Herr knows better than most how much size matters: he came up at the company through the brand’s museum The Big Pilot started at a hulking 55 millimeters and until Wednesday came in at a still-heavyweight 46mm. Now it’s 43. He says they tested different sizes, spending time debating 42 and 44mm iterations. In the middle of this process, he’d wake up in the “middle of the night after having either nightmares or beautiful dreams” about those millimeters, he tells me. But I wondered: what happens when a Big watch becomes something a little more like a Medium? I spent a week test driving the Pilot Chronograph, which went from 43 to 41mm, to find out.
The chronograph on a leather band.
Grainger-Herr’s IWC is designed for first timers: prices typically range from $4,000 to below $15,000 before jumping for the special editions. No watch better exemplifies that spirit, Grainger-Herr says, than the chronograph I wore: the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph IW388101. “You have the horological complexity of the chronograph in a daily wear watch,” he says. “I think if you had to pick a first timepiece, you can wear this anywhere and you can keep it for 20 to 30 years and enjoy.”
So how did it feel? Hefty, most of all. I don’t mean that in a bad way, in that it anchored my noodle arm down or wore me out. Despite its shrunken-down size, the watch is heavy like gold or big ideas of the “duuuuude” variety—from the initial interaction it’s clear there’s something substantial going on. Once I got used to the sheer substance of the watch, I found new and more childlike ways to entertain myself. The blue of the dial would strobe from dark-as-a-lagoon navy to something softer as I rotated my wrist to make it catch the light. I’d click in the pusher that activated the chronograph and imagine the intricate series of gears and wheels whirring into action. I kept the watch on my bedside table and would peek at it in the night to observe at the now-glowing hands. John Mayer once said he used an IWC Big Pilot as a bedside clock because of its size. I had less success than Mayer with my version.