Earlier this month, IWC debuted an innovative mechanical watch with a patented shock absorption system capable of withstanding gravitational forces in excess of 30,000 g’s.

Despite the obvious aesthetic concerns — IWC clearly focused on function over form —  creating a mechanical watch with this type of shock resistance represents an impressive feat, and a new benchmark in watchmaking. Accordingly, the project required over eight years of research and development within the company’s “IWC Experimental” division which is what the “XPL” in the name stands for.

The IWC Big Pilot’s Shock Absorber XPL is presented in a 44 mm x 12.09 mm black ceramic titanium alloy case (Ceratanium®), generally speaking, has a similar silhouette to the other Pilot’s watches in the system.

Dubbed the “SPRIN-g PROTECT” system, a cantilever spring suspends the movement inside the case. And thanks to the use of Bulk Metallic Glass (BMG), the spring protects the movement against the powerful g-forces by cushioning the movement.

IWC Big Pilot’s Shock Absorber XPL

A sophisticated manufacturing process gives BMG an amorphous microstructure, with the result that it’s significantly more elastic than conventional metals. An ultra-lightweight titanium casing ring further reduces the mass that the shock absorber must hold. Another innovation is a unique crown system with a winding stem that allows the movement to displace independently of the case.

Reducing the mass to be protected by the spring is critical for the system’s overall performance. The IWC caliber 32115 used for this watch features a custom-made lightweight construction. Components like the mainplate are made from a high-tech aluminum alloy used in the aerospace sector, which is light and highly rigid.

IWC reports that In impact tests conducted at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, a protected movement has survived accelerations in excess of 30,000 g – which is incredible, especially considering the movement is of the automatically wound variety. By comparison, the Richard Mille RM 27-04, a manually wound tourbillon-equipped wristwatch designed for Rafael Nadal to play tennis in, is capable of withstanding 12,000 g’s thanks to a specially developed cable suspension system.

IWC Big Pilot’s Shock Absorber XPL exploded view

“When a watch suffers an impact, the movement and its components are subjected to high g-forces. If a pilot accidentally hits his watch against a hard surface in the cockpit, for example, accelerations are in the range of 300 to 1000 g. Our shock absorber system protects the movement so efficiently that it has survived accelerations in excess of 30,000 g in impact tests,” explains Dr. Lorenz Brunner, Department Manager Research & Innovation at IWC Schaffhausen.

In addition to the amazing level of shock resistance, the Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL (Ref. IW357201) 21-jewel automatic movement boasts a 4Hz beat rate and 120-hour power reserve. The matte black Ceratanium® (ceramic titanium alloy) case is strong like titanium and scratch-resistant like ceramic — and lightweight which is typically a benefit of either metal. The crown screws down, the sapphire glass is secured against drops in pressure, and water resistance is rated to 100 meters.

The retail price is $83,600 and IWC plans to produce and sell 10 per year, for a total of three years.

Posted by:Jason Pitsch

Jason Pitsch is the Founder of Professional Watches. He specializes in reporting on the watch industry and is interested in continually learning about all aspects of watchmaking craftsmanship, history, and design.