IWC’s Pilot’s Chronograph 41 Finally Gets a Ceramic Case

In the midst of what can only be described as Ingenieur Mania at Watches & Wonders a few weeks ago, IWC quietly unveiled a pair of watches in their Pilot collection that would have certainly been the headline grabbing highlights in almost any other year. It’s interesting in terms of strategy (they clearly wanted to focus heavily on the new Ingenieur, a watch that has been long requested by collectors and clearly represents years of fine tuning) and because, well, the new Pilot’s Chronographs on display were kind of awesome, and show that even in an off year, IWC is completely committed to maintaining their King of the Pilot Watch status. 

What we have here are two 41mm Pilot’s Chronographs in ceramic, which represents the first time the brand has gone ceramic in this particular size. You’ll recall that last year the marquee releases were two colored ceramic Pilot’s Chronos (in “Tahoe” white and “Woodland” green), but both were in a somewhat unwieldy 44.5mm case. The 41mm size was introduced in steel in 2021, a welcome downsize from the 43mm case IWC had been using immediately prior, and has since seen versions in titanium and Ceratanium. IWC has demonstrated a fondness for variety when it comes to materials, so it was only a matter of time before the smaller pilot chrono got the ceramic treatment. 

First up, the Pilot’s Chronograph in “Oceana,” a shade of blue developed with Pantone, and inspired by the color of overalls worn by members of the United States Navy. Part of the Top Gun sub-collection, it features a blue case and matching blue dial with white accents, and a rubber strap with a denim textile inlay. It’s a lot of blue, and when I saw it in person I was struck by how bright it appears when it hits the right light. It’s a lot more playful than most watches in the Top Gun lineup, save perhaps the previously mentioned all white Tahoe.

The other new 41mm chrono is the much more straightforward (and, frankly, expected) “Jet Black” version, officially dubbed the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 Top Gun. This watch is a complement to the ceramic Big Pilot in 43mm that they released a year ago, and carried the same “Jet Black” moniker. The black ceramic watch has the same white dial accents as the Oceana, with the exception of the running seconds hand located in the 6:00 subdial. Both watches feature contrasting titanium pushers. 

The use of ceramic is becoming more widely adopted every year in watchmaking, but few brands have been doing it nearly as long as IWC. The material has real and tangible benefits in sports watches. It’s incredibly scratch resistant, for one. Ceramic watches that have been worn for years on end frequently look almost new, so if defying time itself is something that’s appealing to you in a watch, ceramic might be of interest. It’s also a naturally lightweight material, making it ideal for watches with a larger footprint or an inherently sporty purpose, like these chronographs. 

But there are drawbacks as well. Ceramic is brittle, and where a metal like steel or gold might dent or scratch, in a serious impact, ceramic can crack. If you search watch forums, you’ll eventually find horror stories of ceramic watches dropped on tile floors resulting in lugs snapping clean off. It’s also difficult to produce at scale, and to make colored ceramic requires just the right mixture of zirconium oxide with metallic oxides, and precise temperature control during the manufacturing process. Brightly colored ceramic watch cases are still relatively rare, even as black cases become more and more common, which at least partially explains the delta between the retail price of the blue chrono ($11,700) versus the black ($8,750). 

The new ceramic Pilot’s Chronographs will be available soon, the black version through boutiques and authorized dealers, and the blue through boutiques exclusively. IWC

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.