When longtime IWC head honcho Georges Kern left his position at Richemont to become CEO of Breitling, some saw it as the latest salvo in the two Swiss brands’ historical duel for horological supremacy in the air. Here we explore in depth how both brands have made their marks on the history and evolution of pilots’ watches.
In contrast to dive watches, pilots’ watches do not have to meet any objective criteria. Good legibility under all light conditions is generally all that’s needed, and good design makes the watches what they are. A pilots’ watch looks like a pilots’ watch. But it’s precisely the design that shows the different approaches to pilots’ watches by IWC and Breitling. Both brands base their own unique designs on their long traditions and histories. In the case of IWC replica watches for sale, the company relies heavily on its Big Pilot’s Watch from 1940, which it, and other companies like A. Lange & Söhne, supplied to the German Air Force.
Typical features included the military-style triangle with two dots at 12 o’clock, sans-serif numerals (a plain, unadorned bar for the numeral 1), and dagger-shaped hands. Today these same features are found on every pilots’ watch made by IWC. Even the Mark XVIII follows this same family design – although its predecessor had different numerals and hands (the pilots’ watch Mark 11, built for the Royal Air Force in 1949). The only exceptions are the models dedicated to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his “Little Prince,” in which IWC uses serif numerals, elegant blue or brown dials, silver hands and polished bezels. A conical crown, which makes operation while wearing gloves easier, is found on many other IWC spitfire replica models.
But IWC really unleashes its functions. The collection ranges from a simple hand-wound watch to chronographs with and without split seconds, world-time watches, and perpetual calendars. And with its limited Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch 55, IWC even restores its original 55-mm diameter. It closely approximates the design of the original – with beige luminous material and a matte case – though it has a small seconds display (the original model had a central seconds hand).
IWC can also reveal its modern side. The brand’s Top Gun models have a matte-black ceramic case and a textile strap for a contemporary military look, while still maintaining other traditional features. For this reason, these watches are easily recognizable as IWCs. The Top Gun Miramar line presents another interesting variation of the design: a muted green dial, beige luminous material, a red hour track, a polished ceramic case and an olive-green textile strap come together to create an exciting mix of modern and retro elements.
Breitling can also look back on a long tradition of pilots’ watches. Today, its iconic Navitimer looks much as it did just a few years after its introduction in 1952, when it was given a light-colored dial. These chronographs, with their distinctive rotating slide-rule bezels, are available with numerals as well as markers. Both types are immediately recognizable as Navitimers. Traditionally, one can choose between a black leather strap with a lighter stitched seam and a seven-row metal bracelet with offset links.
IWC and Breitling interpret the pilots’ watch in different ways. IWC uses an iconic model from its past and rolls out a homogeneous collection of pilots’ watches with unmistakable features. Different colors and materials transform the lines and push them in different directions for an elegant or military look.
Both brands rely on distinctive features so it’s always immediately possible to recognize the model as an IWC or a Breitling. But where IWC tinkers with its design and continues to develop its look or make steps toward its origins, Breitling invents itself anew while still leaving its icon intact.