As his hobby of flying evolves into a passion, IWC Collector Jan Ralph shares why he’s taking his timepieces along for the ride.
Do you remember your first encounter with IWC?
I’ve never been a big follower of timepieces but I’ve always loved classic looking styles. I remember browsing through Sotheby’s website one day and it was then that I discovered IWC had created one of the first pilot’s watches. Not long after, when I brought my Portugieser Chronograph Rattrapante (IW371211) to the boutique at ION Orchard (Singapore) for service, I was shown the Big Pilot’s Watch Spitfire in gold and I bought it. That became my first Pilot’s Watch.
IWC is a company with a heritage that’s deeply rooted in aviation. Do you have a go-to IWC watch for the cockpit?
It has mostly been the Big Pilot’s Watch Spitfire since I got my flying license last year. But I do love experimenting with different watches. Now I’m very much into the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Edition “Boutique London". That watch just seems to go so well with my plane. It’s not too showy and it’s very easy to read – something that’s very important when you’re inside the cockpit. I’ve never worn a perpetual calendar in the cockpit but I do have my eyes on the Aquatimer Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month Edition “50 Years Aquatimer” in Ceratanium® next [Jan reaches out to fish the watch from the tray in front of him, laughing].
When and where did you earn your pilot’s license?
In July 2018 in the US. It is a license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration because my plane’s registered in the US. I’ve been learning since 2002 when I lived in New York and, when we moved to the UK in 2006, I continued having lessons until 2009. The conditions then weren’t ideal. The cost of flying was very high and, of course, there was the great British weather [laughs]. I had clocked about 35 hours in the UK before moving to Singapore, where I discovered [aviation facility and social network] Wings over Asia. I was so excited to start flying again that I actually bought the plane first, in April 2018, before getting my license.
Do you remember your first experience sitting in the pilot’s seat?
It was the most amazing feeling ever! As a kid I was into air shows and model aircrafts – I had those hanging from my ceiling – so this desire to fly came very naturally. My dad actually paid for me to have a lesson at Goodwood when I was 14. But as much as I am excited, I still get scared because it’s not like you’re sitting on the ground. The hardest part is taking off and landing, but training, the books as well as the hours helped get that right. My son, AJ’s, first flight in Santa Monica recalled my own. Similar plane, similar colours and, like me, he was very excited.
In August, the Silver Spitfire will take off from Goodwood for a 43,000km flight around the world. What does an expedition of this scale, involving such an iconic aircraft, mean to you?
I immediately think “how do they do it without modern avionics?”, without, you know, all the equipment we have on planes today. Flying it would be an amazing experience, but it’s not as easy as someone would think. It’s like riding a dirt bike – great fun, but completely challenging.
Your wife’s grandfather was a Spitfire pilot; the father of your flying instructor in Singapore was a Spitfire pilot; and you’ve said that the Spitfire is very symbolic to you as a Brit and pilot. What is it about this particular aircraft that makes you tick?
I get shivers just thinking about the Supermarine Spitfire; its elliptical shaped wings, the sound of its engine. It’s a beautiful piece of machinery and truly one of the best planes ever to grace the skies.
It’s an honour to be married to the granddaughter of a gentleman who flew the Spitfire during the war. Seletar in Singapore, where my plane’s based, was one of the RAF’s last outposts for its Spitfires, and the father of my flying instructor, John, was one of its pilots. John’s office today overlooks where his father used to fly Spitfires out. It’s simply incredible.
Your son has completed his first flying lessons and we heard that he may continue those lessons in Singapore. Flying seems to run in the family. Is it the experience of it all or is it the freedom it evokes?
I’m just smiling thinking of flying right now. Flying doesn’t just get you from one place to another – it gets you where people can’t. It’s simply an amazing experience. Then there are the people you meet, and it doesn’t matter which walk of life you’re on. We could sit for hours talking and each other’s landings. If my wife were there though she’d find it extremely boring.
Is there a flight to, or over a particular destination that you’d like to attempt in the future?
Tioman Island in Malaysia is my current favourite. It has a tricky runway to land on and you need an endorsement to do that. But after that’s done, a short 10-minute walk takes you to the beach and you’re having local food. We usually fly back to Singapore wet in our swim shorts. What’s next? I’d love to go on a tour of Australia – that’s my mission.
You are an enthusiast when it comes to cars, yachts, planes and fine watches. What drives your passion for these objects? Is it craftsmanship or performance, or could it be the sheer adrenaline from the experience?
These objects are like works of art to me. When I work, I work very long hours, so it’s great to be surrounded by nice things, especially when the markets you’re trading aren’t being so gentle on you.
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