The sea and sky represent a harsh environment for watches but IWC-Schaffhausen has made their reputation creating timepieces that are a match for the most challenging conditions. The latest edition to their stable of dauntless thoroughbreds is a group of watches that honour the traditions of super-ace fighter pilots in the US and UK.

[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]WC has been making rugged timepieces for pilots and their passengers since the mid-1930s and their watches have always been designed to incorporate the best features of aircraft instruments, offering outstanding legibility by day and night.

The IWC Special Pilot’s Watch, launched in 1936, had a distinctive black dial that was set off by striking luminescent hands and numerals. Outstanding technical features of the IWC Special Pilot’s Watch included a shock- protected balance wheel bearing and a non-magnetic escapement.

By 1940 the watch was being offered in a 55-millimetre diameter version. The Big Pilot’s Watch 52 T. S. C. of 1940 enabled pilots and navigators to synchronize their watches with split-second precision. From 1948 onwards the company began to make the Mark 11 for the UK’s Royal Air Force, which established itself as the best-known IWC Pilot’s Watch of them all.

Its movement was enclosed in a soft-iron inner case to shield the mechanism from magnetic fields and the Royal Air Force used it successfully for over 30 years.

With such a rich tradition it’s unsurprising that IWC continues to be an innovator in the field of pilot’s watches, offering five new models at the recent Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva as part of its “Top Gun” collection inspired by the elite pilots who pass out from the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School in Fallon, Nevada.

Men and women who successfully complete this course are part of a tiny elite with lightning fast reactions, exceptional courage and the ability to master state-of-the-art technology while accelerating to 300 kilometres per hour in a few seconds for take off and then hurtling skywards at twice the speed of sound.

To cope with these stresses IWC developed a watch with high-tech ceramic material for the case and titanium for the crown and controls. With these materials IWC Pilot’s watches have withstood forces of up to 30g for minutes at a time.

The frontrunner among this year’s new pilot watches is the Big Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Miramar. The watch comes in matte grey, beige and green, the first time these colours have been used by IWC. The watch combines the clear-cut instrument look of the 1940s with ultra-modern watch technology from the 21st century. Fully wound, the IWC-manufactured 51111-calibre movement consisting of 311 components will keep the movement running for 7 days.

The Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun also comes with a wealth of complex technological features that include a perpetual calendar with four-digit year display, moon phase display and 7-day power reserve. Working away inside the black ceramic case is one of IWC’s largest and most efficient automatic winding systems.

If the pilots of Top Gear School are a legend then those who flew the Spitfire during the Second World War are the stuff of myth and magic. In 2003, IWC launched a Spitfire Pilot’s Watch line that sought to reflect the elegance and outstanding technology of this legendary single- propeller aircraft. Now, the brand’s has produced a streamlined design and new features for the line and all the Spitfires are now fitted with IWC-manufactured calibres and gold and stainless steel cases that are machined by hand.

The Spitfire Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month is the first IWC Pilot’s Watch to show the date and month digitally in the form of four large numerals that emphasize the instrument appearance that is an essential part of IWC’s DNA. The perpetual calendar is a watch-making masterpiece that took more than four years to develop.

It takes a complicated mechanical act of force to advance four display discs at the end of the month and, thanks to the digital leap year display, no fewer than five discs synchronously at the end of the year.

With these new pilot watches IWC have taken their tradition of making fine timepieces for flyers to new heights.  With their classic features that hark back to IWC’s roots and with new technologies that hint at extraordinary things to come the IWC’s Top Gun and Spitfire ranges are perfectly equipped to take nostalgia buffs back to the past while rocketing them forward at the speed of light. And with that kind of whiplash it’s no surprise that the watches are built to survive at 30g.

..Read more in Quintessentially Asia.