The Legacy of IWC’s Le Petit Prince
Long before IWC brought out its first “Le Petit Prince” models in 2013, the brand had been supporting the Fondation Antoine de Saint Exupéry on various projects, ensuring that the famous French aviator’s humanitarian spirit would continue to be honoured in the most special ways.
Committed to helping children and young people in disadvantaged circumstances, IWC has been working closely with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s descendants since 2005. Over the years, the brand has auctioned off several unique pieces to finance the needs of this charitable institution and the “Le Petit Prince” watches have been an integral part of this collaborative journey.
Known for their characteristic retro style, the “Le Petit Prince” editions have almost become like a sub-brand within IWC’s Pilot’s watch family. The unmistakable blue dials and elaborate engravings on the casebacks have made these watches highly covetable in collectors’ circles. The most fascinating aspect of these timepieces is the way the adventurous days of early aviation come together with the element of fantasy that Saint-Exupéry created in his most famous literary work, Le Petit Prince.
While the first IWC watch dedicated to Saint-Exupéry was a pilot chronograph (Reference IW3717) released in 2006, the Le Petit Prince models made their way into the Pilot’s collection only in 2013. The very first model, reference IW326506, was based on the basic Mark XVII time-only pilot’s watch. With its blue sunburst dial, a stylized star on the seconds’ hand and a beautifully engraved image of the little prince on the caseback, the model was a runway hit. Powered by caliber 30110, the stainless steel watch was launched as a limited edition of 1000 pieces to mark the 70th anniversary of the novella Le Petit Prince.
The other big highlight of 2013 was the Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition “Le Petit Prince” (Ref. IW502802). This model also had the characteristic reflective blue dial like the Mark XVII and a special medallion depicting the Little Prince on the rotor, viewable from the back of the watch. Limited to 270 pieces, the 46 mm watch in 18-carat red gold was equipped with caliber 51613 that delivered a power reserve of seven days.
The Le Petit Prince model that we have in our shop this month was introduced in 2014. Though it is a basic chronograph Pilot’s watch, the reference IW377706 was well-received then for its clean design and superb functionality. The midnight blue dial displays a small hacking seconds subdial at 9o’clock, date and day at 3o’clock, and two chronograph counters at 12o’clock and 6 o’clock respectively for 30 minutes and 12 hour functions. The 43 mm stainless steel case is water-resistant up to 60 meters and has an engraving of “Le Petit Prince” on the caseback. The watch is offered on a brown calfskin strap with quilted stitching and a stainless-steel pin buckle.
We have got this particular piece covered under Watchfinder’s two-year warranty and the added bonus is the set of original box and papers that come with the watch.
In 2014, IWC also commemorated the 70th anniversary Saint-Exupéry’s last flight with three editions of a special ceramic-cased watch. It was on July 31st 1944, when Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took off from the island of Corsica, on a reconnaissance mission to aid the allied forces in their battle against Nazi-Germany, a flight he never returned from.
As a tribute to Saint-Exupéry, IWC released the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “The Last Flight” as 1700 pieces in titanium, 170 in red gold and 17 in platinum. Here is where it gets interesting, because with all the watches the case was made from brown ceramic, making it that the edition only shows its true metal by the push buttons, crown and, often hidden from the eye, the caseback. The platinum version of the timepiece was auctioned at Sotheby’s the same year and the entire proceeds were donated to the Fondation Antoine de Saint Exupéry.
By 2016, the Le Petit Prince offerings from IWC had significantly expanded. Four new models, including the much-coveted Big Pilot’s Watch Annual Calendar (reference IW5027-01) were introduced that year. Limited to 250 pieces, this watch in 5N gold was the first IWC Pilot’s Watch equipped with an annual calendar complication. Powered by IWC’s self-winding Caliber 52850, the watch displayed a fancy solid gold rotor crafted to resemble a drawing by Saint-Exupéry of the Little Prince standing on a flower-bedecked asteroid gazing at the stars.
The other three models included a Big Pilot’s watch in a limited edition in steel, a Mark XVIII (reference IW3270‑04) and reference IW3777-14, another Le Petit Prince chronograph but with an in-house movement.
Over the years, the Le Petit Prince collection has come to epitomise not just the technical supremacy of IWC’s Pilot’s watches but also the poetic side of watchmaking. It relates to the intricacies of the movement that are mostly hidden inside watch cases and can be truly appreciated only by a real connoisseur; just the way Saint Exupéry stated in his novella: “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
This year, IWC has brought in the “Le Petit Prince” on a watch that offers a dynamic mix of utilitarian design and stylistic flair. A limited edition of 1500 pieces, the new Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Edition “Le Petit Prince ” is essentially a dual time watch, with the second timezone displayed in 24-hour time via the aperture at the top of the dial. What makes the Timezoner more special than your run-of-the-mill GMT is how you change the time. Simply push in on the bezel to unlock it, and then rotate it to your preferred timezone and that time display will change in sync.
The watch’s broad ceramic bezel, marked with cities of the world, is now in glossy blue ceramic, and the dial is the characteristic LPP starburst hue. It’s also worth noting that the Arabic hour markers are applied and are in the slightly more stylised typeface used on this collection, helping it stand out on the wrist. Not that this 46mm watch really needed assistance in that area.