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IWC Schaffhausen

Le Petit Prince - Dreams and watches

Georges Kern, CEO of IWC-Schaffhausen, understands well the unique link between IWC watches and storytelling. As he says, “Today, people do not buy a luxury watch because it tells the time. They buy it because it inspires them, because it tells a story.” Indeed, the purchase of any luxury item involves strong emotional underpinnings. IWC’s emphasis on creating stories and dreams, consistent with its attractive and technical timekeeping products, has been a core element in its success. 


Nowhere is that nexus more ably demonstrated than in the relationship between IWC and the Fondation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Starting in 2005, IWC entered into a partnership with the Saint-Exupéry-d’Agay Estate whereby the heirs of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and IWC would collaborate in various ways. IWC would support the Fondation’s goals of ensuring that the famous Frenchman’s humanist ideas would remain alive. The Fondation, in turn, would support certain of IWC’s endeavors, especially relating to its interest in aviation and its pilots’ watches. 


It was, from the onset, a marriage that in many ways was made in heaven. The recurrent themes of aviation and dreams melded together to create very special projects. The first IWC product of this collaboration was a Saint-Exupéry pilot’s chronograph, Reference IW3717, with a retro style and post-modern elements. It was a resounding success. 

Over the years, IWC produced several other limited edition pilot watches based on the de Saint-Exupéry collaboration, all with a characteristic retro style. Evoking concepts of history and adventure of early aviation, here was a series of products that caused watch collectors’ hearts to beat faster. Here was a product that distinguished itself not only for its technical elements but also evoked dreams.


Saint-Exupéry was both a man of dreams and adventure, a writer, poet, journalist, and aviator. He was born Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry in 1900 to an aristocratic family. He became a commercial pilot before World War II and worked airmail routes in Europe, Africa, and South America. Saint-Exupéry then joined the French Airforce at the outbreak of World War II and subsequently became demobilized. Thereafter, he traveled to the United States and wrote three of his most important works before joining the Free French Airforce in North Africa. Saint-Exupéry then disappeared on a mission in July, 1944, and believed to have died then. 

Saint-Exupéry’s most famous work is the novella Le Petit Prince or, in English, The Little Prince. The Little Prince is the fourth most translated book in the world, having been translated into 250 languages and dialects. It was voted the best book of the 20th Century in France and has sold over 140 million copies worldwide.


The story in The Little Prince is a story of dreams. Its narrator, a pilot, talks of being stranded in the desert beside his crashed aircraft, which clearly parallels Saint-Exupéry’s own 1935 experience in the Sahara Desert. In the novella, however, the stranded pilot meets a young prince who has fallen to earth from a tiny asteroid. The story is one of dreams but also a philosophical work. Its main theme can be encapsulated with this quote: “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.” 

The first IWC product of this collaboration was a Saint-Exupéry pilot’s chronograph, Reference IW3717, with a retro style and post-modern elements

This poetic theme, equally philosophic, relates to us on many levels. It also relates to much of what fine watchmaking is about, particularly when intricate movements are hidden inside cases and watches are used in adventures, such as the daring flights in the 1930’s. Above all else, watches are best understood not just intellectually, but with the heart. It is perhaps for that reason that the marketing themes so effectively employed by IWC-Schaffhausen have so well succeeded.


The epitome of that success may well be the “Le Petit Prince” models produced by IWC, starting in 2013. What is especially interesting here is the synthesis of a utilitarian tool watch – a pilot’s watch – and the element of fantasy. Unlike virtually any other watch company, IWC brings together these two disparate elements in a way that reflects every watch collector’s best dreams.


The first Le Petit Prince model, Reference IW3265-06, was based upon the very simple, basic Mark XVII time-only pilot’s watch. However, this model had a blue sunburst dial, evoking the mystery of the sky at night, and an engraved back with an image of the little prince. It quickly sold out as did another 2013 Le Petit Prince model, a Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar, one of which was platinum and 750 were in steel. That model also had the characteristic reflective blue dial representing the sky and evoking dreams, plus a special medallion depicting the Little Prince on the rotor, viewable from the back of the watch. 



Two additional Le Petit Prince models were introduced in 2014. One was a basic chronograph Pilot’s watch, Reference IW3777-06. This also had the characteristic blue dial of the other Le Petit models, but was coupled here with a closed (non-see through) back engraved with an image of the Little Prince. The other 2014 model was a Big Pilot’s Watch, Reference IW5009-08, which paid homage to the Little Prince with the special blue dial and back engraving.


In 2015, IWC introduced two further new Le Petit Prince models, the first being a double chronograph or rattrapante, Reference IW3718-07, and the second being another Big Pilot’s Watch, Reference IW5009-09, which was a 5N gold version of the 2014 model. The double chronograph version, called Le Voyage du Petit Prince, had a characteristic blue mirrored dial but this time adorned with stars, and its back had a special engraving with stellar locations from the novella. 


In 2016, four new models of Le Petit Prince were introduced by IWC, which clearly reflects how an idea that was born in 2006 and introduced as a model in 2013 has significantly expanded. The first of these models was Reference IW5009-16, a Big Pilot’s watch in a limited edition in steel, which has the new IWC caliber 51111 movement. Next was Reference IW3270‑04, a Mark XVIII, and also there was Reference IW3777-14, another Le Petit Prince chronograph but with an in-house movement. The fourth and final Le Petit Prince model in 2016 was a limited 5N gold edition of 250 Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar, Reference IW5027-01. The annual calendar model here has a very special and beautiful rotor: rather than a medallion on the rotor, the entire rotor, as seen through the display case back, has a fanciful design.


Over the past four years, the following Le Petit Prince Pilot’s Watches have been produced by IWC. For reference, a chart follows: 

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “Make your life a dream, and a dream a reality.” Every watch collector can buy one of these watches and be constantly reminded of his or her dreams. These watches tell a story.

There is no doubt that the Le Petit Prince models from IWC have been a resounding success, even if they do not reach the millions of editions sold of the novella La Petit Prince. There are many reasons for this success, but perhaps the most telling is that the models represent a combination of technology and poetry. These watches evoke the history and adventure of aviation, and also the dreams represented by the unique story told by Saint-Exupéry. These watches, perhaps unlike any other watches by any company, represent far more than mechanical time pieces, although they are beautiful and technically perfect these watches also represent and evoke our dreams.


As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “Make your life a dream, and a dream a reality.” Every watch collector can buy one of these watches and be constantly reminded of his or her dreams. These watches tell a story. 

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IWC Schaffhausen