Necessity is often the herald of invention. There is perhaps nowhere that exemplifies this better in the watch world than pilot’s watches. In 1904 Cartier released what came to be known as the first Aviation-focused timepiece, the Santos. The watch was designed at the behest of Albert Santos-Dumont, an early European aviator, who found it difficult to use his pocket watch while controlling an aircraft.
Pilot’s watches needed to be reliable, easy to read, and luminous. Many other brands took a swing at designing pilot’s watches most notably Zenith, Stowa, Laco, and IWC — to name a few. As the popularity of these timepieces grew, they became fashionable and were appreciated for their simplicity.
The watch we’re talking about today is the IWC 3777-17 or the Le Petit Prince. The modern interpretation of IWC’s pilots’ chronograph. The Le Petit Prince aspect of the watch is derived from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel, The Little Prince. Saint-Exupéry was a well known French author and aviator that disappeared on a reconnaissance mission in 1943. His work has received a lot of notoriety both before and after his death, but Le Petit Prince stood out. The children’s book has been translated into 250 different languages and is one of the top-selling books in the world.
With that in mind, it quickly becomes clear how a significant producer of aviation-themed watches would choose to memorialize Saint-Exupéry with one of their pilot’s watches. The way they opted to do this was with a sunburst blue dial and a caseback engraving. The rest of the watch remains true to the 3777 Pilots Chronograph collection.
Now, before we get too far into this, let’s go over some specs:
- Case Width: 43mm
- Case Thickness: 16.25mm
- Lug to Lug: 53.5mm
- Depth Rating: 6 Bar or 60m
- Weight: 7.1oz on the bracelet
- Movement: Calibre 79320 (Valjoux 7750)
- Lug Width: 21mm
(All Measurements are my personal measurements and may differ from the manufacturer’s specifications.)
The IWC Chronographs from the 3777 family are all on the larger side. The longer lug to lug length mixed with the thickness of the case causes the watches themselves to present rather large on the wrist. They’re not uncomfortable, however. The dramatic downward angle of lugs causes the watch itself to hug your wrist nicely.
The thickness of the case itself could be a turnoff to some, but for my needs, it isn’t an issue. We’ll talk more about the bracelet later, but it’s worth addressing here; it’s excellent. The drape is well-executed, and the quick adjustment buckle system is a work of art. These really lend themselves to this watch’s comfort.
There are two sides to this story: On one hand, folks wish they IWC had opted to use one of their in-house calibers, perhaps something from the 69000 family. Which, of course, they did in the recently released Spitfire Chronograph from SIHH 2019. The 79320, however, is not an “off the shelf,” 7750. It’s been highly modified and regulated by IWC.
In my experience, the changes that IWC chooses to make to the 7750’s result in a movement that is extremely accurate, reliable, and anti-magnetic. So, for my wrist, I am more than pleased. This also means that down the line when the time comes to service the watch any competent watchmaker can do it. In-house movements generally need to go back to the manufacture for correct servicing (there are, of course, exceptions).
Case & Crown
One of the things that I appreciate about IWC’s pilot series and the choices they made with the cases; is simply that they have chosen to retain the tool-watch vibe on what could be considered a somewhat up-market piece.
The entire case is brushed, except for the thin bezel around the crystal and the beveled edges on the case. Polished details like this really serve to make the watch sparkle on your wrist. With a lug to lug length of over 53mm, you might think the watch would wear exceptionally large, but really the angle of the lugs curve down dramatically making it very comfortable on my 7” wrist.
IWC opted to use a 7mm screw-down serrated crown on their 3777 line. I’ve found it odd that with a screw-down crown the watch is only rated to 60m. I suspect that IWC is being conservative with that rating, but it’s not something I’ll push. This isn’t a diver after all. All that being said, the crown is excellently sized and designed for its intended use.
Dial & Crystal
Dials are what draw us into watches, aren’t they? I remember sitting in the (very fancy) lobby of a Wempe in Paris with my wife. The salesman wasn’t particularly friendly, but even my wife (an admittedly non-watch person) was drawn into the blue sunburst dial of the Le Petit Prince. When set next to the regular black dialed 3777, there was no comparison.
Each of the three subdials is recessed slightly and have a circular texture applied to them. This gives them some visual contrast against the rest of the dial. The hands themselves are polished silver and filled with pure white Super Luminova while the chronograph seconds hand is painted white. The ticking second’s hand at 9 o’clock stands out painted red next to the other subdials which are just white. I’ve always loved this detail, it adds just a tiny pop of contrast to the blue dial.
Being that this is a pilot watch technically, legibility takes priority on this dial. All of the hours that are not occluded by subdials or the date window are represented in large white numerals. At noon we see the traditional “Flieger” triangle. The date wheels are both white as well. This allows the date to jump off the darker dial. The hands also taper to precise points, allowing for accuracy when setting the watch.
Lastly, the lume… Oh IWC, why have you done this to me? Only the hands and quarter-hour markers are lumed. Now, they’re lumed well, but it would have been so easy for them to lume all the numerals. I can’t think of a good reason why they’d overlook this. It’s forgivable, but barely.
The price difference between the 3777 on a leather strap vs. on a steel bracelet is $1000. That’s a steep price grade for a strap option, but that’s what I did, and I feel like it’s totally worth it.
The steel bracelet from IWC is a mechanical work of art. Starting with the links, there are push buttons on the back. When these are depressed with the included pusher tools, the links slide apart. No screws, no split pins, or god forbid pin and collars to monkey with. The clasp is pure genius. It has a generous ratcheting quick adjustment feature. To expand the bracelet you simply press on the IWC logo on the clasp, flex your wrist some, and it will expand to accommodate. To retract it you just push it back together, and it’ll click into place. Genius. In addition to the mechanisms, the strap offers remarkable flexibility and movement. The “drape” of the strap over your wrist is perfect.
One negative aspect to the 3777 when it comes to straps is the lug width of 21mm. This is an uncommon width, so your options for aftermarket straps will be somewhat limited. I would suggest going the custom route and for $100-200 have a strap made to suit your watch and wrist specifically.
IWC Le Petit Prince Chronograph Review – Final Thoughts
If it’s not apparent from the review above, I’m a fan of this watch. It’s something that had been on my radar for quite a while, and ultimately I was delighted to put it on the wrist. If you’re someone that’s a fan of chronographs but want to get out of the usual Omega Speedmaster rut, this is an excellent choice. I personally suggest that you purchase it on the bracelet, but if you know for a fact that you prefer leather it’s an easy way to save some money. There are a lot of options when it comes to the pilot’s chronographs all across the spectrum of prices and quality. If you choose to go with one of IWC’s offerings, I think you’ll be pleased that you did.