IWC launched a new Spitfire squadron in its collection of pilots’ watches at that debuted in 2019. A self-winding movement from the new 32000 family of manufacture calibers debuts inside the case of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Black Aces. We tested one in this feature from the WatchTime archives, with original photos by Olaf Köster.
“Haven’t I seen this watch somewhere before?” You might be thinking this when you first set eyes on the classic IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Black Aces. And you wouldn’t be mistaken because its design is inspired by the legendary Mark 11 from 1948.
In the late 1940s, IWC responded to an invitation from the British government by developing a special wristwatch for Royal Air Force pilots. Production began in 1948 and the first timepieces were developed in November 1949. The model remained in airborne service until 1981. It encased IWC’s equally popular hand-wound Caliber 89, which has a soft iron inner case to protect it against the adverse influences of magnetic fields. The boldly designed dial is clearly legible by day and by night. The Mark XII with automatic movement and date followed, but connoisseurs had to wait until 1994 before it finally debuted.
The name “Spitfire” first appeared at the turn of the millennium with a limited series of 1,000 watches. IWC began manufacturing a series of pilots’ watches named after the legendary aircraft in 2003. With its pale dial, it was regarded as “the more elegant Mark,” but it was somewhat overshadowed by the 14th incarnation of the classic pilots’ watch, which was named Mark XV. Ten years later, the old Spitfire – now a large pilots’ watch with perpetual calendar and a dark dial – approached the classic Mark line, but inconspicuously disappeared under its wearer’s shirt cuff as an elegant three-handed watch with a pale dial. After the Mark XVIII of 2016 and the Big Pilot’s Watch Spitfire of the same year, which were virtually indistinguishable, a symbiosis of the two seems almost logical, while the Mark leaves quietly. The IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Black Aces Mark XVIII can still be found in IWC’s digital catalogs, but only as the edition “Le Petit Prince.”
Caliber 79320 (based on ETA Valjoux 7750) is now ticking inside Le Petit Prince, which sells for $5,250. The new Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire is equipped with new manufacture Caliber 32110. IWC presents two versions: our tested watch with stainless-steel case, black dial and green textile strap for $4,350; and a version with a bronze case, green dial and dark brown calfskin strap for $4,900. These are not only the base models in the Spitfire collection, but they also embody the entry-level timepieces leading into the world of the IWC manufacture. The matte stainless-steel case with its narrow, steep bezel and massive screw-in back has a moderate diameter of 39 mm and is therefore one mm smaller than the case of the Mark XVIII. The height is 10.86 mm, which gives it a sporty look and is also an appropriate thickness for a classic pilots’ watch. Manufacture Caliber 32110 contributes to the case’s height: the movement is 4.2 mm thick. Its diameter is 28.2 mm. Furthermore, Caliber 32110 is equipped with increased protection against magnetic fields thanks to a soft iron inner case and an additional inner back, a detail that was already included in the Mark 11.
My first thought upon receiving this watch for review and double checking its price was that the IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire is a very nice value, almost to the point that I considered shifting gears and writing this post as a Value Proposition, because I think it could certainly be covered from that angle. It makes me very happy to write that, because it takes me back to a time early in my watch journalism career, in the mid-2000s, when one of the qualities I most often associated with IWC was value for money. After all, IWC is the brand that gave the watch world its first affordable splits-second chronograph and an affordable-ish grand complication. The no-nonsense IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Black Aces tool-watch style that was there from the early days feels especially present in this product. As configured here, the Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire costs just $4,450, and for that you get a whole heck of a lot.