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If You Only Buy One Pilot's Watch, Buy This One

The IWC Automatic Spitfire is a military-inspired cockpit instrument that's perfect for everyday wear.

iwc pilot's watch automatic spitfire

IWC Pilot's Watch Automatic Spitfire, $4,250

IWC Pilot's Watch Automatic Spitfire, (Pre-owned)

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"Pilot's" watches constitute a category that's more difficult to pin down than, say, dress watches, which are generally uniformly thin, unadorned, and simple. A pilot's watch could be a time-only watch, or it could be a chronograph. It could be relatively small, or the size of a dinner plate. It could feature a black dial, or, in some cases, a white dial. Really, the only universal thing about pilot's watches is that — originally, anyway — they weren't available in precious metals. Such a watch would sort of be missing the point of a true instrument.

If we had to try and delineate what's truly important in a pilot's watch, we'd probably say legibility — after all, if you can't see the damn thing while flying a plane, there ain't much point in wearing one. Because though a pilot might not need to rely upon a watch anymore in most cockpits, which are stuffed full of modern electronic gauges and displays, these watches were originally essential tools that allowed the person flying the plane to calculate distance, airspeed, flight time and more. Some pilots still use them in this way.

The Mark XI is a premier example of such legibility. Released in 1948, it was manufactured by both IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre and issued to RAF and RAAF pilots. The IWC version, which was quickly outfitted with a shock-resistant variant of the workhorse Cal. 89 movement, eventually won out against the JLC, which was discontinued in 1953. With its black dial, white Arabic indices, iconic triangle at 12 o'clock, easily discernible white minute track and thick, highly visible handset, there was no mistaking the time on a Mark XI.

IWC's current Pilot's Watch collection largely draws on the Mark XI, but watches like the modern Mark XVIII and Automatic Spitfire offer the closest experience to the original. Both use classic sword hands in place of the Mark XI's distinctive hand set (with that stubby hour hand) and add a date complication for the modern user, but there's no mistaking the military lineage. The Automatic Spitfire has a subtly more modern dial design and costs a tad more than the Mark XVIII, but we prefer it for the value it offers with its in-house automatic movement.

Today, if you're looking for a serious, no-frills tool watch to wear everyday (regardless of whether or not you fly a plane), it would be tough to recommend a better timepiece than the Pilot's Watch Automatic Spitfire. Here's why:


It Really Is a Legit Modern Pilot's Watch

Soft inner anti-magnetic cage around the movement? Check. Antireflective crystal secured against a sudden drop in air pressure? Check. Easily scannable dial with central seconds hand? Check. Modern, highly accurate movement? Check. Easily grippable crown? Yup. In short — the Automatic Spitfire is the real deal. Take it up in the cockpit with you and you've got yourself a truly useful instrument. (Perhaps not as useful as dash-mounted electronic gauges, but you get the point.)

It's Legible As All Hell

There's a reason the dial of the Automatic Spitfire is unadorned by any superfluous touches or flourishes: the wearer needs to be able to quickly and easily discern the time without the eye being distracted. Large, highly legible sword hands filled with Super-LumiNova and oversized, lume-filled Arabic indices help with this legibility. A central seconds hand is also a key component of facilitating the measurement of time in small increments, which is crucial in the cockpit.

iwc pilot's watch automatic spitfire

It's A Great Mix of Heritage and Tech

The Automatic Spitfire actually borrows certain elements — the sword hands, the triangle with two dots at 12 o'clock — from another historic IWC piece, the "b-ühren (flieger)"observation watches made for the Luftwaffe during WWII. It's filled with historical references to past watches but like any great modern watch, it uses thoroughly modern technology: the in-house IWC 32110 automatic movement with 72 hours of power reserve, Super-LumiNova lume and sapphire crystal come to mind.

It's Plain Ol' Good Looking

Not much else to say, here — the Automatic Spitfire is just a handsome watch. Part of this stems from the simplicity of the dial and its black, all-business aesthetic. And despite the fact that it's technically a tool watch, it's impressively versatile. That's thanks not only to a simple design, but also a 39mm case makes it perfect as a daily wear for just about any wrist size (there are plenty of large IWC Pilot's Waches, if that's your thing). It's easy to recommend if you only get one pilot's watch but, hell, even if you only need one watch of any kind.

IWC Pilot's Watch Automatic Spitfire


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