IWC presented new best quality replica IWC Pilot’s Top Gun watches during SIHH in 2019, introducing their Ceratanium material for the first time in the Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph. Among the new releases was the “Mojave Desert” chronograph featuring a sand-colored ceramic, and the black ceramic Top Gun Automatic, serving as an entry point to the collection. Drawing on IWC’s well established Pilot’s Watch design language, the Automatic offered a familiar face while using the brand’s new(ish) 32110 in-house caliber. A few years later, we’re taking a look back at the Automatic Top Gun to see how it fares today, both as a Top Gun entry point, and as an IWC Pilot’s Watch.
It’s worth exploring the relationship between black dial copy IWC Top Gun collection, and the US Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, aka Top Gun, from which the collection takes its name. The US Navy granted IWC exclusive license to manufacture Top Gun labeled timepieces in 2005, with the first watches appearing with the Swiss movement fake IWC Pilot’s Watch family in 2007 in the form of a Double (rattrapante) Chronograph. The driving force here is to produce watches befitting the elite pilots enduring the rigors of the nine week Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI) program (which likely involves less shirtless beach volleyball than you’re imagining).
IWC was granted time on the US Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to get a better sense of the training routine of these pilots, an exercise that laid the groundwork for the unique materials and appearance of Top Gun watches. The black ceramic cases and matte textures are born from the need to eliminate any potential reflective surface that could interfere with the pilot’s visibility. The material must also be able to withstand the knocks that undoubtedly come with the high G forces experienced inside the cockpit during training.
Unlike the classic Pilot’s Watch formula developed by IWC in 1949 with the iconic Mark 11, Top Gun watches are designed and built around the modern, high tech environments occupied by pilots today. However, the design language employed does indeed lean on the brand’s well established Pilot’s Watch identity, and this is especially evident in the Automatic Top Gun presented here.
For the curious, the license fee paid by IWC copy to the US Navy goes to a charitable organization supporting retired Top Gun pilots.
At a glance, the Automatic Top Gun is clearly identifiable thanks to the shared dial design found throughout IWC’s expansive Pilot’s Watch family. And for good reason. It’s a design that borrows heavily from the original Mark 11 developed for RAF pilots in 1948. Each hour is clearly marked with its Arabic numeral, each minute gets a hash mark, and at 12 o’clock we find the triangle accompanied by two dots on either side. That’s pretty much it, and that’s by design.
The appeal of the Pilot’s Watch is its simplicity and practicality. It’s easy to read at a glance, there are no imposing complications, and its demure stature keeps it flying under the radar (sorry) when not in use. Of course, the OG Mark 11 had no date, and its hour and minute hands were far simpler, but the design as a whole holds up remarkably well more than 70 years later. To my eye, there’s nothing that immediately dates the design of the Mark 11, and it looks as relevant as ever today as it did in ‘48. In fact, I see an approachable nature in the Mark 11 that is somehow lost on its modern counterparts, and that’s not a knock on IWC or their modern watches, but rather a testament to the power of a great design.
If I may sidetrack for a moment. We laude Omega for their modern Speedmaster Professional as they’ve managed to preserve the finer details of the original model to a remarkable degree. While the Speedmaster brand itself has branched into all manner of ridiculous directions, the Professional model has remained a stalwart of the original vision. I say this because the Mark 11 was just a design, and I lament the fact that I don’t see it preserved as such within the modern line of cheap fake IWC Pilot’s Watches. The influence is clearly there, but devil is in the finer details that remain absent on the newer watches.
I notice the same thing with the “Tribute to 3705” – which does a remarkable job of capturing the original 3705 in modern trappings, but it’s clearly not meant as a re-issue or re-creation. It’s something else entirely, it’s ‘inspired by’. This is obviously intentional on the part of IWC, who aren’t in the business of releasing 1:1 remakes of their historic designs. While I prefer the proportions of the smaller registers and overall dimensions of the actual 3705, the “Tribute” makes changes that provide greater levels of legibility and usability, as in, the changes are driven by function.
The functional changes seen in the modern Mark XVIII and Spitfire as well as the Automatic Top Gun are seen in the design of the hour and minute hands, the inclusion of a date complication, and the proportions of the minute and hour bars and hashes at the edge of the dial. These are small things, but as noted, there’s not much else going on here, so each small change adds up to a big difference.