IWC Pilot’s Watches

Archives October 11, 2002 admin


I’ve always felt that IWC makes excellent watches that have yet to receive the attention they deserve from collectors in the US. As of late, the IWC pilot watches (Doppelchronograph, Fliegerchronographs, and Mark XII) have been the object of numerous Forum inquiries. Which is the right watch for you? Having lived with them now for the past few months, here are my impressions of these watches to help you with this difficult choice.

COMMON THEME-All four watches exemplify what’s best in pilot watches: functionality and durability without sacrifice to look. The magnetically shielded cases are round, finished in satin. The matte-black dial perfectly contrasts with the large, white Arabic numerals and the white baton hands for maximum readability. This simplicity belies an amazing attention to details: these watches exhude a richness that must be seen to be appreciated. Photographs do not do them justice. If you prefer the intricate-dare I say busy-look of a Breitling or Gérald Genta, or the finely decorated look of a Breguet, these IWCs may not be for you. But if you favor uncompromising functionality in a simple and elegant package, read on.


There are surprisingly little difference in style among the four watches. But in size, weight and functions, they clearly diverge. The Doppel is by far the most complicated watch of the group with a split-second added to the chronograph functions. It is also the biggets (42-mm; 170 grams). The user-friendly bracelet, similar to the one described in my earlier review of the Flieger, makes this watch more comfortable to wear than it has any right to be. It is by far the best bracelet I ever had the pleasure of using: superbly crafted, ultra comfortable, and user-friendly to boot. If you like a complicated watch in a simple, elegant package, and have a medium to large wrist, the Doppel is the watch for you. There is something irresistible about those split-second hands gracefully racing around the dial! The double wooden boxes will sweep away any remnant of hesitation. But, if you must have a small watch, look elsewhere.


The automatic Flieger manages a near-impossible task: shield the chronograph functions within a moderate-size case. The three chronograph registers interfere minimally with the basic watch function. Its size (39 mm) and weight (140 grams) combined with the superb bracelet give this watch a wider appeal than its bigger brother. If you are looking for a chronograph, and favor functionality, readability, and understated elegance above all, this watch is perfect for you. The attention to details is incredible; e.g., the SS finish alternates from matte to shiny between adjoining surfaces, from the back of the case all the way to the bezel [My thanks to Dave Allen for pointing this out to me]. This special finish must have added a considerable amount of time. It is definitely time well spent. The Flieger deceptive elegance could not have been achieved with a single finish. This watch is possibly the best blend of style and function of the group.


It combines the best of both world: an accurate quartz movement and a true mechanical chronograph. Do not think for a moment that this is a compromise. If you cannot stand quartz, then by all means stay away from this watch. But never for a moment mistake it for just another quartz watch. The Jaeger-LeCoultre 631 méca-quartz movement, first produced in 1987, sports 222 parts and 25 jewels, more than many automatic watches can boast. Two stepper motors convert the quartz movement (familiar jumps of the second hand) into a smooth mechanical sweep of the large chronograph second hand. The combination of quartz and mechanical movement takes up only one-third the space of a conventional mechanical chrono movement, at a mere height of 3.7 mm [My thanks Richard Paige and Hans Zbinden for the technical details]. This may be the smallest mechanical chronograph movement in the world. If you want a small and elegant chronograph for everyday wear, check out this package of dynamite. You get the quartz precision to boot.


It is the newest kid on the block, and the only non-chronograph of the group. While sharing the look of its older bothers, the Mark XII stands alone as an ultimate tribute to simple elegance by virtue of its basic function. Its design became an instant classic, and set a tough act for others to follow. True, its small size (36 mm, 92 grams) does not allow as much detailed treatment on the finish as its larger brothers. Also true, the thinner SS bracelet on the Mark XII (and the small Flieger) is not of the same caliber as the bracelets on the Doppel and auto Flieger. It is just as comfortable mind you, but less user-friendly; its style also blends less successfully with that of the case and bezel. Removing the links requires two screw drivers and very steady hands, an operation best left to a jeweler with the proper tools. If I had to do it all over again, instead of the bracelet, I would get the leather strap for $1,000 less, or the tough zircon oxide finish for $500 more. This decision applies equally to the small Flieger.


If for some reason you can have only one watch-I sincerely hope not-and would like to pick it out of this group, the right watch for you depends less on the look than on the functions and size. If you love a big chronograph with split-second, you should get the Doppel. If you do not want the split-second function, get the automatic Flieger instead for a great blend of functions, size and look at half the price (no wooden boxes though). But both watches may be too large and too heavy for some to wear every day. The small Flieger and Mark XII are not. If you must have the chronograph functions in a small package, go for the méca-quartz Flieger. Finally, the Mark XII has that classic look that is perfect for your first watch and worthy of any collection.