IWC Pilot Watch Automatic Top Gun Review

by Lewis Butterfield
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I have made a promise to myself for this review, absolutely no cheesy 80’s movie quotes for this review. The IWC Top Gun pilots watch is after all, not associated or affiliated with any Tom Cruise movie whatsoever. This watch is part of an ongoing collaboration with the Strike tactics instructor program of the US navy. A partnership that began back in 2007, in which IWC manufacture watches specially designed from robust materials. 

The use of alternative case materials is a focal point of all the Top Gun watches from IWC, with models being constructed from titanium, ceramic and a hybrid paring of the two; Ceratanium. The use of tougher metals comes from the watches needing to meet the specific requirements of elite jet fighter pilots, those ‘Top Gun’s’ if you will.

Recently I got the chance to go hands on with the latest three hander in the Top Gun series, the automatic pilots watch in Ceramic.

My initial impressions of the watch were overwhelmingly positive. At 41mm x 11.4mm, the ceramic cased timepiece really appealed to me visually. I have never really been a huge fan of traditional Flieger style watches, the dials always felt so cluttered and heavy. Of course I understand the need for the traditional type A and type B style Flieger watches. Flieger style pieces were born of necessity and practicality during the second World War. Pilots needed large dials and indices for precisely timing flights and bombing runs, the watches therefore bore oversized hands, huge numerals and dominant minute tracks. 

This style of watch has never been for me, so when I saw the IWC Top Gun Pilots automatic, I was pleasantly surprised with how refined the dial layout is. 

IWC have taken those traditional hallmarks of World War II pilots watches, and modernised the look by scaling each element down slightly. On the dial, IWC stands proudly and predominant below the triangle 12 o’clock indices, the brands name being one of the most dominant features of the dial. White numerals circumnavigate the dial, with a date window cut and replacing three o’clock. Outboard of the numerals, IWC have taken the traditional pilots style minute track and separated each marker, with every fifth being a square block to denote the segment. 

The watch has large leaf style minute and hour hands, which are partially black at the centre pinion and then white and filled with luminova to their tips. The seconds hand receives a similar treatment, with the counterbalance of the hand being all black so as not to interfere with the timekeeping aspects of the watch. 

The dial of the watch is a huge draw for me with this piece, IWC have produced an extremely legible timepiece using styling cues from the 1940’s. However, the dial maintains its modern appeal thanks to the adjustments made and the small details the brand has paid attention to. 

Firstly, IWC has jumped on the matte black bandwagon here. The dial is textured, almost bead blasted, and finished to a gorgeous matte black. This allows the white accents of the hands and numerals to really pop off the face of the watch, and for the smallest touch of red for the words ‘Top Gun’ to offer a nice amount of visual complexity without over doing any one element of the design. 

Nevertheless, there are some nits to be picked with the dial here. The date wheel, whilst executed well in its framing and colour matching, it ought really to be pushed closer to the edge of the case. With the amount of room between the window and the minutes track, you can nearly fit the entire numeral between the pair. I understand this is down the calibre used for the watch, but it does leave the dial slightly lopsided, in what is other wise a very well-balanced face. 

The second gripe I have with the dial of the IWC Top Gun Automatic was a huge surprise to me when I discovered it. Those large numerals around the dial, the ones designed for maximum legibility and to meet the needs of fighter pilots, are not lumed. Looking at the dial you would assume that all of those white thick numerals are going to look spectacular at night, not so I’m afraid. The lume is located in small amounts, only on the square points outside the numerals. This is a design decision that confuses me to no end. The watch is a pilots watch, and its barely legible at night. 

Thankfully my woes with the watch end there, the 41mm ceramic case is simply exquisite. The smooth satin texture is consistent throughout the watch. Because of the use of a matte black ceramic, the case almost appears to be a monobloc construction. There are no rough edges or seams to be found anywhere and the case flows from mid-case to lug without hesitation or interruption. 

IWC have incorporated a slight curvature to the lugs, where the tip of the lug sits slightly lower than the case allowing for a very comfortable fit on the wrist. The Top Gun Pilot is only available on a black textile NATO strap, in keeping with its military utilitarianism. Those who know me now that I can not stand a NATO strap, I find them unattractive and uncomfortable as they make the watch sit higher on my wrist. I can say that with this piece, the strap is well made, soft to touch and fits comfortably. It does raise the profile of the watch slightly, but not so significantly that I found it noteworthy. 

I did switch the watch out onto a two-piece black canvas strap and found the watch really met its match. On a two piece canvas the IWC became a real candidate for my everyday wear.

Inside the piece, IWC have used their calibre 32110 automatic. The movement is a variation on the ETA 2892, and as such offers a great deal of reliability and serviceability. The brand rate the watch to 60 metres of water resistance and a power reserve of 72 hours. Beneath the case back, the movement rests inside a soft iron cage for extra protection against magnetic fields. 

Due to the faraday cage like structure inside the watch, IWC provide a stainless-steel case back adorned with the ‘Top Gun’ logo. Co-opted for the Tom Cruise movie, the logo represents the elite fighter weapons school and is nicely oriented vertically on the back of the watch. 

The IWC Top Gun Pilots watch automatic is a fantastic watch in spite of its flaws. The odd placement of the date wheel is a design choice that I think most anyone can forgive and live with. The lack of lume on a watch with ‘Pilot’ in the name, I’m not so sure about. 

IWC deliver a very modern looking timepiece, a watch that fits nearly any dress requirement, providing you are happy to change a strap here and there. The watch fits beautifully on wrist and carries a presence which is both true to its World War II roots, and modern in its current form. 

I do find myself enamoured with the timepiece but its those small details, the last notes of lacking refinement that keep me from jumping into the cockpit and having this piece fly off the shelf into my own collection. 

If you think the IWC Top Gun pilots automatic, can be your wingman anytime (sorry I just couldn’t resist one cheesy quote) then it is available for purchase for $8,950AUD.

IWC Top Gun Pilot watch automatic Specification:

Model Reference: IW326901
Case Diameter: 41mm
Dial: Black dial with luminescence
Case: Ceramic
Functions: Hours, Minutes, Seconds and Date
Movement: 32110 Calibre
Power Reserve: 72 hours
Water Resistance: 6 Bar

Australian Retail Pricing : $8,950.00

Availability: Available now

Local Authorised Dealers :

  • Brisbane – The Hour Glass
  • Melbourne – IWC Boutique, Kennedy ,Watches of Switzerland and Anton Jewellery
  • Sydney – IWC Boutique, Gregory Jewellers , Swiss Concept, Watches of Switzerland and The Hour Glass
  • Perth – Kennedy Crown and Watches of Switzerland

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