View all articles

Review: IWC Pilot’s Watch “Tribute To 3705”

Nestled on the Swiss-German border in the town of Schaffhausen, the International Watch Company has been making dedicated pilot’s watches for almost a century, the latest being this, the Pilot’s Watch “Tribute to 3705”. Here’s how it would have never come to be were it not for three keen rowers, an airfield in Croydon, England and a desperate bid to avoid insolvency.

It’s a topic that comes up very frequently in conversation about watches, but not one you’d expect to see here: diving. It’s a well-told yarn that the affordability and practicality of the newly invented SCUBA apparatus gave the watchmakers of the 1950s something new to aspire to. Not only were the professionals braving the deep, but hobbyists too, often considered the turning point that launched Rolex into the stratosphere.

What you don’t hear so much about is flying. A burgeoning mode of transport in the early 20th century, the progression of aviation technology through the First World War ensured that the aeroplane was to become a permanent fixture of the modern world. The role of professional pilot, once just the fantasy of science-fiction, was, by the 1930s, a very real thing.

And so too was aviation as a pastime. Granted, there weren’t many afforded with the privilege to do so, but nevertheless, in 1933 the British private pilot’s license was established. Of the few able to take advantage of such a thing was one Ernst Jakob Homberger, who found himself the very same year trundling down a grassy airfield in Croydon, just outside of London, in a de Havilland DH.60 Moth.

IWC was founded in 1868

IWC was founded in 1868

How was Homberger able to afford such a thing? To be flying for leisure a mere thirty years after the vehicle’s invention? He was a businessman, experienced in trade across the globe, from London to Zürich and even the West Indies. When he was in Switzerland, he was recruited by piping company Georg Fischer to oversee the development of a hydroelectric generation plant on the river Rhine. The base of operations was in Schaffhausen.

This was when he met his wife-to-be, Bertha Rauschenbach. The hydroelectric plant was to bring prosperity to Schaffhausen, providing cheap power from which Bertha’s father’s factory could run. Her father was Johannes Rauschenbach-Shenk—owner of the International Watch Company.

When Johannes died, Homberger, his wife, her sister and her sister’s husband collectively took ownership of IWC, with Homberger becoming sole owner at the end of the 1920s. It was his company to do as he pleased with, and as he completed his private pilot’s license in 1933, his three sons, also keen aviators and champion rowers, had an idea.

IWC is based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland

IWC is based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Switzerland wasn’t to roll out its own private pilot’s license until three years later, and Homberger’s three sons, Hans, Alexander and Rudolf, collectively agreed that IWC should be the one to make the watch every new pilot should wear. And so the “Special Watch for Pilots” was born, an instrument with shatterproof glass, a rotating bezel with timing index, antimagnetic escapement, luminescent hands and numerals and an operational range of -40 to +40 degrees Celsius. Upon the maiden flight of the Supermarine Spitfire, the “Special Watch for Pilots” was created—and history was made. Little did the Hombergers know at the time that, some fifty years later, the International Watch Company wouldn’t be making history so much as almost becoming a part of it. It was 1988, and technological change had rendered IWC’s mechanical watches a thing of the past. The new technology was quartz and IWC had to either embrace it or be left behind—and IWC was just one wrong move away from being left behind.

The IWC Pilot’s watch had, since its 1936 inception, been through many iterations—but it hadn’t been available to the public for a long time since that original. Famed restructuring expert Günter Blümlein had been recruited to attempt to turn the fortunes of IWC around, and for that he turned his attention to the Pilot’s Watch. Fitted with a Mechaquartz movement from Jaeger-LeCoultre, whose fate also lay in Blümlein’s hands, IWC released the Fliegerchronograph 3740, the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph—and this time it was available to the public.

In a way, the Pilot’s Watch had come full circle: both watches marked a turning point in technology, both fulfilled the same need for a pilot’s watch to be durable and rugged with the ability to record time—but this time it wouldn’t necessarily be pilots purchasing this watch, but those who aspired to IWC’s aviation heritage.

The current IWC headquarters in Schaffhausen was first constructed in 1875

The current IWC headquarters in Schaffhausen was first constructed in 1875

Fortune smiled upon the watchmaker, and at the end of the Fliegerchronograph’s run in 1992, Blümlein commissioned one last limited run of the watch that had bridged the gap between the professional and the enthusiast. This time it would be the ultimate interpretation, now with an automatic movement by popular demand, but also featuring exotic materials such as titanium and zirconium oxide ceramic. It was the IWC Fliegerchronograph Keramik 3705.

The production on the 3705 ran for only four years, with just under a thousand watches ever produced, losing out in popularity over the more affordable steel 3706. It wasn’t to be known back then, but this daring venture into materials unknown would set a precedent for the future of the company, one honoured today by this Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tribute To 3705” IW387905.

It wouldn’t be enough to simply remake the 3705, so IWC has chosen to upgrade the original’s ceramic to a new heat-treated alloy of titanium called Ceratanium. In the furnace, oxygen is introduced to the titanium alloy, giving the outer layer of the 41mm case not only extreme hardness and scratch resistance like ceramic, but also a deep black colour, just like the original 3705. There’s also an in-house movement, the calibre 69380, which takes the original away from its dependence on supplied movements, namely the Valjoux 7750.

IWC’s legacy isn’t one that can be measured by the smoothness of its sailing—it’s not been an easy journey to the present day, but the stories that can be told in the getting there make it all worth the while. From that 1936 dream of a future in aviation, to a look back to a troubled period of IWC’s history, this “Tribute To 3705” hides a wealth of innovation, chance, adventure and hope beneath its satin finish.

Looking for an IWC watch? Click here to shop now