I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with two exceptional watches – the IWC Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar and Breguet’s Tradition Independent Chronograph. Two completely different experiences for sure, with one that theoretically lets you set and forget for decades while the other requires input to keep it running.
On first glance, I couldn’t find the words to describe the hand-wound Breguet that’s inspired by Breguet’s Souscription pocket watches from the early 19th century. After wearing it for a few hours, I got into a discussion with someone who gave me the perfect description. He said, “it’s like looking at all of the rides at an amusement park, all at once.” Exactly! The dial is full of energy with a tapestry of symmetrical gears, arcs, jewels and sub-dials. It’s easy to see the Ferris wheel, a roller coaster or two, and even a couple of those rides that spin around furiously. Amazingly, it’s neither cluttered nor overindulgent. Instead, the dial is elegant and unified, as if the cohesive design emerged from a single artist’s vision.
Activating the 20-minute chronograph really sets the watch in motion. If you hadn’t noticed that there are two balance wheels before, the fast beat of the one positioned at 8 o’clock will surely catch your eye now. The chronograph is powered by a flexed blade spring which re-coils to provide 20 minutes of power every time it’s reset. Meanwhile, as the right-side balance wheel marches on at a slightly slower pace, the bottom half of the dial seems to illuminate as light catches the jewels underneath the oscillating wheels and sweep of the center-mounted blued seconds hand. Mesmerizing, for sure.
All the finishing you would expect on a watch of this class is present. The upper half of the dial displays three of the watch’s four mechanical functions – timekeeping on the solid guilloche-patterned sub-dial at 12 o’clock, an arc to the left for the 20-minute chronograph and another to the right for the power reserve indicator. The fourth is a small on/off indicator at 6 o’clock that tells you whether the chronograph is engaged. Blued steel hands and screws, colorful jewels and pops of rose gold and silver contrast beautifully against the grey plates that fill the dial. The amusement park continues on the back with a clear view of all of the movement’s intricate components where, as Breguet states, even the most modest parts receive a sand-blasted surface finish. The 44mm rose gold case has coin-edge detailing on the profile along with two screw-down pushers and the crown. While it is a little larger and thicker – 13.95mm — than what I usually wear, it was perfectly comfortable on my wrist.
The IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar is, unsurprisingly, quite big. At 46.2mm, the dial has a mission control quality that conveys a lot of information without sacrificing legibility. The blue sunray dial is complemented by white Arabic numbers and markers along with three red-tipped hands on each of the sub-dials. Propellor-style hands loaded with Superleminova glow in low-light conditions along with the applied hour markers.
In addition to a four-digit year display at 7:30 there are four sub-dials:
12:00: A double moonphase indicator showing the moon in northern and southern hemispheres simultaneously.
3:00: Date is displayed around the outer ring and the power reserve indicator is positioned on the inner ring.
6:00: This sub-dial shows the month.
9:00: The outer ring displays the day of the week and the inner ring ticks away seconds.
Unlike some perpetual calendars, the Big Pilot is intuitive and easy to set. Everything is controlled by the single oversized screw-down crown. The first position is for winding. Another pull lets you set the calendar, which automatically adjusts the moonphase too, and one more pull adjusts the time. That’s it. Simple and precise control that accounts for leap years and months of varying lengths with no adjustments until the year 2100. And don’t worry about having to adjust the moonphase indicator. It only deviates by 1 day every 577 years.
All of this amazing functionality originates in the IWC caliber 52615. 386 parts come together in a highly decorated movement that’s dotted with bursts of color. The movement is one of legendary IWC watchmaker Kirk Klauss’ creations, which first appeared in the IWC Da Vinci in 1985. An exhibition caseback exposes the sweep of the rotor and lets you appreciate the fusion of expert engineering and watchmaking artistry.
The Big Pilots Perpetual Calendar is a permanent part of the IWC lineup. It is the latest iteration on a concept with 37 PC predecessors. The steel-cased variant is priced at $29,900 and there is also a ceramic Rodeo Drive version for $33k. Both are fitted with a calfskin strap with steel rivets.
Bobby Frank is a freelance writer and musician based in Nashville. He’s been an avid watch collector since discovering a sample case full of early digital watches at his father’s office in the late 1970s. Current favorites include the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight, Zenith Chronomatster and Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Skelet One. A timekeeper to his core, Bobby plays the drums in several bands that perform across the Southeast including Tennessee Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute band.
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