UPDATE! “Pilots Steve Boultbee Brooks and Matt Jones have made aviation history after completing the first-ever round-the-world flight in the Spitfire. Boultbee Brooks and Jones landed just in time for Christmas to a rapturous welcome at Goodwood on the 5th of December, exactly four months after they set off on their epic expedition.”— IWC
When you first lay eyes on the Silver Spitfire, it looks wrong.
Here, we have one of the most recognizable aviation silhouettes ever, the star of innumerable historic photos and newsreels, untold numbers of model airplane kits, countless museum exhibits, and vintage airshows. But in all those, the Spitfire appears wearing camouflage, spotted in squadron markings, usually with Browning machine guns on each wing. The WWII fighter plane, while iconic, remains synonymous with the deadliest conflict in human history.
But the Silver Spitfire isn’t like other Spitfires. No, this is a special “demilitarized” model, meaning it’s bereft of livery or armament. Washed of war paint, stripped of lethal power, you’re allowed to appreciate it as a technical design object, a functional sculpture. It’s no longer a relic of our capacity to destroy, but a towering monument to our ability to create.
Seen this way, the plane looks totally and utterly correct. Especially in the context of the SIHH watch fair in Geneva, where the Silver Spitfire made its debut at the IWC Schaffhausen booth. There, the aircraft was flanked by the Swiss brand’s Pilot’s Watch Spitfire collection. The common thread? Engineering elevated to high art.
Consider the new collection’s smallest piece, a handsome 39mm two-hand automatic, which packs a 72-hour power reserve. There’s a precision chronograph variant, upsized to 41mm with triple sub-banks, as well as a Big Pilot’s Watch version. The latter features a unique green dial, bronze case, brown calfskin strap, perpetual calendar function, and moon-phase for both northern and southern hemispheres.
SIHH showgoers flocked to the IWC area, eager to snap photos of the new watches alongside an aeronautical legend. Developed during the 1930s, the Spitfire is often cited among the finest aviation designs of all-time. The short-range, high-performance aircraft helped pioneer the elliptical-wing configuration, using sunken rivets to achieve a super-thin cross-section, increasing top speed without sacrificing stability or safety. (R.J. Mitchell, the principal engineer, cut his teeth on racing seaplanes. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he also held a pilot’s license and flew regularly.)
During the famed Battle of Britain, in 1940, Mitchell’s machine took center stage, as British and Canadian pilots fended off a monthslong German and Italian onslaught. The fast, agile Spitfire became the darling of Allied airmen. It curried favor with military brass, too, thanks to its robustness and adaptability. This allowed the British to forgo a clean-sheet redesign for the entirety of the war; instead, they simply updated the trusty Spitfire, creating more than two dozen iterations, suitable for everything from ground attacks to photo-reconnaissance. In total, more than 20,000 examples rolled off the assembly lines between 1938 and 1950. Remarkably, less than 60 remain flightworthy today.
So spotting one always feels special. But coming nose-to-propeller with the Silver Spitfire is a bonafide event. This is a true one-off, born of a partnership between IWC and Britain’s prestigious Boultbee Flight Academy. Using the plane’s historic designation, MJ271, historians were able to trace its lineage and pedigree. Records indicate this particular plane was built in 1943 at a shadow factory in Castle Bromwich, the heart of Britain’s industrial Midlands. It was then flown by Australian, Canadian, Norwegian, Trinidadian, and British pilots, logging more than 50 combat missions before retiring in 1945.
But that was a past life. MJ271 earned the Silver Spitfire moniker after an intensive two-year restoration, during which its body panels were polished to silver-chrome perfection. This bespoke finish only makes the exterior lines more striking. The blister-shaped cockpit, gently swept elliptical wings, oblong tailfin—all intersect gracefully, creating a harmonious whole. It’s a far cry from the jutting, angular look of supersonic aircraft. Modern fighter jets blend into the background of Michael Bay films. The Silver Spitfire could star in an Ezra Stoller photograph.
Aviation buffs will note that the Silver Spitfire is an Mk IX variant, meaning it carries the famed Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 piston engine. Equipped with a trick two-stage supercharger, this 12-cylinder marvel was 30 percent smaller than the Nazi’s BMW radial motor but still produced more horsepower. Outstanding high-altitude performance afforded enormous tactical advantages—so much so that the United States licensed Rolls-Royce’s design, then put it into production stateside. Some historians refer to the Merlin as “the engine that won WWII.”
Which is to say: There’s a workhorse behind the Silver Spitfire’s show pony shell. Good thing, since IWC and Boultbee Flight Academy weren’t contented with the static display at SIHH. Instead, the two brands decided to take this special machine on an unprecedented, four-month-long, round-the-globe flight. Covering some 27,000 miles, the route map includes more than 100 individual legs, stopping in 30 countries. Boultbee Academy aces Steve Brooks and Matt Jones jumped at the opportunity to pilot the expedition.
Their journey commenced in early August when the Silver Spitfire flew west from the Goodwood Aerodrome, a former Royal Air Force base on Britain’s southern coast. At press time, the aircraft was flying over northern Japan, with Brooks and Jones having already logged an incredible 13,000 miles. Along the way, they’ve amassed a serious following: IWC’s plane has more than 75,000 fans across Facebook, Instagram (@thesilverspitfire), and Twitter (@longestflight).
Connect with any of those accounts, and you’ll be rewarded with a constant stream of live updates, plus stunning video and photo content. Look closely at Brooks and Jones—or, more specifically, their wrists—and you’ll also see the crown jewel of the new IWC collection: The Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Longest Flight.
Hewn from stainless steel, this 46mm timepiece brings legibility (high-contrast black dial, lumed markers), and functionality (60 hours power reserve, 60 meters watch resistance) in equal measure. Crucially, it features IWC’s clever worldtime setup; adjust the timezone via bezel rotation, and the hour hand, 24-hour display, and date all synchronize automatically. This watch looks the part, too, with an oversized diamond-style crown, orientation triangle at the 12 o’clock position, and military-green textile strap.
It’s sure to pique the interest of IWC collectors, as the Spitfire Longest Flight is limited to just 250 pieces. But those enthusiasts with an appreciation for aviation will appreciate this watch most. Not only as a special edition that commemorates the Silver Spitfire, and the historic Brooks and Jones expedition, but as a symbolic object. Together, the plane and watch stand as great technical triumphs over two of mankind’s enduring obsessions: taking flight and comprehending time.