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Learning to Love the IWC Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Mojave Desert – The “screw-it-let’s-do-it” watch

Not your average watch... But this is exactly why it rocks!

| By Gandor Bronkhorst | 7 min read |
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert IW389103

Feeling bold today? Good. Now meet a pilot’s watch with camouflaged hands, a day-date indication, a ceramic case and a normal-sized crown. Except for the triangle at 12 o’clock (and yes… a few other things to be honest), there’s not much that makes this an actual Pilot’s watch. But is it any good? We took IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert” and wore it on the wrist to let you know!

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert IW389103

The one consistent activity in the history of IWC is the company’s mission to build precise, reliable and functional mechanical watches for current and future generations. Now, that is a very sensible thing. These values are best shown in the Mark XVIII Pilot’s watches and the Portugieser collection. Clean designs, functional complications and easily loveable for everyone – watch connoisseurs and novices alike.

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So where does this Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert” fit in that brand vision? Nowhere, really. And that’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that watches like this one always lead to discussions between watch lovers. But that’s the point of it. These watches are meant to stir emotions. On the one hand, I do understand the traditionalists, the people who care about history, tradition and other such timeless values. On the other hand, we have the modernists, the guys who like a watch that shows its over-the-top-functionalities, its presence, and well, sometimes its price tag (not especially true in this present case).

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert IW389103

The watch that says “screw it”

It’s clear from the first view that this “Mojave Desert” edition of the Pilot’s Top Gun Chrono is distinctly modern. Every little thing about it says: “screw it, tradition, I’m a Modern Man’s Watch.” And so we see a pilot’s watch with camouflaged hands, a day-date indication, a ceramic case and a normal-sized crown. It looks like a pilot’s watch from certain angles, but let’s be clear, it wasn’t meant to be worn in the cockpit of a stealth bomber.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert IW389103

This ref. IW389103 was introduced at the last SIHH, and it is the first watch from Schaffhausen with a case made from sand-coloured ceramic, which is formed by a combination of zirconium oxide with other metallic oxides. The materials also make sure the watch isn’t that heavy but actually is highly scratch-resistant, which comes in handy at these sizes – 44.5mm in diameter, 15.7mm in height. 

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert IW389103

But why did IWC make these choices? Probably just “because we can”. Is that all a problem? No. Because this watch doesn’t care about traditions. It’s bulletproof against making sense, but not against making things look cool!

An emotional rollercoaster

As mentioned, this watch really stirs emotions. I mean, this watch is different. I don’t even know what name to give to the colour on that dial. IWC simply calls it “dark brown”, but is it? I’d say it’s more like taupe. Afghanistan-Iraq-combat-squad-taupe, to be more precise. But of course, our friends from Schaffhausen would never go as far as calling it that. Instead, they gave this watch the name “Mojave Desert”, which is famous for its huge training grounds the US military uses for overseas missions.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert IW389103

Talking about size, let’s see how it wears on the wrist. After trying it on, I’d say it doesn’t look like a bulky watch. I’ve seen 42mm cases that felt bulkier. It also wears quite comfortably if your wrists are on the large size. It simply doesn’t feel that big in the first place, probably because of the ceramic material and the camo-colours. The beige rubber strap with textile inlay is also a good addition; it makes the watch look more masculine, instead of just more expensive. Because of the thickness of the case, it’s also good that IWC didn’t fit a Nato-strap. Instead, they fitted a strap that doesn’t go under the case. Less traditional again, but this time actually quite functional.

Also functional are the steel crown and pushers. Steel is a quite practical choice, as DLC-coating won’t last as long as IWC wants it to. I think these greyish details actually give the overall design a bit more depth and it makes sure the camo-colours won’t become boring after a little while.

One thing that’s really worth pointing out is the glass. IWC has really done its best in acquiring a beautifully cut, slightly rounded sapphire convex glass, with anti-reflective coating on both sides and protection against displacement by drops in air pressure. Handy, for example, if your plane is crashing.

