DA MAN Reports from IWC Schaffhausen’s Special Exhibition of Its Pilot’s Watches in Kuala Lumpur

IWC Schaffhausen celebrates its rich heritage in aviation with a special exhibition of its pilot’s watches. Joezer Mandagi reports from Kuala Lumpur.

With six distinct collections, IWC Schaffhausen really has something for everyone. That being said, nothing really sparks the imagination quite like the brand’s impressive collection of pilot’s watches. Bold and expressive, these timepieces conjure up a sense of adventure from the golden age of aviation when airmen were pioneers; they invoke the mechanical precision and gentlemanly conduct of combat pilots from some of the most storied conflicts in history; but most importantly, they invoke the heady mixture of self-assured swagger and consummate professionalism that all pilots seem to have.

As it so happens, 2019 has been set as the year of pilot’s watches for IWC and as part of this ongoing theme, last July the brand held an amazing Pilot’s Watches Exhibition at the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur shopping mall in the bustling capital of Malaysia.

The exhibition was officially opened on the evening of July 2, but the venue started attracting attention way before that. For one, it was situated in the middle of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur’s Centre Court. And then there was the gleaming, impossible-to-miss life-size replica of the Silver Spitfire looming over the booth.

The Silver Spitfire, by the way, is another important part of IWC’s story of aviation this year. As its name implies, it is one of the many surviving specimens of the World War II era Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft. More importantly, it is one of the several dozen that are airworthy, having been meticulously restored and hand-polished to give it a unique silvery sheen. This August, if all goes well, it will embark on a 43,000 kilometer round-the-world flight, with British pilots Matt Jones and Steve Boultbee Brooks taking turns in the cockpit.

IWC’s support for the “Silver Spitfire – The Longest Flight” project came as no surprise. The brand has previously commemorated the Spitfire with several special edition watches. And as any historian or aviation enthusiast can attest to, the Spitfire was one of the most successful British fighter planes in World War II and became an enduring symbol of British resistance, particularly during and after the Battle of Britain. The visionary engineering that made the Spitfire such a great airplane and the timeless design that made it such a lasting icon resonated deeply with IWC.

Returning to the present day, it was on a crisp Tuesday evening on July 2 that 250 or so guests made their way to the Centre Court for the official opening of the Pilot’s Watch Exhibition. As it happens, the exhibition was set right next to IWC’s new boutique at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, which was also inaugurated that night. Present at the event was Stanislas Rambaud, Managing Director for IWC South East Asia, along with Hannes Pantli, spokesman for IWC and a longtime member of the brand’s board of directors. Mr. Pantli is also well-known as an avid collector of IWC watches with an unrivaled collection. A large part of the timepieces on display at IWC’s museum in Schaffhausen was once part of his private collection.

“It was certainly interesting to see some of IWC’s most iconic pilot’s watches from the past share the same space with new aviator timepieces launched at the event”

Speaking of which, the main highlight of the Pilot’s Watch Exhibition were a number of historical timepieces highlighting IWC’s longstanding love affair for aviation. Among these vintage specimens were the Special Watch for Pilots from 1936 (the year IWC began making watches for aviators), the very first Big Pilot’s Watch from 1940, a Mark 11 created for the Royal Australian Air Force back in 1957 along with the famed W.W.W. watch made for the British Army in 1945.

It was certainly interesting to see some of IWC’s most iconic pilot’s watches from the past share the same space with new aviator timepieces launched at the event. Two sub-lines from the Pilot’s Watches family were on display that evening. First was the Spitfire, boasting 100-percent in-house movements. Then there were also several new Top Gun watches—named after the unofficial moniker of the actual U.S. Navy school for fighter pilots instead of the movie starring Tom Cruise—featuring IWC’s Ceratanium, which combines all the advantages of ceramic and titanium, and a new sandy color scheme. And, once again, all of these were on display under the shadow of the Silver Spitfire.

A much more subtle nod to the theme of the evening was found in the cocktails served throughout the event, all of which were aviation themed. The canapés, meanwhile, were inspired by the cities where the Silver Spitfire will make its stopovers throughout its globe-circling journey, including New York, Tokyo and Paris.
For sure, the festivities of the evening and the magnificent showcase of watches create a most fitting tribute to IWC’s rich heritage in aviation. However, it also felt like a nice sendoff for its future creations for those that roam the sky—including one shiny little plane about to take on the world.