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Big Crowns: Decoration or Function?

A big crown is linked to the IWC Big Pilot, and the Big Pilot is linked to the big crown. They go together like horse and carriage. But where does this recognizable feature come from? Does it serve an actual purpose or is it just a marketing trick?


Oversized crowns were used on pilot watches in World War II. Before the time of on-board computers and advanced telecommunication, a watch was the pilot’s most important tool. They used their watches to calculate how much fuel they had in the tank, and when to return to their base. Miscalculating your fuel consumption meant crashing in enemy territory, something you would want to avoid at all costs. Their lives literary depended on their watches.

They had to be able to adjust the time mid-flight while wearing thick, leather gloves. Watch brands could have easily developed a complex complication with intricate extra buttons to operate the watch while wearing leather gloves, but at times of war budget was short and costs had to be cut. Instead, they just made the crown bigger. Problem solved.

These pilot watches were also incredibly big for the time. Most dress watches were between 32 and 36mm in the World War II area. Sports watches and chronographs were between 36 and 40, which was considered pretty big back then. These pilot watches were between 47 and 51mm. For that time, it must have felt like wearing the Big Ben on your wrist.

Since every plane today is equipped with High-Tech computers, the big crown has completely lost its function. Nevertheless, IWC still uses the big crown as a trademark feature, so they can stay linked to their history.

Many German brands made pilot watches for the German Luftwaffe which looked very similar. These watches were called ‘B-Uhr’. Other brands that made these were A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, Walter Storz (now knows as Stowa) and Lacherer & Company (now known as Laco).