The movement

Then there’s the movement, an integrated chronograph. IWC has fitted the in-house movement from the 69 family in that big case, the calibre 69380. This movement family was introduced in 2016, has a column-wheel mechanism and was developed by IWC in collaboration with Richemont’s movement manufacturing facilities in Valfleurier, Switzerland. Parts of the gear train, jewels, shock system, screws and the balance spring are sourced from outside suppliers (including Valfleurier). Pretty much all other parts of the movement are made by IWC. The movement is also assembled in the facilities in Schaffhausen. 

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert IW389103

Quality related checks, such as play in wheels and automated oiling is done by machinery. The industrialized process is similar to a production line as a movement automatically passes through multiple workstations. The date module is actually quite easy to leave out, so the decision to add it must’ve been made very consciously. Why? Once again, just because. It’s just a cool design feature and adds more to the yes-we-can-do-everything-attitude of the watch.

The winding mechanism of the cal. 69380 is not the Pellaton system IWC is so proud of, but it’s quite close. Both systems work with two clicks, however, in the 69380 one is pulling and one is pushing, while in the Pellaton winding system both are pulling. Overall the movement is quite a nice piece of work that really adds some character to the watch.

Should you want one?

After wearing this watch, I’m actually inclined to say that IWC did a really good job on this “Mojave Desert”. But not for reasons that make sense. This piece shows that watches are emotional products, and do not always have to be traditional. Not to everyone’s taste, that is, because of course, all traditionalists would (with good reason once again) say: if it’s not a tool watch, it’s not a Pilot’s watch. True, completely true.

It is, to be really honest, not even a watch that fits any military equipment I guess, because the entire watch is, really, quite excessive. Excessive in the most desirable way possible. Excessive in the way a V12 in a Ferrari is excessive, or the launch control button in your Porsche 911 Carrera 4S is. Are those features excessive? Sure. But are they good? Sure again!

I learned to love the “screw you-attitude” of this IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert, mainly because it doesn’t look like the rest of the crowd. It’s a watch for your day off, the watch that goes with T-shirts, rolled up sleeves, jeans, sneakers and even those casual bracelets for men. After wearing it for a couple of days, it has really won me over. It just has so much… character.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert IW389103

But let’s get to the final hurdle. Buying it. That is actually not the easiest thing to do. First of all, because it’s a limited edition piece – only 500 will be made. But there’s also the price: EUR 10,000. And truth to be told, every IWC lover has already in one form or the other questioned the pricing of the modern collection. But frankly, I don’t think that will stop people from buying this watch. This is the kind of bulletproof watch that defies any logic by sheer presence. And that is why I would definitely understand anyone who makes this choice. 

It’s a watch made for a man who every once in a while looks at the sky, forgets all objections and says: “Screw it. Let’s do it.” 

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7 responses

  1. There’s a market for everything these days. Nice looking watch as far as the dial layout is concerned. Interesting desert color way they chose. Not really for me, but it fits a niche in the market who been asking for a desert storm/oatmeal colored watch without the camo pattern.

  2. Although the cal 69380 is excusably labelled ‘in house’, it’s still just a heavily modified ETA 7750.
    I know it’s a very different overall aesthetic, but for the same money (~10K) you can get the superior cal 89361 pellaton flyback in the Ingenieur Chronograph Sport (at roughly the same large dimensions), or the Portugieser Classic (in a more manageable size).
    This watch actually looks quite nice in a strange way, though. Just take that ‘Top Gun’ off the dial – it’s on the back for God’s sake – and put the cal 89361 inside that it deserves at that price.

  3. Beautiful watch with so much character indeed! That’s something I would definitely buy.
    The fact it has these unusual colors makes it even more like: I’m here! Come check me out!
    That’s a watch I would wear on GTGs with watch collectors and maybe on Sunday’s. A watch like this is a must have for Pilot watches collectors.
    I’ve already ordered one the day it was released at SIHH and I’ve personally handled the piece. It’s a true marvel! Amazing how funky it can be at the same time which is where the excitement is all about!

  4. “The launch control button in your Porsche 911 Carrera 4S” just costed me my driver’s license last Sunday.. rub it in Frank!

  5. I don’t own a sports car but a relative with the funds to buy them said he had to get rid them before he died. Too addictive.

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