When you hear the phrase “digital display”, as it relates to watches, what comes to mind? Very likely, it’s either a very affordable quartz driven piece that you hand to your kids, or it’s a sensor-laden puck that you strap on before heading out to the trails. IWC has another way for you to think about digital displays, however.

This takes the form of the 89801 Caliber, which is housed in their newer Spitfire Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month (product page). Surprisingly, this “digital” date display has it’s roots in IWC’s own catalog, as they’ve produced similar complications as far back as 1884. They then brought the new movement to light in 2009, with a further refinement here in 2013 that added the month to the digital display.


And of course, that digital display is not quite what we’d normally think of – it’s not an LCD display of any kind. Rather, it’s rotating discs that display the month and date in large digits – hence the term digital. I mean, think back to those older flip clocks that you probably saw in your (or your grandparents) house. Those were considered digital to, in terms of the display, even though the display itself didn’t have a hint of electronics.

Naming conventions aside, I do find myself drawn to these large date displays for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on. Of course, seeing the movement (and some drawings of how it works) and it’s leap year indication only further my own interest in this type of display. Good thing it’s in an excellent watch, right?


And that watch is an aviator, through and through – but you could have guessed that by the Spitfire name. That namesake plane makes it’s appearance on the rotor, visible through the sapphire case back. Up front, you have a domed sapphire crystal (AR coated, of course) protecting the grey dial. Here, while the numerals displayed on the dial are an odd combination (dropping the cardinal points) we don’t often see, I like it. By not opting for cut-off numerals, they’ve kept a cleanly balanced look to the dial. Not to mention, it would have simply made things look cluttered trying to shove those in.

Along with the date displays (look for the leap year indicator at 6 o’clock), the Spitfire features a chronograph function, with the hour and minute registers combined at 12 o’clock (small seconds are indicated at the 6 o’clock dial). Back to those date displays for a second – once you have the perpetual calendar set (and provided you keep things wound), the calendar will require no intervention from a watchmaker until 2100, when the normal leap year cycle is broken.


Housed in a 46mm red gold case, the Spitfire carries 60m water resistance rating, provided you’ve got the crown locked down (and don’t try to engage the pushers under water). Surprisingly for a watch this refined looking, it comes in at a height of almost 18mm. This is due (likely) in no small part to the complications added in for the date displays (month, day, and leap year), and to my way of thinking, pushes it more to a sportier camp, refined looks aside.

Sizing really isn’t that big of an issue, though, at least for me. With an asking price of $55,900, this is not a watch I would see myself picking up any time soon. As with other high-end pieces that I’ve written about here, the goal isn’t so much looking to see what one could get. Rather, it’s looking to see what sort of interesting things are occurring in the high end, to help us to expand our thinking in what can be done with the humble watch movement.


I know I can’t be the only person out there who digs the large date displays, as many brands are turning them out. If you’re a fan as well, sound off in the comments and let us know what your favorite big date display watch is. And, if one of them happens to have the big month or leap year indicator, be sure to point that out as well.  iwc.com


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New Models, Over $1000,

Last Update: September 11, 2013