Since 2007, IWC has been producing a special series of watches designed to meet the demanding needs of elite jet pilots. Established as an independent collection within the IWC Pilot’s Watch family in 2012, the TOP GUN series has become renowned for its use of hi-tech materials and stealth, military-inspired styling. IWC introduced a total of four new TOP GUN models at SIHH 2019 this year. We’ve already gotten hands-on with the impressively technical Double Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium, as well as the practical Automatic TOP GUN. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the slightly more unusual Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert” (Ref. IW389103).
Diehard IWC fans will of course already know all about the TOP GUN collection. Even those who don’t are doubtless familiar with the moniker thanks to a popular 1980s movie of the same name starring Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. Back here in the real world, TOP GUN is the more common name used for the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program. This programme is responsible for teaching the latest in fighter and strike tactics and techniques to a special selection of naval aviators and naval flight officers, who then return home to train their own squads.
Basically, it’s where the US Navy trains the best of its best pilots. But we’re not here to talk about elite jet pilots or naval warfare. We’re here to talk about watches and one in particular. So, let’s get to it.
Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert”
The first thing you will notice about this watch is its distinctive colour scheme. According to IWC, this is the first watch with a case made from sand-coloured ceramic. I have no way to independently verify that, so I’m going to take the brand at its word. The colour is inspired by the Mojave Desert, home to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Apparently, it’s also a near exact match to the colour of the flying uniforms worn by Navy pilots.
This is a notable departure for the TOP GUN collection as it is the only model in the current line-up not to have a black case and black dial. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may deter some purists. Personally, I think it’s good to see IWC stepping out of its comfort zone a bit to try and create something that stands out from the crowd. It is clearly a love or hate story with this watch – which is sometimes a good thing.
The sandy hue of the 44.5mm x 15.7mm case is achieved by combining zirconium oxide with other metallic oxides. The matte finish gives it an almost plastic-like quality in appearance. In fact, at first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a toy watch. Pick it up and put it on your wrist, however, and those false impressions are immediately dispensed with. While it does feel light and comfortable, it’s also very apparent that it’s extremely robust and well made. The caseback is in titanium and features the famous TOP GUN logo engraved in the centre. The screw-in crown and chronograph pushers meanwhile are titanium, like the standard Chronograph TOP GUN.
As I mentioned above, the other thing that makes this TOP GUN model stand out from its peers is the fact that it doesn’t have a black dial. Instead, it’s dark brown with contrasting luminous sand-coloured hands and indexes. The dial layout is identical to the new Chronograph Spitfire, as both models share the same in-house movement (more on that in a second).
This means a central time and chronograph seconds display, running seconds at 6 o’clock, chronograph minute and hour counters at 12 and 9 o’clock respectively and day and date display at 3 o’clock. It’s a familiar set-up and the larger case ensures there is plenty of room for all indications. Thankfully, IWC had the presence of mind to make the day and date wheels the same colour as the dial. Black would have been too much of a contrast and white would be simply awful. Protecting the dial is a sapphire glass that has been specially secured against displacement by a drop in air pressure (in case you find yourself in a dogfight and have to pull some seriously slick evasive manoeuvres.)
Inside, and protected against magnetic fields by a soft-iron inner case, is the 69380 IWC-manufactured calibre. Designed and developed in conjunction with ValFleurier (Richemont Group’s production facilities), this automatic movement features a column-wheel chronograph as well as a pawl-winding system, which winds in both directions, delivering a power reserve of 46 hours.
Completing the desert storm look is a beige/sand-coloured textile strap with matching stitching. Again, it’s very comfortable on the wrist although it does make this model decidedly more sporty/casual. Not that you could really dress up a sand-coloured watch anyway. Limited to 500 pieces, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert” will no doubt find appeal with a subset of IWC collectors and military pilots alike. Price is EUR 9,200. More details at iwc.com.