Date — 16 January, 2012
In 2012, the year of the Pilot’s Watches, IWC Schaffhausen is proud to unveil the new products from its Spitfire collection. In terms of design, finishing, materials and, needless to say, technology, the new Spitfire models are indeed off to a flying start. Taking centre stage is the digital date display of the perpetual calendar, inspired by cockpit instrumentation like the altimeter.
The first Spitfire prototype took off on its maiden flight on 5th March 1936. The Air Ministry was in raptures: the new plane was “a true aeronautical thoroughbred”. At the same time, about 800 kilometres away as the crow flies, in the Swiss town of Schaffhausen, a group of designers and watchmakers were finishing a completely different type of prototype: the IWC Special Pilot’s Watch. That same year, the first IWC Pilot’s Watch was unveiled to the public.
The aircraft and timepiece not only have their years of creation in common but the two original models also brought revolutionary new mechanics and functional design to their respective fields. The Spitfire, a technological and aerodynamic masterpiece, was to become a true legend. Over 20,000 units and 24 different versions of the Spitfire were produced in its illustrious career – a figure that has remained unequalled in Great Britain to this day. With its first Pilot’s Watch in the mid 1930s, IWC Schaffhausen was reacting to the demands placed on timekeeping in the air. The movement was adjusted for temperature extremes and, in view of the strong magnetic fields in the cockpit, the escapement was nonmagnetic. The black dial, with its high-contrast, luminescent displays, has left a lasting impression on the cockpit-style design, still popular today for classical pilot’s watches.
Outstanding technology and compelling design
In 2003, IWC Schaffhausen launched a Pilot’s Watch line that took not only its name from the Spitfire but also reflected the same elegant lines and outstanding technology of the legendary single-propeller aircraft. Now, the designers and technicians have subjected the Spitfire watches to a thorough overhaul. And the result is impressive: with its modernized design, new features and IWC-manufactured movements, these timepieces are preparing for a vertical take-off. The Spitfire Pilot’s Watches have always been extremely stylish. The materials chosen for the two new models – stainless steel and 18-carat red gold – lend support to this assertion. The cases are satin-finished, sandblasted and polished by hand. The result is a vibrant interplay of shiny, silky matte and structured surfaces reminiscent of the metallic sheen of the legendary aircraft. The slate-coloured dial with its sunpattern finish helps to give the watch its dynamic face. If the watch is tilted, changing the angle at which incident light strikes it, the light rays reflected by the polished surface move in a circular direction.
It took a team of IWC watchmakers and design engineers no less than 4 years to master this technical challenge
Digital meets analogue
The Spitfire Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month (Ref. 379103) with its IWC-manufactured 89800-calibre movement is testimony to the on-going creativity of IWC’s designers. The perpetual calendar alone, which is mechanically programmed until 2100, is a watchmaking masterpiece. And the digital date and month display, with its extra-large numerals, is not only wonderful to look at: it is also, in itself, a conclusive demonstration of IWC’s achievements in Haute Horlogerie. The reason for this is simple: it takes a complicated mechanical act of force to advance four display discs at the end of the month and, thanks to the digital leap year display, no fewer than five discs synchronously at the end of the year. Obviously this must have no noticeable effect on the watch’s accuracy, even if the tension in the spring is almost exhausted or if the chronograph is running at the same time.
Four years’ development
It took a team of IWC watchmakers and design engineers no less than 4 years to master this technical challenge. They developed a mechanism known as the quick-action switch, to store the energy separately. Every night, when the date display moves forward, the sophisticated mechanism taps a little of the energy, stores it and then discharges it precisely at the end of the month when the date and month discs advance. The same happens at the end of the year when the leap year disc also needs to be advanced. As a result, the dial of the Spitfire Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month turns the beginning of every month and every New Year’s Eve into a special event in its own right. Needless to say, the calendar’s sophisticated mechanism, programmed until 1 March 2100, even takes the leap day of the 29th of February in its stride every 4 years.
Digital date display in the pantheon of great IWC watchmaking inventions
The perpetual calendar with its large digital date and month display takes its rightful place among IWC Schaffhausen’s great technological inventions. Among others, these include the Pallweber system, magnetic field protection, Pellaton winding, the 7-day power reserve or the use of titanium and ceramic in watchmaking. Back in 1885, the Schaffhausen-based manufacturer was integrating the Pallweber system into the first watches with digital hour and minute displays. In the aftermath of the quartz age, many people today prefer an analogue time display. But numerals have established themselves as the standard solution for the date. It is neater, easier to read and, in the Spitfire Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month, also has a certain understatement: who would imagine that a mechanical perpetual calendar lies concealed behind the extra-large numerals on the dial?
One of IWC’s most outstanding innovations regarding the timepiece is undoubtedly the analogue display of stopped times between 1 minute and 12 hours: they are shown together on a single subdial, where they can be read off just like the normal time of day. Another first for this watch family is the rotor in the shape of an elegant Spitfire silhouette, which can be observed through the sapphire-glass back.
IWC-manufactured movement for chronographs
The engineers decided to equip the Spitfire Chronograph in red gold (Ref. 387803) and stainless steel (Ref. 387802, 387804) with the 89365-calibre chronograph movement manufactured by IWC. Apart from increasing the watch’s power reserve to 68 hours, it accommodates a stopwatch function with minutes and seconds, in addition to a flyback function. IWC’s designers have modified the date window to make it look more like a cockpit instrument: with its vertically arranged numerals, it is now reminiscent of an altimeter. The current date is indicated by a striking red triangular index, by now a typical design feature of IWC’s Pilot’s Watches and inspired by the signal red elements on an aircraft’s instrument panel.
The metal bracelet for the Reference 387804 is fitted with a newly developed fine adjustment clasp, which permits fast, easy, and above all, exact fitting to the wearer’s wrist. To lengthen the wristband, the wearer simply pushes the IWC button in the folding clasp. This allows the bracelet to be pulled apart, in six steps, up to 6 millimetres. To shorten it, the bracelet is simply pushed together to the desired length. The design of all the pin buckles and folding clasps is slightly more striking in order to match the larger diameter of the case.
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