Bradley Cooper, James Marsden, Rosamund Pike Turn Up for SIHH Gala in Geneva

Courtesy of IWC

Aviation took center stage at the luxury watchmaker’s annual event that attracted a starry crowd.

Hours before IWC’s annual gala at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie watch fair in Geneva (known as S.I.H.H.), James Marsden looked at the watch he was wearing, a just-debuted IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun-edition “Mojave Desert.” (Part of its title is derived, not from the film, but from the elite naval flight-training school where the Tom Cruise monster hit was set. And, instead of that mouthful of a style name, Marsden and others have dubbed the 2019 timepiece simply “the Mojave,” an apt moniker because of its desert-hued styling)

“I’m considering wearing this with my tux tonight,” Marsden said, even as he’s acutely aware that a formal watch should be thin, elegantly simple and displaying only the time, not even a date. “You want a watch to be in harmony with what you’re wearing, but we’re also in this moment in which there are no rules in fashion, period. As bizarre and mismatched as you can get, that’s what people are doing.”

So it was no surprise when Marsden turned up on the red carpet in a burgundy-toned tux by Eidos, the Italian label overseen by creative director Simon Spurr, which indeed looked pretty good with that khaki-hued Mojave. The Westworld alum was joined on the red carpet by Bradley Cooper, who this time last year was announced as the face of the watch brand’s campaign, along with Rosamund Pike and Dev Patel.

IWC throws this black-tie party each January as a chance to highlight its news for roughly 800 clients, retailers and press, and the star power from its ambassadors and “friends of the house” is always strong — perhaps no more so than this year, with the presence of Cooper, who’s in the midst of a high-wattage awards season for his multiple roles as actor, director and co-writer on A Star Is Born. He paired his Gucci tux with the Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun Ceratanium, a proprietary alloy that combines the lightweight feel of titanium with the scratch resistance of ceramic.

“We’re very lucky to be celebrating this moment in time with someone who’s at the pinnacle of his career,” said Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen. “What makes it even better is that his enthusiasm for the brand is authentic: Bradley wore IWC for many years before I contacted him for the first time [to do the campaign]. We love that we can include ambassadors who are passionate about watches and create a shared experience for our clients.”

Pike, wearing Givenchy on Tuesday night, was unabashed in her enthusiasm for the brand’s aviation-focused exhibit this year: IWC is celebrating the 80th anniversary of its first pilot watch. So instead of merely introducing new models, they put the spotlight on major updates to its Spitfire collection — five references that included the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Spitfire and the Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire, the latter limited to 250 pieces, while all feature IWC-manufactured movements.

And for the ultimate finishing touch, the brand imported an actual 1943 Spitfire for its SIHH stand. The World War II British aircraft has been lovingly resorted and was on display to showcase IWC’s newly announced sponsorship of “Silver Spitfire — The Longest Flight,” an around-the-world expedition that will kick off this summer and visit 30 countries while covering 43,000 kilometers. Also among the new watches is a Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Special Edition “The Longest Flight,” a world-timer that allows you to set the time zone via a rotating bezel; it’s also limited to 250 pieces. 

“The Spitfire is such an emotional, iconic airplane, and it really gave me goosebumps today to see it in person,” Pike said. “I’m just in love with anything that’s done to a high standard, so the idea that at the turn of a bezel you can be taken anywhere in the world, that’s just brilliant. I think that’s why I’m attracted to people who are obsessed with watches, because it requires a kind of monomaniacal obsession, which is a beautiful thing, actually.”

It’s an IWC that Pike wears as real-life foreign-affairs correspondent Marie Colvin in A Private War — a piece the brand researched from its archives and is accurate to the film’s early-2000s setting. “They’ve been really supportive,” Pike said. “You have to think not only about what suits the character, but also what would be within their budget. Marie was a spender, she liked to splash out on things. Also, sometimes it’s easier to [source period items] when you’re going back 100 years than when you’re going back 10 or 15 years, so it was really great that IWC was able to locate the perfect watch from that era.” 

Also on hand at the gala were Steve Boultbee-Brooks and Matt Jones, founders of the British-based Boultbee Flight Academy and the pilots who will helm the around-the-world excursion; they operate the Spitfire Experience, in which single passengers, flight-trained or simply adventurous, can join one of the pilots in the air. (“A flight in a Spitfire? My goodness, why not?” Pike enthused.)

Grainger-Herr introduced the pilots onstage at the gala, though it was Jones, who perhaps upstaged all the stars with his entrance: The event space had been designed for the evening to resemble an airplane hangar, and once Boultbee-Brooks was onstage, the oversized doors parted to reveal Jones taxiing in on yet another restored Spitfire.

Marsden likely also geeked out over such a moment; he’s a well-known watch enthusiast, calling them “a passion of mine, and it’s genuine and organic.” Spend just a few minutes with the actor, and it’s clear he knows his stuff, able to do a deep-dive into conversations about perpetual calendars, split-second chronographs and especially the meticulous craft he’s witnessed in the IWC manufacture.

"It’s fascinating, like watching a houseful of surgeons, meticulously and very patiently creating this little world in front of them,” he said. “These days everything is digital or just easier to make, so if there’s this beautiful, intricate, mechanical thing that requires hours and hours of time and focus from a human being’s touch, I just find that unique and special and really attractive.”

And surely any watch nerd can understand that while Marsden — like the other stars who joined him on the red carpet Tuesday evening — has successfully played his part as one of IWC’s brand ambassadors, the simple truth is that it’s a passion that can’t be fabricated. “It would be very easy to come here and just take the photos, but that’s not it for me,” he said. “I look forward to this every January. It’s exciting not only to see all the new watches, but also to spend time with Chris to learn about everything they’re doing, or last night I was sitting with [IWC watchmaker] Kurt Klaus, this legendary guy, and we talked about the mechanical movement he created for a perpetual calendar, a complication I really love. To be honest, I’d be here for free.”