Homage to Mark XI: IWC Bronze Pilot 36mm Special Edition Automatic Swiss

Today, on January 15th, 2019, at SIHH 2019, the Swiss watchmaker has officially presented the new IWC Bronze Pilot 36mm Special Edition Automatic wristwatch: a beautiful homage to a timekeeper that was introduced over 70 years ago and was worn by the British Royal Air Force pilots for many years to come. Featuring a deliciously compact and surprisingly -for a watch powered by a self-winding caliber- slim case machined from a bronze alloy, it looks stunning new and has a great potential to age graciously together with its owner.

Overall Impression

The brand that was previously known as the International Watch Co. has finally revealed in flesh the newest addition to their vast collection of pilot’s watches: the beautiful IWC Bronze Pilot 36mm Special Edition Automatic. The brand has been experimenting with resurrecting classic designs for the last couple of years, including not only their “professional” Ingenieur Collection, but also the ultra-luxury Da Vinci line, both borrowing heavily from their models that were popular in the second half of the last century.

IWC Bronze Pilot 36mm Special Edition Automatic wristwatch

Back in 2017 they even introduced a Mark XVIII Edition “Tribute to Mark XI” (ref. IW327007) model that was inspired by the same post-WWII “navigator” watch procured by the Royal Air Force. At 40 millimeters in diameter, the watch was significantly larger than the original. The date window that came together with a Sellita-based movement, as well as a more modern color scheme, too, was noticeably different from the 1940s model.

This new IWC Bronze Pilot 36mm doesn’t reference the vintage model directly, but, even despite using a radically different material for its case, looks more true to the proverbial roots.

First, it is of the same size of modest 36 millimeters (and, at just shy of 10.5 mm from sapphire top to solid titanium bottom, it is also deliciously thin for an automatic.) Second, compared to Mark XIII, it features a more laconic dial, even though it, too, is not a direct quote from the original.

IWC Mark XI historic watch (Image courtesy: WatchCentre.com)

I would prefer the watch to feature more “vintage” elements to its layout like, say, the old logo or a historically correct setting crown. Yet, even as it is, the Bronze Pilot looks convincing.

Case & Strap

The Bronze Pilot shares the design of its ultra-compact body, as well as the setting/winding crown, with other members of IWC’s current Pilot Automatic 36 range although the material is obviously different. As, for that matter, is the finish: instead of the usual combination of polished and machine-brushed surfaces, this watch comes with a more “tactical” sand-blasted finish applied both to the case and the crown.

In a couple of years, we will know how good this sort of finish is at standing the test of time, but it surely looks impressive now.

IWC Bronze Pilot 36mm Special Edition Automatic wristwatch (strap by George Cleverley)

It is the strap (or, rather, the choice of them) that is the main selling point of this watch.

First, there is a great olive green suede strap by Jean Paul Menicucci for Revolution that I’d use the most often since, combining high quality of craftsmanship, relatively affordable price of approximately $100 USD, and looking terrific together with the military green dial of the timepiece, it is the most obvious choice for a daily driver.

Second, is the military-style NATO strap from NOMAD Watch Works fashioned from olive-green nylon and (like the other two varieties) accented with “bronze-colored” elements. Not adding too much to the “value proposition” of this timekeeper (NWW straps usually retail for $10-$15 USD,) it is still great to have one as an “emergency spare” since it’s not that easy to find a quality NATO strap with bronze accents in your table drawer or even on Amazon.

The third one is the charm. In this price niche, you can’t surprise anyone with straps made by a skilled hand from precious leather -unless it’s a pink unicorn hide-, but IWC managed to find a source of leather that -figuratively speaking- will stun you. For this special edition model they ordered a number of straps crafted from Russian Reindeer hide that is… wait for it… 234 years old!

Yes, the straps are handmade by British shoemaker George Cleverley -a luxury brand known for their bespoke shoes selling at prices close to €4000- from hide manufactured in Russia back in 1785, sent to a British customer, and sank together with the ship it was shipped on near the British port of Plymouth. Some time ago the precious cargo was recovered in a perfect condition and a part of it was transformed into these absolutely stunning straps that you can see on the promotional photos. Unlike the two cheaper products, these precious artifacts are equipped with genuine bronze buckles and keepers and make the IWC Bronze Pilot absolutely stand out among dozens of other competing products. They also comprise a hefty share of the timekeeper’s outrageously high price.

