IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL Watch Review

IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL Watch Review

Tradeshows like Baselworld, SIHH and now Watches and Wonders gain most traction for the everyday, made-for-retail watches that the average timepiece wearer can reach for. For us though, it’s all about those unique concept pieces that are not always so easy to find. IWC Schaffhausen brings us one of these very pieces in their IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL watch, a truly extraordinary model that is the first of its kind to be conceived by the brand’s new “Experimental Engineering Team”.

When we say “new”, it seems the engineering journey to create the new IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL watch has taken 8 years, but in that time, the luxury watch manufacturer have succeeding in pushing the limits of what is physically possible in protecting a mechanical movement against shocks. So much so in fact that IWC guarantees the new release can withstand shocks in excess of 30,000G. This rather remarkable technology is not quite yet ready to order, and the when or how is still under question, but it’s mere existence is a reminder of just how experimental IWC Schaffhausen really is.


IWC’s extensive history within the aviation industry is no small secret and it is the very environment of a cockpit that has inspired the new IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL. Pilots are often subjected to extreme conditions in cramped cockpits, surrounded by sharp metallic surfaces and systems which could easily be the undoing of a piece of wrist wear. With that in mind, the Schaffhausen-based manufacturer wanted to create a watch that could withstand the very physical shocks that pilots can be subjected to – and then some.

That’s where the new SPRIN-g PROTECT system comes in. Developed by the IWC Experimental Engineering Team, the technology is designed to protect the mechanical movement from impacts by using a cantilever spring made from bulk metal glass or (BMG). This material is known for being significantly more flexible than other metals and so it allows the movement to move independently from the case and stops harsh movements gently.

To test its performance, IWC collaborated with the Fracture & Shock Physics group at the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University in England, U.K. Together, they used a laser-based measurement method and a high-speed video recording to study the effects that different levels of impact had on the movement. During these tests, it was found that when the SPRIN-g PROTECT system was in place, the movement could survive forces in excess of 30,000 g. Compared to the forces pilots are likely to ensure in the cockpit, which are estimated between 300 to 1,000g, the IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL would have no problem.

The Case

Although part of the IWC Big Pilots collection, the Shock Absorber XPL watch stands out rather prominently against its other cockpit-inspired counterparts. This is not just for its unique technology or unusual dial layout, but its case is also engineered from the brand’s futuristic Ceratanium. First launched in 2019, Ceratanium combines all the lightweight and rigid properties of titanium alongside the heard, wear-free and scratch resistant properties of ceramic. The patented material is used across all the case components including the case, lugs, bezel, crown and buckle.  

The case of the IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL measures to 44mm in diameter and 12mm in height and is assisted by the signature Big Pilots screw in onion-style crown, see through sapphire crystal case back and a water resistant rating of 100 metres. Convex sapphire crystal glass protects the dial and delivers effortless legibility thanks to the anti-reflective coating on both sides while a sporty textured black rubber strap straps the piece securely to the wrist – although we’re not sure dropping this watch from chest height is going to do it much harm given the technology inside…

The Movement

The powerhouse to the IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL watch is the IWC-manufactured 32115 calibre. The in-house movement itself has been designed to work effortlessly alongside the new SPRIN-g PROTECT system with the plates milled from aluminium to reduce its overall mass and the crown’s winding system developed to allow the movement to displace freely between the spring and case sides.

The 32115 calibre is basically a lightweight version of the IWC 32000 series, equipped with 164 components including a bi-directional pawl winding system capable of building up a power reserve of 120 hours. The 21 jewelled calibre also runs at a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour and delivers hours, minutes and seconds and a Côtes de Genève decorated rotor.

The Dial

As we’ve come to expect from the IWC Big Pilots range, the dial of the IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL watch is highly legible and kept simple with the signature sword shaped hands treated with Superluminova at the centre. Its matte black finish is also decorated with white Arabic numerals and a horizontal white line, almost like a crosshair, through its middle. Unlike other Big Pilots watches, however, the dial’s luminescent hour markers are not actually on the dial, but instead attached to the SPRIN-g PROTECT system surrounding it.

The Strap

The all-black stealthy design of the Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL watch is completed by an integrated black rubber strap with leather inlay. Its textured finish reminds us of the rubber straps seen on some of the IWC Aquatimer watches and is fitted with a Ceratanium pin buckle.

Price & Availability

As we’ve already hinted, the IWC Big Pilots Shock Absorber XPL watch isn’t going to be easy to get. It is limited to only 30 pieces and production is restricted to 10 pieces a year due to the complexity of the manufacturing process. With that being said, it’s expected to retail at around $83,600 US Dollars or 80,000 Swiss Francs when it is released.

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