A reconnaissance flight over the South of France on 31 July 1944 brought an abrupt end to the famed writer and humanist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s career and passion for flying. After taking off from a military base in Corsica, his Lockheed P-38 Lightning vanished without a trace. The author of The Little Prince had already been discharged from the air force because of his age. He was also slightly overweight, and too big for the aircraft’s narrow cockpit.
Despite all that, he was constantly in search of adventure and decided to embark on the reconnaissance flight. Somewhere close to Toulon he was spotted by the German Luftwaffe. Speculation as to where he came down only ended in 1998, when a fisherman found a bracelet belonging to the French national hero in his net while fishing off the shore of Marseille. Pieces of wreckage were later recovered from the sea and identified as parts of Saint-Exupéry’s aircraft. The German pilot who had unwittingly shot down his favourite author’s plane recently met the French aviator’s family for the first time.
“Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s passion for flying guided his life and work, and ultimately determined his fate. Since we began our cooperation with his descendants in 2006, IWC has unveiled a series of special limited editions of its Pilot’s Watch that have kept the memory of this extraordinary pilot and aviation pioneer alive to this day,” says IWC CEO Georges Kern. This year, the Schaffhausen-based watch manufacturer marks the 70th anniversary of Saint-Exupéry’s last flight with three special editions featuring silicon nitride ceramic cases: the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition `The Last Flight` is available with a crown and push-buttons in titanium, red gold or platinum, each in a limited series.
In November, Sotheby’s Geneva will auction one of the platinum models of the watch. As on many occasions in the past, IWC will donate the entire proceeds to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation, which champions the great Frenchman’s humanitarian philosophy and is involved in projects aimed at improving literacy among children and young people across the world. On this occasion, the money is destined for the Hospital Pequeno Príncipe in Curitiba, Brazil.
Brazil’s largest children’s hospital is a respected centre specialising in highly complex heart operations, organ and bone transplants and cancer treatment, and is able to count on the help of over 500 volunteers. Thanks to IWC’s contribution, the hospital’s recreational area will soon have a library to offer its young patients. Access to good literature should encourage them to take pleasure in reading and culture, and to find a constructive way of spending their free time.
Swiss Francs 173,000 raised from last year’s auction was used to open two school buildings including a library in Cambodia, which offer an education to 1,200 children. “Our sense of social responsibility reflects what happens in our own company,” explains Kern. “We want to feel sure that our commitment is conducive to progress and positive development. In the Saint-Exupéry Foundation, we support an organization that has a huge international network and does an incredible amount for disadvantaged children with its local projects. Together, we help them to carve out a future for themselves and to play an active role in society.”
All IWC special editions in honour of the legendary Antoine de Saint-Exupéry have featured the same tobacco colour as the flying suit he used to wear. While this elegant colour was restricted to the dial in earlier models, in `The Last Flight’ Chronograph Edition it is much more consistent, with a brown ceramic case made from silicon nitride, a brown dial and a calfskin strap in the same colour. The titanium push-buttons, crown and case back provide a pleasing contrast on the 1,700 pieces in the limited edition (Ref. IW388004), a further 170 watches (Ref. IW388006) have eye-catching red gold highlights and 17 timepieces (Ref. IW388005) feature a crown, buttons and case back in platinum.
The rugged case, made of high-performance ceramic silicon nitride, has several outstanding properties such as enormous heat resistance, unusual hardness, corrosion resistance and very low wear and tear. The sense of quality emanated by this model is underscored by the elaborate sun-pattern finish on the dial. The sapphire glass has an antireflective coating on both sides and is secured against drops in air pressure, while the case is water-resistant to 6 bar.
Developed and manufactured by IWC entirely in Schaffhausen, the 89361 calibre that powers this watch is a technical masterpiece. Stop times up to 12 hours are clearly displayed on an analogue hour and minute counter on a sub dial. The back of the watch is engraved with a special image which commemorates the 70th anniversary of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s last flight. The timepiece itself is packaged in a leather case embossed with the same motif as the exquisite engraving on the case back, and is accompanied by a rotor-shaped letter opener in stainless steel. The two models, with crown and push-buttons in precious metals, also come with a print by French artist Manolo Chrétien on duraluminum in a brown leather frame