It was a wonderful, sunny day during the holidays in July 1912. On an airfield in Ambérieu-en-Bugey, in south-eastern France, a pilot, standing next to his single-engine aeroplane, wiped the sweat from his brow. The repairs were finished, and he could finally carry on with his flight.
A twelve-year-old boy on a bicycle approached and asked the pilot if he would take him for a spin. The airman, a seasoned pioneer of aviation, was impressed by the nerve of this youngster, who had managed to achieve something in a matter of seconds that most children can only dream of. He flew him twice over the airfield. The boy’s curiosity, his longing for adventure and his unquenchable thirst for knowledge would stay with him for a lifetime: as a pilot and world-
famous author, right up to his last flight from which he would never return. Speculation as to where he had come down ended only in 1998, when a fisherman found the French national hero’s bracelet in a net he pulled from the sea close to Marseilles. Some time later, pieces of wreckage were salvaged and identified as parts of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s aircraft.
In 2006, as part of a joint project between Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen and the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation, they were exhibited at a museum in Le Bourget near Paris. This much-lauded exhibition marked the start of a relationship based on mutual trust between Saint-Exupéry’s heirs and IWC that has lasted to this day.
THE ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY YOUTH FOUNDATION AND IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN
Since then, numerous special editions of IWC’s legendary Pilot’s Watches have been sold, with part of the proceeds going to the Foundation and its partner organizations. In addition, a valuable timepiece in platinum is auctioned every year with a single goal: to honour the legacy left by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a great humanist, and to give disadvantaged children access to an education. “Education is key in the struggle to eradicate illiteracy,” explains Olivier d’Agay, great-nephew of Saint-Exupéry and Director of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation. “This is why we sponsor a wide range of school and educational projects at a local level. Young people develop a new level of self-confidence, just like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He had to put up with countless setbacks until he finally held his pilot’s licence in his hands. His courage, tenacity and passion remain an example to us all to this day.” Georges Kern, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen, adds: “We believe everyone has a right to what schools can offer them. That’s why we have joined forces to help young people realize their dreams and to open up new perspectives for their future through knowledge and education. In the Antoine de Saint- Exupéry Youth Foundation, we are proud to have found a partner with a far-reaching international network.”
FIRST LITERARY VENTURES: “SOUTHERN MAIL”
Even if Saint-Exupéry first dreamed of flying as a twelve-year-old, his path to realizing this ambition was anything but straightforward. Born in 1900, Antoine grew up in Lyon and on his family’s properties in the south of France. It was here that he wangled his way into taking that first flight in 1912, an event which was commemorated with the launch of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint Exupéry (Ref. 3878) 100 years later. In 1917, Saint- Exupéry failed the literature part – of all things – for the entrance exam to the École navale in Lanvéoc, Brittany, and failed to get a place. He subsequently began an architec¬tural course, before dropping out in 1921 without a degree. He completed his military service and trained as an aircraft mechanic. However, he was turned down for training as a pilot because he had failed to complete the prep course. But Saint-Exupéry persevered and completed his pilot’s training by taking private flying lessons. In 1923, his first job was flying tourists over Paris. Stationed in a lonely stopover airstrip in Morocco, he wrote an autobiography, “Southern Mail”, in 1928. It was also the first novel ever to address humanity’s dream of flying, which had only recently been realized. IWC Schaffhausen and the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation celebrated the book with the Pilot’s Watch Automatic Edition Antoine de Saint Exupéry (Ref. 3201).
THE BREAKTHROUGH: “NIGHT FLIGHT” AND “WIND, SAND AND STARS”
In 1929, Saint-Exupéry went to Argentina to set up airmail and airfreight routes. He related his experiences as the man responsible for the first overnight mail flights in “Night Flight” (1931). In this novel, he describes the futile struggle of an airmail pilot against the impossible time constraints. Seventy-five years later, IWC Schaffhausen celebrated his memorable novel with the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph EditionAntoine de Saint Exupéry (Ref. 3717). The aviator watch was sepia-coloured, just like the flying suit that “Saint-Ex” used to wear.
