Hands-On With The IWC Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince”
Before I get to this stunning looking IWC Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince”, I have to admit something. I never read Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) as a child.
It was only a few months ago that I decided to order the book, as I felt that what I have missed, I want to catch up together with my young daughter. So, I started reading it to my five-year old daughter, only to realize on the 2nd page already, that she might be a bit too young to understand. I tried until page 25 and although she listened very carefully, I am sure she didn’t get much of it. Every time I choose a book from her collection to read her a bedtime story, my eyes are drawn to Le Petit Prince. It will sit there for a few more years I guess, this book about friendship, love, and life.
IWC and Saint-Ex’s Le Petit Prince
As you know, the author of the book is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. A French author and pilot, who lost life on July 31st, 1944 after being taken down by a German Luftwaffe pilot. Only in 2004, his plane was recovered from the Mediterranean Sea (it was located in 2000 already, but it took another 4 years to get the job done). After confirmation of the serial number on the wreck of the Lockheed Lightning P-38, it was certain this was the plane of the famous French author. Finally, after all these years this mystery was solved. Géocean was one of the companies involved by recovering Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s plane. Pierre Becker, head of that company, had tears in his eyes when he saw the serial number on one of the P-38’s pieces. It demonstrates how deeply the love is for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his work as aviator and author of Le Petit Prince is rooted. Just a year before he died, he wrote his ‘Le Petit Prince’ story.
What has Le Petit Prince or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has to do with IWC you might wonder. Well, Saint-Ex, as the French call him, was a pilot and IWC makes Pilot watches since about 80 years. Since 2005, IWC works together with the Fondation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who are supporting children and adolescents who face difficult circumstances. Since 2006, IWC’s commitment has also led to special watches dedicated to Saint-Ex, and since 2013, to his ‘Le Petit Prince’. This year, during the Salon International de la Haute Horogerie (or SIHH) in Geneva, IWC showed us something truly special. The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince”. Today’s Big Pilot is based on the IWC reference IW431, a watch that was made in 1940 and delivered to the German Luftwaffe and made according the strict specifications they used for their watches. With a diameter of 55mm, this watch was incredibly huge at the time, where the average watch diameter was probably around 32mm. IWC delivered 1000 of these watches to the Luftwaffe. Only after WWII, IWC also delivered military (pilot) watches to the British Royal Air Force as well. Here is where I personally feel that the link with Saint-Ex who was shot down by a Luftwaffe pilot gets a bit sourish. Or IWC’s link to the Spitfire. I am happy to be convinced otherwise, but until now it remains silent. It is what it is, of course, and IWC is supporting a good cause with the Fondation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince”
An incredibly long introduction to write about the new IWC Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince”. With a diameter of 46.2mm these watches are already eye-catching, but the partly open-worked dial that enables you to look at the constant-force tourbillon makes it even more special. And special they are! Plural, because IWC will release two version of this watch. The one we have here is the Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince” in platinum, but there will also be a version in 18-carat red gold. Hard gold, as IWC puts it, as they were able to have the microstructure of the alloy adjusted in such way that the material is much harder than the normal gold alloy of red gold. This led to a red gold alloy that is 5 to 10 times more scratch-resistant than the normal 18-carat red gold. Very convenient, as a normal sized gold watch is already bound to get some scratches (or worse: dents), let alone a hockey-puck sized pilot’s watch of 46.2mm. Smart thinking in Schaffhausen.
Special Edition of 10
The platinum version we have here, is reference IW590302 and the red hard gold watch has reference IW590303. The used strap, dark blue dial color and movement are all the same, it is the material for the case, hands and hour markers that is different. Where the gold edition has matching gold-plated hands and hour markers, the platinum watch has them rhodium-plated. Each model is limited to 10 pieces in total, with a unique number engraved on the caseback.
Where it is a first for IWC to use hard gold for a watch, the Constant-Force Tourbillon complication has been used before in the Portugieser collection. Even last year, in 2018, for their 150 years anniversary models. The Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince” watches use the IWC caliber 94805 movement, part of the 94000-family of calibers.
A hand-wound movement that has enough energy to ‘host’ a number of complications. There are two barrels in this movement, and it has a high torque to drive the constant-force tourbillon as well as additional complications (Moon phases, power reserve indicators etc.). The caliber 94805 has 4 days of power reserve and ticks at 18.000vph (~2.5hz).
Now, for explaining the Constant-Force Tourbillon, I am going to assume that you are already familiar with the tourbillon complication. With the addition of the constant-force mechanism, IWC is able to ensure that the amplitude of the balance (very important for accurate timekeeping). How it works, in short, is that the escapement is being disconnected from the energy that is being delivered by the gear train. The energy is temporarily stored in the balance spring and delivered to the escape wheel. During this process, every second the tension in the spring is increased and makes the seconds hand in the tourbillon advance per second with one step as well. As a result, the will be a very accurate performance over a 48-hours period. Especially combined with the tourbillon that eliminates the effect of gravity on the oscillating system, it ensures high precision. After this period of two days, the mechanism switches back from constant-force mode to the regular mechanism of the energy over-bringing and the seconds hands moves with steps of 1/5th of a second (18.000vph). IWC has a patent on their constant-force tourbillon mechanism and have applied it to three different models now, this IWC Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince” being the most recent one.
