Sometimes you just really want a big watch… and, apparently, other times you want a huge one. Have no doubt that this 55mm-wide IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 timepiece is barely wearable in most instances. I mean, yes, you can rather easily (and surprisingly comfortably) attach the titanium case to your wrist on the plush leather strap – but this is a pure novelty watch through and through.
It’s sort of a shame that timepieces like this need to cost so much money. That means only a handful of well-funded weirdo collectors will be able to enjoy (from time to time) a massive modern timepiece such as this that is based on historic military pilot watches built for a certain German army around a certain global conflict during the early middle of the 20th century. Circus size and controversial inspirations are probably a good thing when you want to sex up a wearable desk clock. On that note, the IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 would make an excellent desk (or dashboard) clock. Unfortunately, despite the large case size, it doesn’t have a long power reserve.
If anything, the biggest let down in a timepiece such as this that IWC didn’t make better use of the space inside. With all that case real estate, they could have easily included some movement with a power reserve of at least week or more. I mean, the standard IWC Big Pilot’s watch is both an automatic and has a power reserve of about a week. Instead, IWC preferred to go an alternative route and get a bit more vintage chic with the mechanism inside of this reference 5104 timepiece.
For the movement, IWC chose their in-house-made caliber 98300 which operates at 2.5Hz (18,000bph) and has a power reserve of just 46 hours, being manually wound. The idea here is likely that IWC wanted to convey the most pure sense of “old-time winding” since on most accounts the caliber 98300 (despite its contemporary construction) is based on rather old horological architecture. What it lacks in things like performance, complexity, and convenience, it makes up for in feeling like you are winding up an old timepiece – which is exactly the feeling you want while driving around in your modern (likely German) automobile enjoying electronic… everything… as you appreciate the tick tick tick of your timepiece inspired by yesterday’s yesterday.
Back in January 2016 during SIHH, I debuted this reference 5104 IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 along with its smaller sibling the reference 5103 Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 48. Both are limited editions, and both are inspired by the historic 52-caliber T. S. C timepiece. That original from World War II was also 55mm wide but in steel, not nicely machined titanium. This more rough Big Pilot’s Heritage 55 is the lower production of the two models, but from a wearability and movement perspective the reference 5103 IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage 48 watch is a better choice. Not only does it have a much more interesting in-house-made IWC 59215 movement (a 59000 family movement stripped of the automatic rotor and power reserve indicator, but still operating at 4Hz with 8 days of power reserve), but it is also wearable… and costs less too. Unlike this ref. 5104 model that is limited to 100 pieces, the 5103 (full reference number is IW510301) is limited to 1000 pieces – and that’s probably a good idea since there will be more demand.
I really like the 5103, but I didn’t get a chance to see it hands-on. I did, however, get some wrist time with the 5104. Despite being an amusing timepiece, the impact of wearing it is impressive. IWC once again got it right when it comes to a pilot-style watch dial in terms of finishing and colors. The blued hands are a nice touch and off-white luminant along with refined dial design make for a very classy look. At 10mm smaller, it would make for a great wear. Oh wait, I mean 7mm smaller. Still upset IWC didn’t send in the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 48 for me to play with (clearly).
IWC makes it clear that this reference 5104 watch is “aimed primarily at collectors and lovers of authentic pilot’s watches.” Aren’t the majority of people buying expensive mechanical timepieces collectors? I suppose not everyone can have one of the original pieces from 1940. Perhaps IWC should make the timepiece part of a collector’s kit that includes a bomber’s jacket, scarf, hat, gloves, and goggles. What the hell, just double the price and call it a kit. I really don’t think enough “collectors’ watches” come with enough lifestyle accessories. Doesn’t IWC work with Santoni and enough other fine leather makers to make something like that happen?
Speaking of straps, attached to the IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 is a thick brown calfskin strap that is designed like a cross between a pilot and NATO strap. That means the strap itself is very long (if needed), which is sort of good because I think “back-in-the-day” timepieces such as this were often worn on the thigh (while a pilot was seated in the cockpit, that is). That makes me happy, as I don’t find enough thigh-sized straps available – especially not at IWC quality.
I don’t believe IWC will have any trouble selling out of these 5104 timepieces given the limited production and the sheer bombastic wrist presence they have. Whatever the IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage 55 watch lacks in practicality, it certainly makes up for by being a fun conversation piece. For everyone else, there is the more practical (and $1,400 cheaper) 48mm-wide reference 5103. Price for the IW510401 IWC Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55 is $14,800.