Sunday Morning Showdown: Pilot’s Paragon — IWC Vs. Breitling
In our Sunday Morning Showdown, two of our writers go head-to-head in an epic showdown for the ages. Strong opinions and hysterical hyperbole are welcome (so feel free to join in with the fun in the comments section below). And don’t forget to let us know which watches you’d like to see torn to shreds/effusively exalted next week. We’ll try and feature as many of our readers’ choices as we can. This week our writers try to conquer the skies with two Pilot’s watches: The new IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 and the Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43.
With the online extravaganza that was Watches & Wonders 2021 behind us, it’s time to bring you another Sunday Morning Showdown. The past week has been peppered with new novelties set to inspire watch enthusiasts and rid them of their disposable income. Was it the best online watch show ever? Well, it certainly brought its fair share of delights and derivatives. But we are glad the dust is settling, and we can spend more time assessing each new release. More importantly, our Showdown series matches the new novelties against the stalwarts of their field.
International Watch Co. Vs. Breitling
Our first port of call is to ratify the all-new IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41. The watch was recently presented by IWC Schaffhausen but was shared amongst the watch press for some weeks before the official announcement. We were allowed to go hands-on and take some shots, giving us plenty of time to develop an appreciation. With the introduction of this latest generation, IWC continues its traditional Pilot’s Chronographs that have been around since 1994.
With the recent upgrades to the popular IWC watch, we figured it was time for it to face the aviation chronograph. Ever since the Breitling Navitimer ref. 806 was introduced in 1952; it has been the symbol of the pioneering pilot. It is one of those watches that comes up multiple times in list articles or listicles. For example, the Navitimer probably turns up in; “Most iconic watches,” “Best chronographs,” “Greatest aviator’s watches.” Each time the Navitimer appears in these lists, the response tends to be, “well, of course, the Navitimer is there.” The Navitimer 806 1959 Re-edition recreated this vintage design with extreme exactness on its 60th anniversary. But for this Showdown, we select the smallest automatic Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 in the current range.
Platinum: sometimes gold isn’t good enough!
Before we take off, we have some internal affairs to address. Last week, we asked you to choose between two Rolex Day-Date 40 in platinum and yellow gold. As it turns out, it’s the ice-cold freshness of the platinum Day-Date 40 that took the win with 53%. Even with the €60,100 price tag over the yellow gold’s €38,400, platinum wears heavy on many hearts (and wrists). Ben has now made it a personal goal to one day being able to own a piece with this level of cachet. But before he resorts to studying a bank’s blueprints, it’s time to get back to the battle at hand. Over to Jorg and Ben to see who earns their pilot’s wings.
Jorg — IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41
Reeling back to last week’s IWC unveiling, it did feel like a breath of fresh air. IWC CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr’s presentation had a clear focus on the brand’s Pilot’s watches. One theme, one collection, and a message for 2021’s aviation aspirations. I think the Pilot’s Watch collection from IWC is the brand’s best line of watches and seeing the new introductions only strengthened that belief. The star of the show was undoubtedly the stunning Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL concept. This modern aviation watch combines a unique construction allowing the watch to withstand forces up to 30,000g with a very clean almost minimalist dial. As a result of this clever choice, all the focus is directed to this unique construction.
Ben: 30,000g is a very high bar, even more so than the G-Shock. But I wouldn’t want to be doing anything that administers 30,000 g-forces on my wrist. Whatever that activity may be, I would like to avoid that altogether.
Jorg: Well, the XPL is a concept watch, so I will turn my attention to one of the new regular production models.
Sometimes less is more
The pick of the bunch was the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 with a blue dial. It’s a return to a smaller-sized 41mm Pilot’s Watch Chronograph closer to the models IWC gave us in the ’90s. We did have the IWC Spitfire Chrono from 2019 also with a 41mm case. But this was with a solid case-back and no bracelet option. IWC only gave us a 43mm regular model in steel with bracelet and transparent case-back — until now. IWC now introduces the Pilot’s Chronograph blue dial in 41mm with a contemporary cut. While 43mm is not necessarily a problem for me, a 41mm diameter more closely resembles the charming 39mm Flieger chronograph ref. 3706 from 1994.
Ben: I agree that IWC had its day in the ’90s to mid-2000s, but the upmarket shift still doesn’t sit right with me.
Jorg: Maybe with other models, but the Pilot’s Chronograph is the IWC above all the others I have always felt was on point with value. Ever since I got into watches some twenty years ago, it’s IWC Pilot collection that’s been unwavering in its appeal. I admire how the design allows for clear readability despite its relatively modest size. Being a pilot’s watch, it needs to tell you all you need to know at a fleeting glance. But even outside of the direct usage by aviators, it has to be wearable and work on a day-to-day basis. It’s why the ’90s version worked so well, and I feel this new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 recaptures that.
