When thinking of IWC, the first thing that comes to mind for many is their excellent pilot watches. Their aviation-inspired sports watches like the Big Pilot and Pilot’s Chronograph are battle-tested and legendary among pilots and desk pilots alike. Is a desk pilot a thing? Regardless, because of the giant shadow cast by the Big Pilot, people tend to overlook IWC’s more complicated and formal timepieces. Enter the IWC Da Vinci Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar Chronograph IW375211. This watch is undoubtedly less popular but arguably plays a much more important role in the broader watch world. Here we’ll dig into what makes this Da Vinci Tourbillon so special and why its place in watch history deserves to be remembered.
The Da Vinci watch line first appeared around 1969-70 and was originally offered—like so many other 70’s era watches—with a unique squarish case shape, an integrated bracelet, and a quartz movement. Visually it looked much more like a precursor to the Ingenieur than the Da Vinci model we have here. The Da Vinci would be produced for a few more years before being shut down and then revived again in 1985. The 1985 version is where we first see the classic round, stepped case, and distinct lugs, and it’s what I would consider this timepiece’s true predecessor.
This new generation of Da Vinci was not just a big design change but actually signaled a philosophical shift for IWC as a brand and the watch market as a whole after the quartz crisis. The Da Vinci was the first new perpetual calendar watch the market had seen in a little while, and it asserted the brand as a true player in the complicated watch space. It also helped guide the way for the rest of the big swiss brands showing them that getting back to their roots with regards to producing complicated, interesting watches could prove a valuable tool in the recovery from the damage done by quartz watches.
The Da Vinci is also notable for being the first-ever perpetual calendar wristwatch that allowed the wearer to change the day, date, and year all with just the crown. No additional tools were necessary. This was groundbreaking for the time and made the Da Vinci exceedingly intuitive and convenient to operate. Remember, this is 1985; watch collecting was not what it is today where everyone wanted to keep their box, papers, receipts, hangtags, etc., in order to increase the collectibility. Most people bought a watch and tossed all that out and just wore the damn thing. However, if you bought a perpetual calendar, you needed to keep at least the tools and accessories required to set it. This small but important feature was truly innovative for its time.
The Da Vinci would continue to evolve over the years, returning to its square-ish case shape in 2008 and then back to the round case style in 2017, giving the watch very distinct generations that are easy to tell apart. This specific Da Vinci is a part of the classic-looking generation we were introduced to in 1985. It’s a special edition perpetual calendar, chronograph, tourbillon produced in 1999. It’s one of just 50 platinum pieces ever made and is fresh back from service by IWC.
This generation of Da Vinci was designed by Hanno Burtscher. His inspiration for the watch is a bit unclear, but there are some rumors that he was inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches of the fortifications in the Port of Piombino. Another rumor is that Burtscher came across a vintage IWC watch from Italy with articulated lugs that required service, and this is where he got the design for the distinct Vendôme style lugs. Let it remain a mystery; either way, he made a gorgeous watch.
Despite this watch being built in 1999 and its design originating in 1985, this is a distinctly old-fashioned-looking timepiece that would look right at home in the early half of the 20th century. Its mushroom pushers, stepped bezel, Vendôme style lugs, and raised acrylic crystal are all very vintage-inspired. The crystal does, however, add some depth, and the watch measures 15mm in thickness. While I’m never one to ask for added thickness, I do love the look of a raised acrylic crystal and consider it totally worth the trade-off. In my experience, the rounded shape of the crystal usually still allows for a dress cuff to slide over easy.
Of all the traits on this watch, however, the beautiful information-rich dial is my favorite. The Dodger blue background with white painted text is a classic combination that is just as timeless as black and white but with much more personality. At twelve o’clock, you’ll find the moonphase and 30 minute counter, with the date cleverly fit into the outer rings of the subdial at three, the month and 12-hour counter at six, the four-digit year in-between seven and eight, and the day and running seconds at nine. Oh, and there’s also the word “tourbillon” between four and five because, unlike most tourbillon timepieces, this watch does not make that obvious from the dial side. Overall it’s quite a busy dial, but it does about as good a job as can be expected delineating and displaying all this information in a legible and aesthetically pleasing way.
When you flip the watch over, you’ll be greeted with a warm gilt brass movement and a full view of the tourbillon. I love a colored metal movement, and I really like the decision to keep the tourbillon’s visibility limited to the caseback. It keeps the dial side more simple and serves as a little secret the wearer can let folks in on as they so choose.
The movement inside this Da Vinci is the IWC caliber 76061. This is based on the revolutionary caliber designed by Kurt Klaus. That original movement, and this one, allow the wearer to see and set the day, date, month, and four-digit year all by the crown. On top of that, you’ll find the aforementioned tourbillon and a 12-hour chronograph. This is quite the renaissance watch, ay?
The caliber 76061 is quite handsome as well. The movement is primarily made of gilt brass, which is beautifully decorated with Côtes de Genève embellishment, has 35 jewels, and heat blued screws. Additionally, it has a straight-line tourbillon lever escapement, a shock absorber mechanism, a monometallic balance that’s been adjusted to five positions, and a self-compensating flat balance spring. On top of all the other complications, you’ll also be glad to know it has a hacking seconds mechanism.
Versus The Competition
This Roger Dubuis Hommage Bi Retrograde Perpetual Calendar Chronograph though visually very different, actually has quite a bit in common with this Da Vinci. Both are extremely small production perpetual calendar chronographs produced around the turn of the millennium. The Dubuis is 1 of just 28 examples making it about half as scarce, but it doesn’t have the tourbillon, and I think its design is a bit more divisive. You’ll either love it or hate it. At $49,500, it comes in just under the Da Vinci’s $52,000 but not enough so that the price is likely to sway your decision. Go with your gut.
However, this next perpetual calendar chronograph has a value of around $20,000, making it a serious value proposition when compared to other timepieces with the same complications. This Blancpain Leman Perpetual Calendar Chronograph has a similarly stepped round case shape but is in stainless steel. The real advantage this timepiece offers over the Dubuis or IWC is that it’s not a rare, precious metal watch. It offers similar functionality but in a package suitable for daily wear.
This timepiece has a legacy that is totally interwoven with the history of mechanical watches as a whole. It’s the perfect watch for a collector who loves history and likes a watch with a great origin story.
We can never connect the dots going forward, so it’s hard to see in the moment how big of an impact our decisions will have, but in hindsight, it becomes crystal clear. What’s obvious now is that the IWC Da Vinci is undoubtedly one of the most important models that the brand ever created, and what’s more, it’s up there as one of the most important models in the watch industry’s history.