If you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the watch industry over the last five years, you’ll know that the industry has been on a serious nostalgia kick. Virtually every watch brand has been combing through their archives, searching for designs they can re-use that will inspire legions of vintage watch enthusiasts to open their wallets. This IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph “Tribute to 3705” reference 387905 is one of the best examples of how to take a beloved past design and respectfully bring it into the present.
While IWC has a long tradition of making pilot watches that goes all the way back to the 1930s, the brand’s chronograph history is relatively new. The first chronograph from the brand was the Porsche Design Chronograph 1 reference 37000, which was manufactured in 1980. Until recently, many of the IWC chronographs, including the original 3705, were powered by reliable Valjoux or ETA movements. This “Tribute to 3705,” however, is powered by a modern in-house caliber continuing IWC’s young but important tradition of making chronographs and bolstering their reputation as one of the best producers of in-house chronograph movements in the market today.
As its name states, this watch is based on the IWC Reference 3705, also known as the Fliegerchronograph Keramik, which was produced from 1994 to 1998. The ceramic chronograph was technical and had a unique aesthetic which ultimately proved to be a bit ahead of its time. The Fliegerchronograph didn’t sell very well, and less than two thousand were produced. But over time, as both “blacked out” and ceramic watches became more popular, the 3705 started to find an audience and gained a bit of cult following. Due to the increased popularity and desire for the original 3705, IWC decided to release this IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph “Tribute to 3705” as a limited edition of 1,000 pieces giving those of us who missed the opportunity the first time around a second chance.
From a design perspective, I think it’s important to look at this watch through the lens of how it differs from its namesake. The two most significant differences are in the materials and the size. The original was 39mm, while this modern variant is 41mm. Additionally, the original watch was made of two materials with a ceramic case and stainless steel crown and pushers as well as a stainless steel caseback. This modern version is made entirely of IWC’s proprietary “Ceratanium,” a new material created to help combine the durability of titanium with the scratch-resistance of ceramic. Gone is the two-tone black and steel of the 3705; the entire watch case—and dial for that matter though it’s not ceramic—is a beautiful and rugged matte black.
Some more minor updates include an updated typeface; the original used what appears to be Helvetica, while this new typeface is a bit simpler and bolder. This helps fill out the larger dial and keeps the watch highly legible, which is key for any pilot’s watch. Additionally, the radially finished subdials are a bit bigger, and the running seconds and 12-hour subdials have switched places. The hands are proportionally bigger but are otherwise in the same style with a minute sword hand and rectangular hour hand. However, my favorite detail on this watch is the stark white Superluminova used on the hands and at 12,3,6 & 9. Despite this being an homage to an older watch that used tritium lume IWC did not impart any faux aging on this new edition. Praise the watch gods. Because of this, the new “Tribute to 3705” offers its owner the chance to enjoy the watch just as the original designers intended in 1994.
The original 3705 was powered by the Valjoux/ETA 7750, a workhorse automatic chronograph movement. IWC has made significant strides in their in-house production over the years, and this new IWC Pilot’s Chronograph “Tribute to 3705” utilizes an in-house automatic IWC caliber 69380. This contemporary movement is more advanced and efficient, with four additional hours of power reserve and IWC’s dual-pawl winding system. Additionally, the 69380 utilizes a column-wheel control switching system rather than a lever and cam switching system, which makes for a more uniform feel when operating the pushers. However, not everything has changed as the 69380 does share a similar archictecture with the 7750, and it still has the outdated but charming soft-inner iron cage to help mitigate the effects of magnetism.
Versus the Competition
Despite there only being 1000 produced, this model isn’t trading for a huge premium on the second-hand market. Currently, it’s selling for between $13,000-$15,000, which is just a bit higher than its $11,900 MSRP and about half the price of an original 3705. This puts it in a pretty competitive price point for chronographs. At this price point, the “Tribute to 3705” has to go up against multiple flagship options from brands like Rolex and Zenith. However, taking into account more than just the sum of its parts, I think the below listed watches are the most viable alternatives to this IWC Pilot’s Chronograph “Tribute to 3705.”
The first is another special edition ceramic in-house chronograph, the Omega Dark Side of the Moon. This watch is, of course, based on the iconic moon watch and was one of the first Dark Side of the moon watches made by Omega. It’s now a part of an entire collection produced as a tribute to the Apollo 8 astronauts who were the first humans to see the dark side of the moon. The case is made from one solid block of ceramic, and nearly all components, including the dial, crown, and pushers, are made of ceramic. Additionally, the watch is powered by the self-winding in-house Omega caliber 9300, which is a co-axial COSC certified movement with a 60-hour power reserve. Unlike the IWC, its rhodium-plated movement with Geneva waves in arabesque is fully visible through the sapphire case back. The Dark Side of the Moon can be had for around $9,850, saving you a couple of grand, but before pulling the trigger, one should consider that it’s also a much bigger watch at 44.5mm.
Another option if the Speedmaster is too large is this 41.5mm Breitling Navitimer 806 1959 Re-Edition. This watch, like the IWC, was made as an homage to a vintage fan favorite. However, while the IWC is a “tribute,” this Navitimer is a legitimate “re-edition” as in almost a carbon copy. Excluding the movement, the entire watch has been meticulously copied from the 1959 Breitling Navitimer. Everything from the plexiglass crystal, the dial layout, even the number of beads around the bezel matches perfectly. There is a bit of fauxtina on the Superluminova, which I’m not a fan of, but regardless it’s an impressive re-edition by Breitling. The movement is where almost all changes can be found, but they’re welcome improvements if you ask me. This Navitimer uses the in-house manually wound B09, which is chronometer-certified and has a 70-hour power reserve. This example is a limited edition of 1,959 pieces and will cost you around $8,650.
This IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph “Tribute to 3705” is, as IWC puts it, for those of us “who missed the 90’s.” Now, while I certainly didn’t miss the 90’s, I wasn’t exactly of watch buying age at the time, and so I missed out on the opportunity to buy this watch the first time around. I see it as tailor-made for someone like me who can’t seem to shake their dislike of fauxtina but still loves the new-vintage trend otherwise. For me, the lack of fauxtina on this otherwise very faithful rendering of a young classic makes it the best tribute, re-issue, or homage watch available.
I could gush about this watch all day. IWC threaded the needle here and implemented this tribute watch perfectly. I can’t think of another vintage-inspired or homage timepiece that manages to balance modern technology with a well-loved classic design as well as this.