Swiss luxury watch brand IWC has recently introduced a new model – the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “SFTI” in Black Ceramic and Ceratanium – from its TOP GUN collection.
A pioneer of aviation timepieces, IWC Schaffhausen continues to enthrall both the aviation professionals and the ardent fans of pilot watches with their state-of-the-art collections. In this article, you will discover some outstanding pilot watches from the IWC TOP GUN Collection (including civilian and military editions) as well as a number of IWC squadron watches.
IWC Schaffhausen’s TOP GUN Pilot’s Watches are dedicated to the legendary Navy Fighter Weapons School program, in which the US Navy trains the very best pilots in flying and tactical skills. Made of highly robust and hard-wearing materials, these precise aviation instruments are designed to withstand even the extreme G-forces a fighter jet pilot can be subjected to in the cockpit.
IWC Schaffhausen manufactured its first Pilot’s Watch more than 80 years ago. Since then, the Swiss watch-making specialist has accumulated extensive know-how in designing and engineering mission-critical instrument watches that are tailored to the needs of aviators.
The TOP GUN watches, which IWC has been making as an official licensee of the US Navy since 2007, take their name from the legendary Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN). They represent the tactical and performance side of IWC’s Pilot’s Watches, while at the same time underscoring the company’s role as a pioneer and innovator in the area of advanced case materials.
Nowhere in the field of aviation are the requirements as rigorous as in Naval Aviation. Spot landings at night on an aircraft carrier are among the most challenging manoeuvres of all. During dogfights, tight turns or in vertical manoeuvres with supersonic jets like an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, maximum acceleration forces are exerted on the pilots and their aircraft.
The constant day and night operations on an aircraft carrier likewise take a toll on man and material. This is why TOP GUN watches are engineered from highly robust and resilient materials such as titanium and ceramics to withstand the extreme strain fighter jet pilots can experience in the cockpit.
The high-tech ceramic used in watch cases is characterized by extremely pure raw materials and sophisticated production processes. The source materials are polycrystalline powders, which are mixed with several auxiliary materials to a homogenous mass, shaped and finally sintered at high temperatures in an oven. With a Vickers rating second only to that of diamonds, ceramic is one of the hardest substances on earth. Because of its lightness, hardness and scratch-resistance, the material is ideally suited for everyday use in the restricted space of a jet cockpit.
The matte black color ensures that pilots are not distracted by the watch reflecting sunlight. Titanium and ceramic are also highly resistant to corrosion, making them ideal for long-lasting missions on an aircraft carrier in the humid, salty sea air.
The most recent innovation from Schaffhausen is Ceratanium®. Based on a special titanium alloy, Ceratanium® is both light and robust like titanium and also hard and scratch-resistant like ceramic.
Currently, IWC TOP GUN collection includes the following models:
IWC Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium (Ref. IW371815)
The first IWC pilot’s watch made of Ceratanium® features a black dial, black hands and a black rubber strap. The dial and the hands are coated using grey luminescent material, which is why the watch has a distinctive monochrome look during the day but still offers full luminescent functionality at night.
The 79420 calibre drives the double chronograph function with a split-seconds mechanism, making it possible to measure two short time intervals simultaneously. Find more details here.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert” (Ref. IW389103)
The first IWC pilot’s watch in a sand-colored ceramic case was inspired by the Mojave Desert, which is home to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, the largest land area of the US Navy.
The color tone also perfectly matches some of the flight suits worn by the TOPGUN adversary pilots. It is the result of a combination of zirconium oxide with other metallic oxides. This chronograph is driven by the IWC-manufactured 69380 calibre. Find more details here.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN (Ref. IW389101)
The case of this chronograph is made of matte black zirconium oxide ceramic. Engineering ceramics with similar properties are also used for capacitors, in aircraft or rocket engines, and for various components of high-performance engines.
The IWC-manufactured 69380 calibre ensures the accurate display and measurement of time. Find more details here.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic TOP GUN (Ref. IW326901)
This three-hand watch with a matte black zirconium oxide ceramic case boasts a unique minimalist design.
It is powered by the IWC-manufactured 32110 calibre, a robust automatic movement with a high power reserve of 72 hours. Find more details here.
In 2018, IWC added two special pieces to the Top Gun collection in honour of the US Navy Naval Aviation community. These watches cannot be bought by the public and are only available for TOPGUN graduates.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Edition “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” Ref. IW324705
The Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII embodies all the design elements and technical functionality of a larger pilot’s watch in a compact 40-millimeter case.
The case back is made from automotive titanium 5N, which is durable, light, and skin-friendly. It features an individual engraving of the owner’s name and class. The Navy Fighter Weapons School patch can be found at 9 o’clock.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” Ref. IW389004
Powered by the IWC-manufactured 89361 calibre movement, this chronograph displays the hours and minutes combined in a totalizer at 12 o’clock. Thanks to the flyback function, a single depression of the titanium pusher at 4 o’clock, while the chronograph is running, will send the minutes and seconds hands back to zero and immediately start a new timing. The iconic patch of the Navy Fighter Weapons School can be found at 9 o’clock.
