For those who live for the legacy of all things fighter jet pilot, IWC Schaffhausen offers an aviator watch that’ll probably be sold out by the time you read this.
More than 8 decades ago, around the time of World War II, Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen embarked on producing pilot watches specced to the requirements of fighter jet pilots for the German Air Force, and later, British forces too. In fact, it was the first watchmaker tasked to design and construct these mission-critical timepieces which incorporated basic three-handers to chronographs.
In 2007, IWC became the go-to for the US Navy; making pilot watches engineered for tactical use and high performance especially for the renowned Navy Fighter Weapons School also known as TOPGUN. Hence the name of the range. For those who can only associate that word with a young Tom Cruise riding into the sunset on a motorbike sans helmet, the Navy Fighter Weapons School program is where the US Navy grooms its best trainees to become the top dogs in flying and tactical skills. Since its inception in 1969, just over one thousand trainees have successfully graduated to become an elite group of strike-fighter pilots. It is said that naval aviation is possibly the toughest field in aviation and hence a watch for those in this line of duty also had to be made of highly resistant and durable materials.
IWC is not the only one to manufacture aviator watches however, its Top Gun pilot watches are much coveted for its brawny yet contemporary good looks. With a military past and pedigree, the Top Gun range is ahead of the game in terms of innovation and use of advanced materials. Its proprietary ‘I-eat G-forces-for-breakfast’ titanium and ceramic blend is as light and durable as titanium, extremely scratch-resistant with the hardness (of ceramic) that is second only to that of a diamond.
Dogfights, spot landings at night on aircraft carriers, sharp turns in supersonic jets – the daily grind of maximum forces exerted on man and flying machine meant that it was super important the watch in question would be precise and more importantly, strong enough to withstand the constant stress of barrel rolls and pressure drops. Enter the Ceratanium®, forged of fire and oxygen to produce a light yet utterly robust material that is probably the non-reflective equivalent of valyrian steel in real life.
A quick time-out to talk about the IWC “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” (SFTI) Chronograph. This was a watch created in 2018 by IWC Schaffhausen for the US Navy in collaboration with instructors from the Naval Air Station Lemoore in California, and exclusively for TOPGUN graduates. In other words, unattainable.
Fret not as good news ensues. Back to the main story here, the latest Top Gun “SFTI” edition draws inspiration from the above mentioned chrono. But more importantly, this is a “SFTI” chronograph that mere mortals like us can own. Caveat inserted here: it’s a limited run of 1,500 watches.
As it is a homage of sorts, the two timepieces are not direct replicas. The 2018 watch is a 2-register chrono with both counters in a single sub-dial at 12 o’clock. Its black ceramic case notably bears the all important TOPGUN patch at the 9th hour, and its pushers and crown are made of steel.
The civilian version, the new “SFTI” understandably does not bear the badge of honour on its dial. As a worthy consolation, IWC has engraved on the closed caseback, the ubiquitous Top Gun Logo with the words ‘US Navy Fighter Weapons School’ encircling it. The new “SFTI” also has Ceratanium® added to its caseback, pushers and screw-down crown. Unlike the 2018 version, it is a three-register chrono with counters as well as day and date complications housed in different subdials and windows.
This watch also has a glass front secured against extreme pressure changes and underneath, a convex scratch-resistant sapphire crystal glass with layers of anti-reflective coatings applied to both sides. Central hands and numerals fringing the dial have been treated with luminescence. Providing the heartbeat is a self-winding 69380 calibre, a classic column-wheel construct, that ensures precise timekeeping and provides calculated timing in the 12-hour totaliser and the 30-minute counter. Protected with anti-magnetic technology within a soft-iron inner case and beating at the rate of 28, 800 vibrations per hour, the movement gives up to 46 hours of power reserve.
But what will take the breath away for the watch collector will surely be the look. Overall, the watch with its 44-mm matte black zirconium oxide case and camo-green strap lends that authentic military vibe. As red accents are present throughout the entire Top Gun line, this timepiece bears familial resemblance as well with red marking lines at the pushers. And with such a power suit of matte black and red accents, this Top Gun “SFTI” edition surprises with a whimsical red jet at the tail tip of the seconds hand – a design element unique to this limited edition.
Images courtesy of IWC, artwork by Curatedition. All rights reserved.