Introducing the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition in “IWC Lake Tahoe” White and “IWC Woodland” Green

Introducing the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition in “IWC Lake Tahoe” White and “IWC Woodland” Green

The Lowdown

As we gear up for the slew of new watch releases in this year’s in-person edition (finally…) of Watches and Wonders, it seems like ages ago when we cast our minds back to last year’s show, where IWC launched a plethora of watches, coinciding with the 85th year since the introduction of the very first Pilot Watch (Ref. 436) in 1936. We were reminded of the rich legacy of the Pilot’s Watch: from being an indispensable tool during the early years of aviation to its now pre-eminent status as probably the brand icon amongst all of IWC’s deep product lines.

Since 1992, the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph is the platform IWC has chosen to uplift the Pilot’s Watch into the modern era, starting with the double or doppel chronograph and culminating in last year’s downsized and more-wearable-for-most 41mm blue and green dial offerings.

While the technical raison d’être of this series of chronographs has historically driven innovation for the model line, the result has often been a rather staid presentation. All that changed when IWC decided to be a little more adventurous, relying on its expertise in colored ceramics development, to create a sand-colored ceramic case for the 2019 “Mojave Desert” TOP GUN Limited Edition. This watch was the most talked about of IWC’s 2019 releases and the colorway, inspired by China Lake (not that China) in California, has since spawned other editions in the Big Pilot’s Watch family.

The military aesthetic continues to be a rich vein of inspiration for IWC to draw from, and to kick off this years’ show, we have two new colored TOP GUN editions joining the lineup, “IWC Lake Tahoe” white and “IWC Woodland” green.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Lake Tahoe White”
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition in “IWC Lake Tahoe” white (image: IWC)
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Woodland Green”
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition in “IWC Woodland” green (image: IWC)

Lake Tahoe is approximately 90 miles west from Naval Air Station Fallon, the current home of the US Navy’s Fighter Weapons School TOPGUN. The mountainous, largely uninhabited region surrounding the lake often sees the US Navy’s elite fighter pilots flying overhead. During ski season, the hills come alive with scores of skiers flocking to the various ski resorts in the area.

Taking inspiration from the lake’s wintry landscape and the crisp white and black of naval uniforms and neckerchiefs, the “IWC Lake Tahoe” edition achieves a bold, all-matte look with a 44.5mm white ceramic case and white dial accents popping off a black dial. That moniker for the ceramic’s color is official as IWC worked with Pantone to define it. The only reflective surfaces to be had are the stainless steel chronograph pushers and titanium caseback, which sports the now-familiar TOP GUN logo. A white embossed rubber strap with lozenge-shaped nodules ensures that the watch grips your wrist.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Lake Tahoe White”
It's black and it's white. And it's good. Maximum legibility is crucial with a multi-subdial chronograph. (image: IWC)
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Lake Tahoe White”
The IW389105 has touches of silver as the pushers are in stainless steel and the case back in titanium. (image: IWC)

For the “IWC Woodland” green edition, IWC referenced the flight suits of naval aviators to bring about a tone-on-tone effect with the ceramic case and dial in the same “IWC Woodland” hue, and the luminescent paint in a lighter shade of green. A matching green rubber strap with textile inlay ties the design together. IWC didn’t miss the forest for the trees here. To add contrast to an otherwise monotone look, the hands and Ceratanium pushers, crown and caseback are all in matte black. Ceratanium is IWC’s proprietary material that combines the best properties of ceramic and titanium: lightness, hardness, corrosion and scratch-resistance. Parts are first machined out of a special titanium alloy, and during firing in a furnace, the high heat causes a chemical reaction that forms a layer of ceramic on the exposed surfaces. The ceramic layer is literally baked-in and has no chance of being chipped off. For now, you can have this technically advanced material in any color — as long as it is black.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Woodland Green”
IW389106 leans more into the military aesthetic with blacks and greens. (image: IWC)

The colored ceramic cases of all three TOP GUN editions presented a complex challenge during design and manufacturing. The engineers at IWC conducted countless tests to find the right color pigments in order for the case color to complement or match the other components — such as the dial, hands, rubber strap and lume. Each color shade is the result of a unique mixing ratio of zirconium oxide combined with other metallic oxides. The auxiliary materials are burnt off in a high temperature furnace in a process called sintering, leaving behind an extremely stable ceramic structure. Ceramic shrinks a third of its size during sintering and this has to be taken into account right at the outset of the design phase. Furthermore, the temperature and duration of the sintering process has to be adapted for each color.

