I like how IWC chooses to honor their back catalog in so called “Tribute” watches. They are never straight up re-issues, rather, they capture the intended aesthetic within modern IWC design language, packed with modern IWC tech. We’ve seen it with their Tribute to MK XI, and this year we get the Tribute to one of the great ‘90s sport watches, the IWC reference 3705. This is the ‘Tribute to 3705’ IW387905, and we tried it out next to my own ref 3706, the steel cased sibling to the 3705.
Hands-On With The IWC ‘Tribute To 3705’ & A Steel 3706
The 3705 was a touchstone moment in its use of ceramic as a case material when it was introduced in 1994. It wasn’t the first to use the stuff, but it was the most extensive application within a tool watch to date. Omega used a ceramic and metal mixture called ‘Cermet’ in a special order Seamaster in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, while Seiko used a ceramic coated shroud on the 6159-7010 ‘Tuna’ from the mid-’70s. IWC more fully embraced the material with the release of the Da Vinci ref. 3755 in 1986, which housed a rather impressive perpetual calendar chronograph automatic movement (with no pushers required). Heading into the ‘90s Rado was making very Rado-looking ceramic watches as well (something they continue to pioneer today), but it wasn’t until the 3705 came along in 1994 that a ceramic case really took a broadly palatable form.
The 3705 featured a case made entirely of ceramic. Formed from zirconium oxide powder that’s been pressed at very high pressure, the case is extremely hard, and thanks to the small grain microstructure, quite crack resistant. The matte black appearance is quite lovely, falling somewhere between warm grey and jet black. It’s not tacticool, or murdered out, rather it has a softness that imbues an impressive and unchanging character. The crown and pushers are steel as they couldn’t be produced in ceramic at the time, something that’s changed with the Tribute model.
Outside of the case, the 3705 boasts some truly great proportions in its design. The case itself is a scant 39mm in diameter, and while not thin at nearly 15mm deep, the lightness of the case makes for an easy wear, a quality shared by the Tribute. The dial gets small sub-dials at 6, 9, and 12 o’clock, and Arabic numerals at each hour in between. It’s straightforward and not overpowering in the slightest, even if the proportions and negative space in between feel slightly dated (in a good way). Inside beats a humble 7750, which seems to add much of the heft (and wobble) to the watch on wrist.
The 3705, which was only produced until 1998, paved the way for the Top Gun range of Pilot’s watches from IWC today, each of which put a focus on material science and technical knowhow. The Tribute to 3705 is still very much a modern Top Gun watch, done in the style of the great 3705 before it. It’s not immediately apparent as a remake, because it’s not. As Tenacious D says, this is just a Tribute.
The ‘Tribute to 3705’ (yes, that’s the official name) is a different watch than the 3705, and if you buy one expecting it to wear and look the same, you’re in for disappointment, friend. This is a very modern IWC Pilot’s watch, done in the style of the 3705, and building on the ceramic case of the watch with a new material called Ceratanium. Thankfully, IWC Pilot’s watches are in a pretty good place right now, and with or without the 3705 connection, this is a pretty good watch.
The Tribute gets a 41mm case made of Ceratanium, combining the material properties of titanium and ceramic. Think lightweight, strong, and scratch resistant. The material was first used on the Top Gun Double Chronograph introduced at SIHH in 2019 (or on Mega Man’s armor, if fictional materials count), and is unique for a few reasons. While IWC calls in matte black in complexion, you could almost call it pewter or dark grey in direct light. This does not read as a blacked-out watch in the flesh, as the surface reflects a fair amount of light, even if it is matte in texture.
That lightness isn’t just a visual thing, this is a relative featherweight on the wrist. Seeing images of the watch, and looking at the dimensions on paper, I was prepared to be dealing with a real beast on the wrist, but it’s surprisingly, almost shockingly easy to wear. Even accounting for the 41mm diameter, the 15.3mm thickness, and ~50mm lug to lug measurement, this is an effortless watch on wrist so long as you don’t have a tight cuff it needs to tuck under.
The dial of the Tribute certainly feels more appropriately proportioned than its inspiration. The sub-dials fill out the dial and the negative space is held in check, it’s all perfectly …fine. It works, but I’d go so far as to say it’s lost a big part of the identity and charm of the original in the process. It’s objectively better, but at the same time, almost generic in comparison. A favorite feature of older Pilot’s watches is carried over here, and that’s the squared off hour hand and pencil minute hand. This execution feels like a breath of fresh air next to the broadsword hands of the regular production models. They are instantly recognizable, and as I mentioned to IWC CEO, Chris Grainger when he appeared on our podcast, I’d love to see them make their way into more references.
The Tribute keeps the same complications as the 3705, including the day and date at 3 o’clock. While the sub-dials are in the same positions, you’ll notice the running seconds hand has moved from the 9 o’clock position to the 6 o’clock position, signaling the use of IWC in-house chronograph movement, the caliber 69380. It’s an automatic movement that gets 46 hours of reserve and features a column wheel design chronograph. The action feels great through the pushers, in particular with the reset function, which feels velvety through the pusher, very much unlike the 7750.
At $11,900, the Tribute to 3705 is not an inexpensive watch by any stretch. The value feels well represented here, though. You’re getting an in-house chronograph with a ceramic titanium case and a limited production run of just 1,000 pieces. Plus, there’s a fair bit of heritage at play here, if you find value in that sort of thing. There are plenty of other great options when it comes to in-house chronos, from the new Speedmaster, to the Zenith Defy 21, to the Breitling B01, you might say we’re spoiled for choice these days. If you’re set on some black, and ceramic, you might also scope the Omega Dark Side Of The Moon Speedmaster in Pitch Black guise, it’s $100 more at retail, also has some great heritage, and comes with Omega’s co-ax caliber 9300.
The Tribute is a great option if you want a bit of that ‘90s character in a high-tech, modern pilot’s watch, and If you’ve got the coin, don’t let the numbers or press photos scare you away on this one. Yes, it’s a bit big and bulky, but there’s a surprisingly wearable watch in there if you give it a chance, and serves as a good reminder that it’s not always about the numbers. IWC