Mechanism

Like other members of IWC’s current small (i.e. 36mm to 39mm-sized watches) collection, the watch is powered by a rather unassuming movement based on the well-known Sellita SW300 caliber (this one comes without the calendar wheel since the watch is offered as a basic three-hander.) The choice of mechanism probably has something to do with the lack of smaller in-house calibers rather than the brand’s eagerness to cut expenses, but still sort of devalues the whole experience of owning an IWC timekeeper.

The mechanism is inexpensive, features an average accuracy, and is not particularly fancy offering you anything more entertaining than a central hacking seconds hand and basic finish including Geneva Stripes, perlage, and a branded oscillating weight. Mass-produced mechanisms powering such expensive timepieces are usually subjected to a lot more careful initial quality inspection and are a lot more thoroughly regulated than the one you’ll find in a cheaper watch, but they are still what they are: inexpensive workhorses easy to take care of, but won’t stun anybody with their list of functions or design. It’s only for the best that IWC decided to hide this miniature engine behind a solid titanium cover: nothing to see here, you see.

IWC Bronze Pilot 36mm Special Edition Automatic wristwatch (strap by George Cleverley and green dial)

Dial & Legibility

The dark green dial of the timekeeper looks excellent with the light brown color of the case and will look even better later on when the alloy develops that characteristic greenish patina bronze artifacts are known for. The patina will take a lot of time to form, but, if you are not a faint of heart, you can speed-up the process using -at your own peril- certain potassium sulfide-based chemical substances.

Like the rest of the Bronze Pilot, the dial slightly differs from the face of the original Mark XI: it is definitely more modern starting with the brand’s current logo, and finishing with easier-to-read luminous Arabic numerals that are now significantly bolder. The new, fatter digits not only allowed the Swiss brand to use a thicker layer of luminous compound, but are also a lot better at matching the thick luminous hour markers and wider hour and minute hands.

The lack of date aperture allowed for a lot cleaner exterior compared to other vintage-styled pilots, while the polished red gold hands give the gadget a premium look contrasting the overall rugged appearance. Also, the hands give this wristwatch an even more original look compared to dozens of premium-priced “historic” pilot’s that feature similar chapter rings, but sport the same inevitable diamond-shaped hour and minute hands making it especially difficult to tell a “historic” Archimede from a Stowa that uses a similar approach to design.

IWC Bronze Pilot 36mm Special Edition Automatic wristwatch (NATO strap by NOMAD)

Pricing & Availability

The Swiss watchmaker has officially presented the watch at the SIHH 2019 trade show and will start selling the gadget later this year. With the total number of Bronze Pilots limited to just 150 individually numbered pieces and the recommended street price being $4500, the watch may become a hit among enthusiasts. If you are interested in one of these beauties and don’t care much about buying it second-hand at a hefty premium from an even more energetic enthusiast, you should visit your local boutique at the earliest convenience to pre-order the watch and get it from a trusted source with tags, plastic protection film, and that special “new watch smell” we love so much.

See also: The 80’s vibe: IWC Top Gun Miramar Chronograph (ref. IW389002) Automatic

Photos: IWC / WatchCentre.com

WWR Verdict

Originality 4.5/5
Build Quality: 5/5
Usability: 5/5
Overall Legibility: 5/5
Nighttime Legibility: 5/5
Value for Money: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

IWC Bronze Pilot 36mm Special Edition specification

Price: $4500 (MSRP)
Winding: Automatic
Movement: IWC Caliber 35111 (based on Sellita SW300,) Swiss Made
Movement finish: Perlage, polished screw heads, Geneva Stripes
Number of Jewels: 25
Cadence of Balance: 28,800 vph
Power Reserve: Approx. 42 hours
Functions: Hours, minutes, central seconds
Case Material: Matte bronze, sandblasted
Bezel Material: Matches case
Crown: Matches case
Shape: Round
Bezel shape: Round
Size: 36.00 mm
Height: 10.40 mm
Lug width: 18.00 mm
Dial: Dark Green
Numerals: Arabic, luminous (Superluminova)
Hour markers: Luminous
Hands: Luminous, polished red-gold
Water resistance: 60 meters
Strap: Vintage Russian Reindeer hide natural leather strap with sandblasted bronze buckle and keepers; 18mm; hand-made by British shoemaker George Cleverley / Complementary olive-green nylon NATO strap with bronze-colored keepers by NOMAD Watch Works, as well as an extra olive green suede leather strap with bronze-colored keepers by Jean Paul Menicucci for Revolution
Crystal: Sapphire, antireflective coating
Back: Titanium, engraved, individual “limited edition” model number


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