The relationship between IWC and the Top Gun Navy Fighter Weapons School is one that dates back a decade and a half, however, the Schaffhausen-based watchmaker has been creating pilot watches for the better part of the last century. With so much expertise the relationship between IWC and the Top Gun school is one that just makes sense, so we wanted to take a closer look at the partnership, as well as a handful of our favourites from the collection.
The first pilot watches IWC ever made can be dated back to 1936, with classic examples from this early era including the ref. 431 Big Pilot and ref. 436 Mark IX, which almost single-handedly set the tone for the way pilot watches look to this day. Featuring the quintessential black dial and large contrasting Arabic numerals, these watches were designed to be read at a glance in any conditions and as a result, legibility and reliability were absolutely critical.
Even today, the expertise that IWC developed over such a long history of making watches for the air forces of the world continues to inform the timepieces the brand makes today. Lightweight technical materials such as titanium, ceramic, and more recently Ceratanium, are favoured for their robustness and comfort, while the dials remain as simple and easy to read as they were in decades past.
It’s no surprise then that in addition to working directly with the Top Gun Navy Fighter Weapons School (as well as being the only official watchmaker for the entire US Navy and Marine Corps), IWC is currently working with a total of 247 active and 100 inactive squadrons. The squadron watches IWC creates are done in direct collaboration with the respective squadrons and are only available to presently serving or past members of the unit, with each timepiece engraved with the owner’s call sign and name.
There was a trio of squadron designed Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition watches that were made available to the public, which included the “Royal Maces,” “Blue Angels,” and “Tophatters” editions. However, the rest of the current collection of watches created in partnership with Top Gun are stealthier and more restrained, offered in monochromatic colours that look great on the wrist every day.
So if you’re looking to add a legitimate pilot watch to your collection, the range of watches that IWC offers means there’s almost certainly something for everyone. We decided to pick out a few of our favourites from the current lineup, from the more affordable to the complicated, and everything in between.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium
Boasting a 44mm Ceratanium case, the Double Chronograph is pretty damn close to being a perfect modern pilot’s watch. Its case works immaculately with the matte-finished black dial, in turn offering ample contrast against the light grey hour markers and hands. Offering both the day and date, the real genius of this split-seconds chronograph is the 79420-calibre movement inside, which is the modern version of the IWC 79230-caliber developed by legendary watchmaker Richard Habring. This automatic chronograph movement (whose forefather was the Valjoux 7750) serves up 44 hours of power reserve and contains no less than 247 components. Arriving on a black textile and rubber strap, you’ll never want it to leave your wrist.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII TOP GUN Edition “SFTI”
If you prefer your pilot watches on the simpler side, this Mark XVIII TOP GUN Edition “SFTI” is as clean as they come. Created as a civilian edition of the timepiece that graduates of the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructors (SFTI) can order, it’s more modestly sized at 41mm with a case thickness of just 11mm. At three o’clock you’ll see the practical date window, while at 9 o’clock the Top Gun logo is prominent in star spangling red, white and blue. Powered by the workhorse 35111-calibre, it will run for 50 hours without winding and arrives on a comfortable olive green NATO strap. Just 750 examples of this watch are produced every year.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Lake Tahoe”
Inspired by the winter landscape around Lake Tahoe and the white uniforms of the US Navy, this IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Lake Tahoe” is probably the crispest watch you’ll lay eyes on this week. With a 44mm case made from white ceramic, its black dial and hands remain super legible thanks to the pure white luminous material found on them. Inside is the IWC-manufacture 69380-calibre column-wheel chronograph movement that has been expertly decorated and delivers a power reserve of 46 hours.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tribute to 3705”
As you’re probably getting a picture of by now, IWC has made great pilot watches for a long time and the ref. 3705 from 1994 is one of them, having earned something of a cult status in collectors circles. Nicknamed the “Black Flieger,” it was the first pilot watch from IWC that featured a black ceramic case (zirconium oxide to be precise), and the “Tribute to 3705” that you see before you is a faithful recreation of that important timepiece. With a 41mm black Ceratanium case, it’s a watch that has been artfully murdered out with just the hands and hour markers bucking the darkened trend. Powered by the same 69380-calibre as the “Lake Tahoe,” this nod to IWC’s neo-vintage past is about as cool as they come.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar TOP GUN Ceratanium
Last, but certainly not least, is one of the biggest and most impressive watches in the entire Top Gun lineup. The Perpetual Calendar TOP GUN Ceratanium spans a diameter of 46.2mm and was actually the first-ever IWC to feature a bracelet made from Ceratanium, writing its name into the history books. Powered by the truly spectacular 52615-calibre, this is a perpetual calendar movement that was originally developed by another legendary IWC watchmaker named Kurt Klaus and contains 381 components, while offering 168 hours of power reserve. Your read that right, 168 hours, or 7 days of power reserve is possible thanks to its twin mainspring barrels delivering energy to the indications of the time, day, date, month, moonphase, year and more. If you’re after the meanest looking IWC in the Top Gun school collection, you needn’t look past this one right here.