Great modern-day appeal
I had the chance to check out the new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 and go hands-on. The sizing was perfect, but perhaps even more impressive was thoroughly modern touches for quality of life. The 5-link stainless steel bracelet is an absolute joy to wear. Initially, I had doubts about the bracelet’s design and finishing with the link adjustment system’s complexity. Yet it does wear incredibly well on the wrist. But suppose you still prefer the more era-appropriate leather strap. In that case, IWC’s proprietary EasX-CHANGE system offers the opportunity to switch between the bracelet and strap — without sacrificing the option aftermarket straps.
As mentioned earlier, its 41mm Spitfire counterpart has more vintage appeal, but this new regular model feels like the watch’s perfect contemporary version. That tremendous blue dial is a brilliant backdrop for all the familiar elements to shine. I am very particular about colors, especially blue and green. But IWC casts a hue that nails the contrast between the white hour markers and hands, with a glowing sunburst effect offset with the circular graining of the sub-registers.
Ben: At this point, I couldn’t agree more with you, Jorg. IWC produces one of the most beautiful blue shades in the industry. I used to own the IWC Aquatimer Cousteau Divers Watch ref. 3548, and it’s the best blue watch I’ve ever seen. Shame that the movement was a very poor derivative of the ETA 2892 with an inefficient rotor.
IWC Caliber 69385
Speaking of automatic movements, inside the stainless-steel case, we find another significant update in the form of the IWC’s Caliber 69385. To realize this reduction in size for the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph, the brand had to scale a new movement to fit inside the case. This automatic column-wheel caliber is part of the 69000 family that also powers the current Portugieser line of watches.
The 4Hz movement offers a 46-hour power reserve and is visible through the sapphire case-back. As Rob explained in his introduction article, to maintain the proportional dial layout, IWC had to reorganize the sub-dials. The red running seconds hand, which had previously occupied the 9 o’clock register, moved to 6 o’clock. In its place, the 9 o’clock dial is now the elapsed 12-hour counter. I do not mind this change as the emblematic 6, 9, and 12 tri-compax layout with day and date indication is synonymous with the Pilot’s Chrono.
Ben: This was the perfect opportunity to switch to the more symmetrical 3, 6, 9 compax layout. Or, at least, move away from the Valjoux 7750 construction. I mean, why would you want to keep the association to an off-the-shelf caliber with an infamous rotor imbalance?
Jorg: My counter-question is why would IWC abandon something that fans of the watch associate with the Pilot’s Chronograph rather than the Valjoux movement? Overall, the new IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 feels like it nails the target as an aviation chronograph. But Ben still thinks the fussy Navitimer is still the ace of the skies.
Ben — Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43
Back with another Breitling on my side, and I feel I need to make amends since the last time out with the Top Time Bow-Tie. That watch lost out to the Zenith A385. I also took my personal Frecce Tricolori into war against the Tudor Black Bay Chrono S&G and still came out second best. Now I have to dig deep to big up the quintessential Breitling in the catalog. Luckily, I feel I have the backing of many aviation enthusiasts for the Navitimer.
Those veterans of the sky may also recall using a slide rule as a calculation tool to track various measurements. It’s well-known and quite prominent that the bezel of the Navitimer features this same bi-directionally rotating slide rule scale. But I’m not here to bore you with all the multiplication, division, and conversion capabilities this allows. Instead, I want to divulge an aspect of having this rotatable element that is often overlooked.
Jorg: Well, in actuality, I do like the Breitling Navitimer. Having said that, I would never think of buying the modern version. For me, the authentic charm of the Navi is in the models that not only rekindle the spirit of 20th Century aviation but also hail from that era. The enthusiasm around the Navitimer ref. 806 1959 Re-edition from 2019 indeed proves that it’s the specific vintage tones that gravitate the watch community. Meanwhile, the modern Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 only imitates its style but not the charm.
IWC takes a more future-forward approach with the new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 that still looks cutting edge. By voting for the IWC, you’re endorsing a design and construction that is untethered from heritage and thoroughly modern. As you rightfully stated, it is a modern aviation chronograph that will carry out the task it was designed for.
Ben: But will you be having fun while carrying out that task? The Navtimer gives you that sense of adventure. Will most people use the slide rule bezel for its intended purpose? Probably not. But then a mechanical watch is not needed in a modern aircraft. A smartwatch will carry out the necessary functions in a transocean flight. But only a Navitimer will carry out the journey in suave style against the IWC Pilot’s Chronograph 41.