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IWC Schaffhausen

The Journal

Tribute to 3705: For those who missed the 90s

The IWC JOURNAL spoke with IWC Museum Curator David Seyffer, and Associate Director of Product Management Technics Walter Volpers about the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph “3705”, both the original model and the new one.


It was received with raised eyebrows, discretely overlooked and then bluntly ignored for decades - until a group of collectors rediscovered it. Today, the “Black Flieger” (Ref. 3705), with its cutting-edge ceramic case, is a true cult watch. IWC is paying tribute to this young icon with an exclusive e-launch of the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tribute to 3705” (Ref. 387905). 



The “IWC Fliegerchronograph Keramik” from 1994 has turned into a rare collector’s item. Some call it “a cult watch”, some call it “a neo-vintage icon”. Do you agree?

David Seyffer: Absolutely, yes. The original watch is not that old, but it has a rare vintage character. It was launched in 1994 as the first Pilot’s Watch with a ceramic case, and only the second ceramic case in IWC’s history. We produced only 999 pieces plus one prototype, but after that it remained mostly in oblivion for the next two decades. But then, four or five years ago, all of a sudden watch collectors and IWC enthusiasts rediscovered it and made it the icon that it is today. 


Does the new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tribute to 3705” (Ref. IW3879905) have the potential to become a cult watch, as well?

Walter Volpers: That’s a difficult question, and I can only give my own point of view. An icon becomes an icon through time. A company cannot produce a cult watch. We have to allow our fans to decide if a watch becomes an icon. And that’s the biggest challenge faced by product development. We have done our homework and created a truly beautiful watch: it’s the perfect size and features a state of the art materials; it’s equipped with our manufacture caliber 69, which is a high-performance chronograph movement with a bidirectional pawl-winding system and a power reserve of 46 hours. And of course, we also took important design DNA into consideration. As a product developer, I think we did everything right. The “Tribute to 3705 has all the potential to become an icon.


David Seyffer: In the history of watches, there have been many models that initially failed or were overlooked but then went on to become icons. Just take a look at the first Portugieser. In the 1940s people weren’t interested in large wristwatches, so it was discontinued. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the Portugieser was rediscovered and experienced a revival. This shows how once again IWC was ahead of its time. The same happened with the ref. 3705: The ugly duckling became a swan. And that’s what collecting watches is all about. 

Let’s go back in time. How was the “Black Flieger” received back in the mid-1990s?

David Seyffer: The “problem” was that it came in a ceramic case. Nobody in the 90s regarded ceramic as haute horlogerie or high luxury. “How dare you use such a material?” they said back then. As a watch manufacturer in the 1990s, releasing a luxury watch in a ceramic case was a risky decision. But it makes total sense in hindsight. Because we have introduced the material within our collection of “tool watches”. And the first clients who bought a “Black Flieger” really wanted to have such a tool watch in their lives. For them, it was a piece of nostalgia on their wrists.


Walter Volpers: To better understand the context in which we launched the Fliegerchronograph nearly thirty years ago, we need to understand the difference between luxury and haute horlogerie. Luxury uses scarcity as main driver. Haute horlogerie is craftsmanship, manual work, engineering and quality. In 1994 we introduced a very industrialized material that could only be produced using dedicated machines, and that watchmakers could no longer create or adapt themselves. So in a sense, it took the romantic and mythical aspect out of watchmaking, and some people didn’t like this.


Have people become more accepting toward tool watches and using innovative materials in watchmaking?

Walter Volpers: The general attitude has definitely changed. Nowadays people are more open to sharing their thoughts and innovative ideas, and with the internet and globalization it’s a lot easier to access information. So it’s not only more accepted to stand out of the crowd, but it compels companies to think outside the box while maintaining and upholding tradition. I think the biggest challenge of today is finding ways to unite tradition and innovation. 





Tell us a little bit about the new case material used in the “Tribute to 3705” in Ceratanium®.

Walter Volpers: IWC has produced black watches as early as the 1980s with the Ocean BUND diving watches in titanium that was launched in 1984/85. These watches were black due to a special coating which would sometimes chip off if the watch was struck by another object. IWC has developed and patented a black material that is based on a special alloy of titanium and ceramics, which means that it is resistant to chipping. Like bread that darkens when baked, zirconium oxidizes and turns black. Ceratanium® combines the best qualities of both materials: it’s scratch-resistant like ceramic and light and tough like titanium. 


As a historian, which features of the original “Black Flieger” were you happiest to find in the “Tribute to 3705”?

David Seyffer: What is satisfying is that with this new interpretation, we keep the tradition alive. I’m happy that our designers and product management made sure to stick with the shape and the black color. The original 3705 was so wonderfully understated and struck a perfect balance between industrial robustness and subtle elegance. It was amazing... and so stylish! As a historian, when I look back at what was happening in the world of watchmaking in the 1990s, it feels like the “Black Flieger” came from another planet because it was so straightforward.

It was all about taking a risk. And that’s what IWC still does to this day. 

The newly-released Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tribute to 3705” (Ref. 387905) is available in a limited run of 1000 pieces, exclusively through IWC.com.

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