Besides the patented constant-force tourbillon, this watch also has a perpetual moon phase display on board. According to IWC, it will only take a required adjustment of one day in 577.5 years to keep it indicating the moon phases correctly. Then, there’s the power reserve indicator on the dial, which shows the wearer the remaining energy that’s left in the watch, shown in hours.
As you can see, the caseback has a sapphire crystal fitted to show you the huge caliber 94805 movement of the Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince”. On this side of the watch, there are no referrals to the story of The Little Prince, but on the dial side, I will tell you about this one little cool thing in the next paragraph. As you can see, the finishing of the movement is done by giving it a nice Côtes de Genève decoration, gilded engravings and chamfered edges. The plates on the backside are filling up all the space though, and the action is better visible at the front side of the watch.
Le Petit Prince On The Moon
As you can read above, the IWC Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince” is a very technical watch. This is something I truly enjoy when it comes to watchmaking, although it unfortunately always comes at a certain price. Also in this case, but more about irrelevant things as prices later on. Besides the technical innovations to maintain very high precision, there’s something else that moved me when seeing it. It is unfortunately not visible on the photos that we took ourselves, and we didn’t want to adjust the calendar or Moonphase on this beast for sure, so I used an image from the press release to be able to show it to you. On the moon, you will find The Little Prince standing, watching the stars.
What an incredibly cool way to honour the story written by Saint-Ex. To be honest with you, this is what makes all the difference with a watch that is simply technically outstanding and a watch that can really move people. It might sound easy to create something that plays with the sentiments of a consumer, but I doubt that it is an easy task to fulfil. In these days and age, consumers are more critical towards these things than ever, and you really need to come up with something good and authentic. IWC did and successfully so.
As written above, the action on this watch is mainly on the dial side of the Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince”. Where the movement is surely beautifully finished, is the blue dial where the magic happens. Due to the bounced flashlights, the dial appears much lighter in these images than it actually is, but we only had a short time with it so we couldn’t play for too long. Those are the downsides of having tight schedules at these shows. Anyway, the large dial has two big apertures. One for the tourbillon cage, that shows the watch is pretty much alive and one for the moon phases indicator as described in the previous paragraph. Two large hands are there for the hours and minutes and the seconds hand can be found on the tourbillon. At 4.30, you will find the hand of the power reserve indicator that goes up to 96 hours. Although I normally I am not a fan of ‘open heart’ dials, or visible tourbillons on the dial in general (but that’s just very personal), it is still a cool sight here. Perhaps also because the dial is huge anyway, and also because IWC managed to keep it rather clean despite all the displayed functions.
Normally, I like my watches as clean and simple as possible. Hence my personal modest collection consists of the ‘classics’ or perhaps ‘usual suspects’. In case of an IWC, I would normally opt for the regular Big Pilot watch reference IW501001 (which we reviewed here). I could also settle for the Le Petit Prince execution, with a blue dial and with The Little Prince engraved on the caseback (reference IW501002). It is a nice gesture that both of these watches come at the same price of 13.800 Euro. The dial of both these watches is clean and simple and pay tribute to the original Pilot’s watch of 1940. However, and not even because of the price or the constant-force tourbillon innovation, but because of the aperture where you can see Le Petit Prince standing on the moon, I wouldn’t mind wearing this version instead. Even if it was in steel, and with a Moon phases complication only, I would go for this one. It could be that I am a sucker for these things (hence a Snoopy on two of my watches), but I love them. It makes watches and collecting watches interesting and keeps it interesting when you already have your share of ‘classics’. That’s why I started to ignore the constant flow of Special or Limited Editions rants that you will find on social media and forums and decided for myself that I either like a watch or I don’t like a watch, regardless if it is a limited or special edition or not. Besides, if a brand needs to live off only producing classics and standard editions, the number of returning customers would be much lower for sure. The only people that seem to be bothered by limited or special editions are those that weren’t planning to buy them anyway, I guess. That said, IWC only will make 10 of each, and probably sold or called for already.
Price And Availability
This leads me to the price and availability of these IWC Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince” watches. As you can see, we only saw the platinum watch during our photoshoot in Geneva and considered ourselves lucky that we did so (given the fact there are so many photoshoots planned and only one of each were available for the entire crowd). The red hard gold version might actually be my choice, as I love (red) gold and its glow. That would also save a bit in price, as you can imagine. The red gold version will retail for €238.000 (IW590303) and the platinum version for €255.000 (IW590302). Prices might be subject to change, as we’ve been told by IWC. Both watches will come on a brown calf leather strap. IWC expects to start delivering these watches in June 2019.
More information via IWC online.