With the new Tom Cruise Top Gun movie expected to make its debut later this year, watch lovers are witnessing a renewed interest in pilot’s watches. Additionally, because IWC creates the Top Gun pilot’s watch series – working in tandem with the elite fighter pilot’s school –IWC pilot watches are flying particularly high. That may well be why the brand just unveiled another Top Gun pilot’s watch in a new high-tech material … perfect to continue to fuel the desire for high-tech/high-mech aviation watches. The IWC Pilots Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “SFTI” follows on the heels of four IWC Top Gun Pilot’s watches released last year and rounds out the collection.
IWC Schaffhausen’s history in pilot’s watches
As aviation came into being in the early 20th century, and with the first World War, pilot wristwatches became a necessity. Several Swiss watch brands were already pioneering in the aviation field, creating cockpit instruments and eventually wristwatches. IWC Schaffhausen was one of the leaders, unveiling its first pilot’s watch in 1936.
The quest was on, though, to create a pilot’s wristwatch that could hold its own and remain precise even in the face of the extreme powers of magnetism. Early wristwatch movements (escape wheels, balance ring, and other components) could easily be confused by magnetic fields, rendering the watch off by seconds or minutes, and in some instances, stopping the mechanics from working at all. The master watchmakers at IWC recognized this issue and were the first to outwit magnetism.
In 1948, IWC released its first anti-magnetic pilot watches. The brand had developed an outer jacket made of a special alloy that could hold the movement within and protect its parts from the elements. Typically, this was a soft-iron inner case. IWC was lauded for its research and development, as it was advancing the concept of pilot watches forever.
Since then, brands have developed anti-magnetic materials for components, but many continue to use the inner iron case for their aviation watches. This begs the question, though, of what, in addition to anti-magnetism, constitutes a pilot’s watch. To understand what a pilot’s watch is, you must recognize the functions needed in a cockpit: immediate legibility, readability in day or night, and some additional useful functions help.
Essentially, a pilot’s watch is typically large in size, with highly legible dials so that it can be read at a glance. This is why most pilot’s watches are big. They also often feature oversized crowns for easy adjustment in the days when pilots wore gloves and have luminescent coatings on the hands and markers for nighttime visibility. Many brands, IWC included, offer much more than these basic features, making watches with chronographs that act as stopwatches and can measure intermittent periods of time, or with tachymeter bezels for measuring speed or distance, and even with altimeters.
IWC and Top Gun School
In addition to chocking a watch full of useful aviation features, IWC has gone to even greater lengths to provide truly exceptional and precise instruments for the wrist. It was in 2007 that the brand began creating its Top Gun pilot’s watches – the result of a partnership between IWC and the U.S. Navy’s Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program, otherwise known as Top Gun.
It was an unprecedented relationship and marked the first time that Top Gun ever licensed its name. The pursuit of the school by IWC took years to accomplish. But when the deal was sealed, the elite school and its pilots worked side-by-side with IWC to create timepieces that fulfilled their needs. The newest IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “SFTI” does exactly that.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “SFTI”
Complementing its already extensive Top Gun range of pilot’s watches, the newest Chronograph Top Gun SFTI watch takes its inspiration from the “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” black watch that IWC created in 2018 in honor of the US Naval Aviation Community and that is available only for Top Gun graduates. That watch was created in collaboration with the instructors based on Naval Air Station Leemore in California and boasts the iconic Top Gun patch on the dial.
The new version – available to the public – is created in a limited edition of just 1,500 pieces, it is made of high-tech materials that can withstand the experience in a supersonic F/A-18 Super Hornet jet, for example. The 44mm watch is made of matte black zirconium oxide ceramic that has a Vickers hardness rating second only to a diamond. It is incredibly scratch resistant. The chronograph pushers and the case back are made using IWC’s proprietary Ceratanium® that is light in weight and highly durable.
The watch further features a black dial and black hands that are coated with luminescent material – all adding to the stealth look. The small second hand is shaped in the form of a jet. The watch is powered by the in-house-made IWC 69380 caliber chronograph with column-wheel design. It offers a day and date display and is finished with a green textile strap.
Top Gun 2: Maverick Movie
With all of this talk about Top Gun, we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the upcoming Top Gun 2: Maverick movie. You may be wondering what watch Tom Cruise wore in the original 1986 Top Gun movie and in the sequel coming up. Unfortunately, it was not an IWC. Keep in mind, IWC’s partnership with Top Gun didn’t happen until 2007. Back then, Cruise, as Maverick, wore a stealth black PVD-steel Porsche Design Chronograph 1 watch. It may have been one of the first-ever fully black chronograph watches. We expect to see that same watch on his wrist in the sequel.
My Visit to Top Gun With IWC
On a side note, I must admit that I am particularly enthralled with what IWC has accomplished with the Top Gun series over the past decade-plus. That may be because I was invited by IWC when the brand announced its partnership in 2007 to join the brand and a handful of journalists at the elite Top Gun school in San Diego, and to trap-land on and catapult off of the U.S.S. Ronal Reagan Navy aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean. Only a few civilians are ever able to experience this.
The tour of the U.S. Navy’s highest-ranking fighter pilot school was a rare inside look at precision at its finest. These pilots endure thousands of hours of academics followed by thousands of more hours of mission simulations and real missions. It was an impressive event that I will never forget. The fact that this elite force opted to team with IWC Schaffhausen speaks volumes about the brand.
By the way, the trap landing onto, and catapulting off of, the USS Ronald Reagan after a thorough tour of the aircraft carrier 100 miles off the coast was unforgettable. Witnessing the work done on this carrier, the wire cables that trap and hold the planes that land, and the people who make it all happen was awe-inspiring. Plus, there is just no way to describe the catapult off the carrier at extreme speeds. For an instance, you actually fly out of your seat and you have to remember this is not a ride. This is for real.
About the Author
Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.