From 1931, Saint-Exupéry took a job as an airmail pilot in western Africa, and in the following years led a colourful life as a pilot, advertising specialist, journalist and writer. In 1938, during an attempt to set a new record for the flight from New York to Tierra del Fuego, he crashed in Guatemalaand was seriously injured. While recovering in New York, he assembled a prize-winning volume of col¬lected stories entitled “Terre des Hommes” (“Wind, Sand and Stars”): these texts were published in 1939 and ex¬tolled immutable values such as comradeship, solidarity and humanity. It was perhaps Saint-Exupéry’s most im¬pressive eulogy to flying during the extreme conditions that pervaded those pioneering days. IWC celebrated this book in 2008 with the Pilot’s Watch UTC Edition Antoine de Saint Exupéry(Ref. 3261). The scenes of the narrative move from one continent and time zone to another: from the vast expanses of Patagonia and the icy wastes of the Cordilleras to the inhospitable regions of the Sahara. So what could have been more appropriate to honour this volume than a UTC (Universal Time Coordinated) edition, which shows two time zones simultaneously?
A BOOK FOR ETERNITY: “THE LITTLE PRINCE”
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Saint-Exupéry, by now a world-famous pilot, was attached to a reconnaissance squadron. Demobilized after the ceasefire of 1940, he obtained permission to return to active military service in 1943. This coincided with the publication of his greatest literary success, “The Little Prince”. This profound tale about the little boy with the golden hair is one of the best-selling books in world literature and has been translated into more than 260 languages and dialects. In 2013, IWC Schaffhausen marked the 70th anniversary of what was ostensibly a children’s book with two spectacular special editions.
The Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince” in 18-carat 5N gold (Ref. IW502802) has a moon phase display and a gold medallion that both depict the little prince, standing on his tiny asteroid and looking up at the star-studded night sky. The second aviator watch in honour of the tale is the Pilot’s Watch Mark XVII Edition “Le Petit Prince” in stainless steel (Ref. IW326506), whose midnight blue dial, much like the instruments in a cockpit, is reduced to the bare essentials, giving legibility absolute priority. One unique example of the Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince” (Ref. IW502801) in platinum was auctioned by Sotheby’s Geneva for a staggering CHF 173,000.
IWC and the Antoinede Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation used the proceeds to open two school buildings with their own library in Cambodia, providing an education to 1,200 children. On top of this, a school building with its own library was also constructed in the village of Roluos in Siem Reap province. The Foundation works closely with Sipar, a non-governmental organization that has fought a battle against illiteracy in Cambodia for the past 23 years. “‘The Little Prince’ is a passionate plea for comradeship and humanity, but also for the significance of having a mission, a duty and a responsibility in life,” explains Georges Kern, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen. “As a globally active corporation, we take our social responsibility very seriously, and our commitment is helping to increase literacy among disadvantaged children.”
THE LAST FLIGHT
Thanks to his fame, and despite having been relieved of active service on age grounds, Saint-Exupéry still managed to carry out a limited number of reconnaissance flights. On 31 July 1944, he took off on one such flight over the south of France, during which he disappeared without trace. In 2000, parts of his Lockheed P-38 Lightning were located on the bed of the Mediterranean. It is assumed that Saint-Exupéry, acting on his own initiative, wanted to take reconnaissance photographs of Marseilles. Seventy years after Saint-Exupéry’s last flight, IWC Schaffhausen honoured the great humanist and man of letters with three limited ver¬sions of the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “The Last Flight” (Ref. 3880). The platinum version (Ref. IW388005) was auctioned in 2014 for CHF 40,000, which was subsequently used to set up a library at the Pequeno Príncipe children’s hospital in Brazil. In April 2015, Brazilian super¬model and IWC brand ambassador Adriana Lima, together with Olivier d’Agay, opened the new facilities at the hospital, which specializes in heart operations, organ and bone transplants and cancer treatment. “IWC Schaffhausen’s commitment helps us to provide these sick chil-dren with good reading material, computers and e-books. Our aim is to motivate them to discover reading and culture and to encourage them to make more constructive use of their free time,” said d’Agay at the opening.
UNMISTAKABLY “SAINT EX”
Although the various Saint Exupéry special editions have encompassed different IWC Pilot’s Watches, they are all instantly recognizable as exclusive “Saint Ex” models. As Christian Knoop, Creative Director at IWC Schaffhausen, explains: “Over the years, we have managed to create an independent, unmistakable sub-brand in the Pilot’s Watch family. It comprises the IWC Antoine de Saint Exupéry spe¬cial editions with their typical sepia-coloured dials and original initial ‘A’ as well as the IWC Le Petit Prince special editions with their unmistakable blue dials. We also have the elaborate back engravings, which tell the emotional tales behind these watches.” The special editions are easilyidentified: there is neither too much nor too little detail. Or to put it in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry himself: “Perfection clearly does not arise when one has no more to add but when one can take no more away”.
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