IWC Big Pilot’s Tourbillon Le Petit Prince: mechanical poetry23 December 2023
The fact that the magic of flight has tied IWC to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ‘s Little Prince for 10 years now comes as no surprise to watch lovers. One of the most poetic characters in contemporary literature, born from the pen and imagination of the famous writer-aviator, has been accompanied since 2013 by some extraordinary watches created by the Schaffhausen-based brand. The Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Le Petit Prince, recently unveiled, is just the latest. For if the Little Prince has been appearing on watches for a decade, the connection between IWC and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry dates from way back.
IWC AND ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY: SHARED VALUES
This is demonstrated by the brand’s relationship with the Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation. Starting in 2005, IWC formed a partnership with the Saint-Exupéry-d’Agay estate, under which the writer’s heirs and the brand would collaborate in various ways. IWC would support the Foundation’s objectives to ensure that the famous author’s humanist ideas remained alive. The Foundation, in turn, would support some of IWC’s efforts, particularly those related to its interest in aviation and its pilot’s watches.
Thus, the recurring themes of flight and dreams merged together to create very special designs. The first IWC watch born from this collaboration was a Saint-Exupéry pilot’s chronograph, the reference IW3717, characterised by a retro style and postmodern elements. The watch was an instant hit with aficionados.
Over the years, IWC has produced numerous other limited-edition pilot’s watches through the collaboration with the Foundation, all with a distinctive style. Evoking concepts rooted in the history and adventure of early aviation, these timepieces were characterised not only by their technical elements, but also by their capacity to evoke dreams.
Not surprisingly, the most famous sentence in the book, ‘On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux’ – ’It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye’ – opens up a world of parallels between dreams, literature and watchmaking.
IWC WATCHES FOR THE PETIT PRINCE: THE BEGINNINGS
The new Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Le Petit Prince also refers in a way to this poetic theme, which relates in part to the meaning of haute horlogerie. Particularly when complex movements are hidden inside cases and watches are used in risky adventures, such as the daring flights of the 1930s. Because the essentials of a watch are enclosed in its case, and the timepiece is appreciated with rationality, for its mechanics, but also with the heart, for its beauty.
The Le Petit Prince models produced by IWC, starting in 2013, are quite emblematic of this. What is particularly interesting about them is the synthesis of the timepiece as a working instrument – a pilot’s watch – and the fantasy element. In a unique way that distinguishes it from any other watch manufacturer, IWC combines these two elements to reflect every collector’s dreams.
The first Le Petit Prince model created in 2013, Reference IW3265-06, was based on a very simple Mark XVII time-only pilot’s watch. That piece had a blue soleil dial, evoking the mystery of the night sky, and a case back engraved with the image of the Little Prince. From there, blue would become the signature colour of the Pilot Le Petit Prince.
That watch quickly sold out, as did another Le Petit Prince model from 2013, a Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar, one of which was in platinum and 750 in steel. That model also had the characteristic reflective blue dial representing the sky, as well as a special medallion on the rotor depicting the Little Prince, visible from the back of the watch.
In 2014, two more Le Petit Prince models were introduced. One was a Pilot’s watch chronograph, Reference IW3777-06. That too featured the characteristic blue dial of the other Le Petit Prince models, but here it was combined with a closed case back engraved with the character’s image. The other 2014 model was a Big Pilot’s Watch, Reference IW5009-08, which paid homage to Saint-Exupéry’s creature with its special dial and engraving on the back.
2015 saw another pair of watches dedicated to the Little Prince. The first was a split-seconds chronograph, Reference IW3718-07, the second was another Big Pilot’s Watch, Reference IW5009-09, a gold version of the 2014 model. The version with a split-seconds chronograph, called Le Voyage du Petit Prince, had a blue mirror dial adorned with stars, and the case back had a special engraving with the positions of the stars in Saint-Exupéry’s story.
2016 was the boom year, with the introduction of no fewer than four models. The first was Reference IW5009-16, a limited-edition Big Pilot’s in steel which featured the new IWC calibre 51111 movement. Alongside it came the Reference IW3270-04, a Mark XVIII, and the IW3777-14, another Le Petit Prince chronograph but with an IWC-manufactured movement.
The fourth and final Le Petit Prince model of 2016 was a limited gold edition of 250 Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar, the reference IW5027-01. This model featured the special and beautiful rotor, with an imaginative design found on the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Le Petit Prince that was just presented.
THE NEW IWC BIG PILOT’S WATCH 43 TOURBILLON LE PETIT PRINCE
So let’s get to it, without forgetting that other watches dedicated to the novel’s protagonist have been created since 2017 – such as the two remarkable pieces presented at SIHH 2019: a Big Pilot’s Watch Constant-Force Tourbillon, limited to 10 pieces in platinum and 10 in gold, and a Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Chronograph with a gold case, in 250 pieces. Or again, the 2021 Pilot’s Watch Timezoner.
With the new Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Le Petit Prince, IWC is celebrating 10 years since the first watch was dedicated to the Little Prince. Limited to 300 pieces, the watch’s case and diamond crown are those typical of the Big Pilot’s collection, made of 18-carat Armor Gold – an alloy that first appeared on the 2019 Big Pilot’s Watch Constant-Force Tourbillon.
It is a variant of 5N gold, an alloy produced through a sophisticated process during which its microstructure is transformed. As a result, the material is considerably harder and more wear-resistant than conventional 5N gold.
The lustre of the 43-millimetre case contrasts with the depth of the blue dial, with its sunburst finish on which the Arabic numeral hour markers we know so well from the Big Pilot are applied. Both the hour markers and the dagger hands are gold-plated and covered with Super-LumiNova for exceptional visibility at night. The Armor Gold of the case is also found on the folding clasp of the brown calfskin strap.
THE FLYING TOURBILLON
The watch’s most outstanding feature, however, is the flying tourbillon: the heart of the IWC-manufactured 82905 calibre. It takes pride of place at 6 o’clock, with its imposing presence, and its balance wheel completes one rotation around its own axis in one minute, inside the small cage. As we know, constant rotation helps to reduce the negative effects of gravitational attraction on the oscillating system, improving the accuracy of the timepiece. But on the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Le Petit Prince, combined to the dial’s sophisticated finish, it also has a hypnotic effect.
Thanks to the stop function integrated into the tourbillon, it is possible to stop the mechanism completely and set the watch to the nearest second. When you consider that the tourbillon consists of 56 parts and weighs just 0.663 grams, its impressive architecture gives an even better idea of the technical and engineering effort put by IWC into its creation.
An effort even in terms of state-of-the-art materials. In fact, the fork and escapement wheel are treated with Diamond Shell technology, a special coating patented by IWC. This is a diamond coating applied to mechanical components, created using chemical vapour deposition, or CVD.
This technique makes it possible to produce extremely thin and extremely resistant layers from a high-quality, high-performance material. The watch components coated in this way, particularly the fork and escapement wheel, have reduced friction, make the watch more efficient, and allow to increase the power reserve. On the Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Tourbillon Le Petit Prince, this means 80 hours with the movement running at 28,800 vibrations per hour.
A PRECIOUS PRINCE
What catches the eye, however, is not only the tourbillon on the dial. There is also the back. In fact, the transparent back reveals the oscillating weight to the eyes, a small work of art in solid gold in the shape of the Little Prince standing on his own planet. A detail that was already present on the 2016 limited edition of the Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar.
That said, it is worth mentioning once again that this new piece dedicated to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s hero is limited to 300 examples. All the more reason to justify its price of €85,400. Although this is a respectable figure, we are fairly certain that it will sell out very soon, as happened to its predecessors.
By Davide Passoni