In 2019, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, IWC created a special timepiece in honor of TOPGUN instructors. This watch, too, cannot be bought by the public.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “TOP GUN 50th Anniversary” Ref. IW387813
This chronograph was developed with the TOPGUN instructors based in Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada. It features a blue dial and black hands coated with luminescent material. It also features the Navy Fighter Weapons School logo at 9 o’clock, as well as an individual engraving of each owner’s name and class on the case back.
This model also features distinct color accents in baby blue, an iconic color worn only by TOPGUN instructors at NAS Fallon.
IWC Squadron Watches
IWC is now the only watch brand to be officially licensed to work on watches for the entire US Navy and Marine Corps, including TOPGUN, Blue Angels and the 247 active and 100 inactive squadrons. All IWC squadron watches are available exclusively to current and former members of the respective squadron and feature an individual engraving of the owner’s name and call sign.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Edition “Diamondbacks” Ref. IW327018
This special edition Mark XVIII was created in collaboration with squadron members of the “D-backs”. The black dial with a red date indication also features the “Diamondbacks” patch at 9 o’clock. The number 102 refers to the official denomination “Strike Fighter Squadron 102 (VFA-102)”.
The squadron’s F/A-18F Super Hornet with its distinguishing diamonds stripes is engraved on the case back.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Royal Maces” Ref. IW389011
This chronograph has a case made of black ceramic and is fitted with a black and yellow textile strap. It features the “Maces” patch at 9 o’clock and a yellow date indication. Powered by the IWC-manufactured 89361 movement, the chronograph also has a flyback function.
On the titanium case back, there is an engraving of the squadron’s F/A-18E Super Hornet, as well as the official denomination “VFA-27”.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Fighting Checkmates” Ref. IW389012
Powered by the IWC-manufactured 89361 calibre, this chronograph in black ceramic is designed in the historic color code of the “Checkmates” with blue and red, and features the “Brutus” patch on the dial. The date window displays the odd days in blue and the even days in red.
On the titanium case back, there is an engraving of the squadron’s F/A-18F Super Hornet over a chessboard pattern.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Edition “Bats Legacy” Ref. IW327024
This special edition of the Mark XVIII marks the first IWC military watch created in collaboration with a squadron from the US Marine Corps. Featuring the squadron’s “Bats” patch on the dial at 9 o’clock, it also has a yellow date display.
The squadron’s F/A-18D Legacy jet is engraved on the case back. The official denomination VMFA – AW refers to “all-weather” strike fighter squadron.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Eagles” Ref. IW389015
This special edition Pilot’s Watch Chronograph is powered by the IWC-manufactured 89361 calibre and has a case made of black ceramic. It features the yellow and white “Eagles” patch at 9 o’clock. Additional accents of yellow are added by the small second hand and the date indication.
The squadron’s F/A-18E Super Hornet is engraved on the case back.
All these pilot timepieces are equipped with proven IWC technology for aviator watches. The movement is enclosed in an inner cage made of a highly conductive soft iron alloy. It consists of the bottom plate, the movement holder ring, and the dial. Similar to a Faraday cage, it conducts magnetism around the movement and ensures that it does not reach the components inside.
IWC had developed this innovative feature back in 1948 for the Mark 11, a navigation watch commissioned by the British Royal Air Force. The soft iron inner cage effectively protects the movement from magnetic fields with a strength of up to 80,000 amperes per hour. Another feature is the specially secured front glass. It cannot detach from its place even if there is a sudden drop in cabin pressure in the cockpit.
About the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN)
The Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) program, in which the US Navy trains the top naval aviators, is a classic American success story. Since its formation in 1969, it has taught the best naval aviators in America how to become better pilots and, above all, outstanding instructors.
In response to their performance during the Vietnam War, the US Navy leadership decided to develop a new tactical doctrine for air combat. The Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) program was established on 3rd March 1969 at the former Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California. Every second month, four F-4 Phantom crews were trained there in air-to-air tactics.
After completing the course, they returned to their units to pass on what they had learned. This concept proved so useful that it remains in place to this day. In 1996 the TOPGUN program was integrated into the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada, which was later renamed to Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC).
Nowadays, TOPGUN conducts about three to four classes of twelve weeks’ duration per year. The course is designed to train experienced pilots and flight crews. It encompasses all aspects of strike-fighter aircraft tactics and techniques. Air-to-air combat (dogfight) training, which pits the students against skilled TOPGUN instructors, is a key element.
Rather than only perfecting the flying skills of individuals, the emphasis of the course lies in teaching each participant how to become a better instructor. Even though TOPGUN trains only a select few, their knowledge and expertise will trickle down to every tactical fighter pilot and air crew in the US Navy and Marine Corps.
Since TOPGUN was established in 1969, over one thousand participants have successfully graduated from the program. They are part of an exclusive circle and arguably rank among the best strike-fighter pilots in the world. For them, TOPGUN is much more than just military training; it is also training that they can apply to their everyday life. Striving to pursue excellence, accepting failure and learning from it, are just some of the lessons that graduates take with them when they leave the Nevada desert.