It may seem like IWC is coming late to the party of white ceramic watches with the likes of Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille having already produced brilliant takes on the theme. But don’t forget that alongside the Master of Materials, Rado, IWC was already developing colored ceramic prototypes in the early 1980s as seen here. Their status as true pioneers of materials development cannot be overstated.

Both watches are powered by the in-house self-winding IWC caliber 69380, a column-wheel operated chronograph from the 69000 family of movements introduced in 2016. This series of movements has been around long enough for them to be considered robust and reliable, befitting their use in an everyday professional sports watch. To add further to the tool-watch sensibilities, there is a soft-iron inner case to guard against the effects of magnetism and the crystal withstands sudden drops in air pressure if one actually goes to work in an airplane cockpit.

IMHO

If you have ever wondered if the IWC/TOP GUN collaboration is just a bit too tenuous, here’s a peek into our archives where we documented the history of the US Navy’s Weapons Fighter School and IWC’s longstanding relationship with it. It is important to note that IWC is the only Swiss watchmaker licensed to develop pilot’s watches for the US Navy’s strike fighter squadrons. We think this settles the debate about whether the partnership is purely for IWC’s benefit.

One design element that differs from the 2019 limited edition is the new chronograph hand with black tails and long tips that match the color of the rest of the numerals and markers. Previously it was simply one color for the whole length of the hand. The hand presents as a floating line from the center of the dial, adding a visual continuity with the hour and minute hands. From there, notice the collar underneath the hour hand that obscures the dial hole. To our knowledge, only the TOP GUN limited editions and Squadron-liveried special editions have this design detail, which makes one feel IWC really did go through everything with a fine-toothed comb.

Because of its black dial, the IW389105's chronograph seconds hand long end in white with the tail in black, makes the hand seem to float from the dial's center. The center collar that covers the dial hole prevents any differently-coloured wheel of the movement from breaking up the pitch blackness of the dial. (image: IWC)

On the 30-minute chronograph subdial, a small, squared dot caps off each non-numbered marker at the five-, 15- and 25-minute positions, adding a visual reminder for improved legibility. Lastly, another bugbear of ours which we do not find here is that the background of the day/date wheels are appropriately color matched to the dial. The day/date indicator is there when you need it and disappears into the rest of the dial when you don’t. While the 44.5mm diameter and 15.7mm height might seem unwieldy for most wrists, the big-boy sizing is true to type and plays into the machismo the TOP GUN editions are meant to exude. As you might be able to tell, we are struggling to find any fault with these.

What to make of these new colored TOP GUN Editions then? It is undeniable that IWC’s partnership with TOP GUN has come a long way. From being a mere outlet for IWC to display its engineering capabilities, it has branched out to form its own distinctive line. The use of in-house movements, proprietary materials and tangible aviation links sets them apart from all other IWC watches.

The Big Pilots, Mark XVIIIs and Spitfires are there to suit nicely the tastes of those seeking nostalgia from a bygone era of aviation. On the other hand, the TOP GUNs are for the consumer who wants to really lean into a different, more contemporary and technical take on the romanticism of being an aviator.

In short, these two new editions are noteworthy additions to the ever-growing TOP GUN line of Pilot’s Watches. Color us impressed.

Tech Specs

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Lake Tahoe”

Reference: IW389105
Reference: IW389105

Movement: Self-winding IWC caliber 69380; 46 hours of power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph, day and date
Case: 44.5mm x 15.7mm; ceramic with titanium caseback; water resistant to 60m
Dial: Black with black hands
Special features: Soft-iron inner case for magnetic field resistance; crystal withstands drop in air pressure
Strap: White rubber with folding clasp


IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Woodland”

Reference: IW389106
Reference: IW389106

Movement: Self-winding IWC caliber 69380; 46 hours of power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph, day and date
Case: 44.5mm x 15.7mm; ceramic with Ceratanium caseback; water resistant to 60m
Dial: Green with black hands
Special features: Soft-iron inner case for magnetic field resistance; crystal withstands drop in air pressure
Strap: Green rubber with textile inlay and pin buckle


Both Editions

Production: Not limited editions but limited to 1,000 pieces each annually
Availability: Through IWC boutiques, authorized retail partners or IWC.com
Price: TBC
Eligible for My IWC care program, a six-year extension of the standard two-year International Limited Warranty.

Tags