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05/27/2024
 4 minutes

About IWC, Top Gun, Tom Cruise, and Other Things That Age Extremely Well

By Thomas Hendricks
IWC-Top-Gun-2-1

About IWC, Top Gun, Tom Cruise, and Other Things That Age Extremely Well

It’s Memorial Day weekend in the US of A. This means the unofficial start of summer, and a time to reflect on the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women. It’s also time for one more thing: an annual Top Gun re-watch.

Both the 1986 original and the 2022 sequel are full of watch-spotting opportunities for the horologically inclined. Remember Tom Cruise’s blacked-out Porsche Design Chronograph 1 manufactured by Orfina? Fun fact: the Orfina he wears in 2022’s Top Gun: Maverick is the exact same watch featured in the original film. Jerry Bruckheimer had kept the watch stashed away in a safe since the 1980s, perhaps anticipating a glorious revival of the film decades later. But there’s another brand that captures the most screen time in this film.

IWC in the Skies and on the Big Screen

There’s only one watch brand with an official Top Gun collection, and the only brand to have an official partnership with the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (the real-life Top Guns): none other than IWC.

The IWC pilot’s watches you see in Top Gun: Maverick are far more exclusive than any Rolex Daytona. The “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” Mark XVIII or the “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” Chronograph are only available to graduates of the Top Gun program. And given that only about the top 1% of all naval pilots are accepted into it, it’s safe to assume that neither you nor I will ever see one of these in the flesh (or, well, “steel” in this instance). And if you look closely, you’ll notice these aren’t the only IWC watches in the film. While the pilots in the cockpits don pilot’s watches, the higher-ups keep it classy with Portugiesers. After all, what would the military be without a bit of hierarchy?

IWC Mark XVIII
IWC Mark XVIII

According to the prop master for the film, the CEO of IWC flew in to meet the crew and approve the partnership before filming began. IWC was a natural choice, given the close relationship between the brand and the esteemed flight academy. The brand has also spent considerable time evolving their products into ideal mechanical pilot’s watches, creating products that are tough, accurate, and legible even in low light conditions.

Combat & Complications: IWC’s Top Gun Collection

IWC has nearly 20 watches in the current Top Gun lineup, ranging from time-only watches to chronographs to perpetual calendars. And we got a new addition at Watches and Wonders 2024: The Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Woodland (ref. IW503101) is big, complicated, and beautiful. Coming in at 46.5 mm in diameter, it’s certainly not sized for everyone, and with a retail price of $56,700, it’s not priced for everyone, either. One fact remains: it’s a lot of watch.

Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Woodland
Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Woodland

Beneath the deep green ceramic is a movement that’s proven pivotal in the brand’s history. IWC certainly did not invent the perpetual calendar, but they did revolutionize it under the leadership of Kurt Klaus when they debuted the Da Vinci perpetual calendar in 1985. This watch stood apart as the first perpetual calendar that could be adjusted using only the crown. And with little more than 80 components, IWC was able to turn something inherently complicated into something refreshingly simple. The Da Vinci was also notably the first “true” ceramic watch case. Brands like Rado and Omega had broken ground before on ceramic hybrid cases, but from a purist’s perspective, IWC was the first to create a ceramic case without the use of metallic additives.  

As you explore the range of IWC pilot’s watches, including their Top Gun collection, you’ll see the word Ceratanium® with noticeable frequency. Ceramic as a watchmaking material has several advantages. It’s lightweight, superbly scratch-resistant, and takes color beautifully. This new proprietary alloy achieves a uniquely matte material that adds to the visual and tactile impact of ceramic. The new Woodland edition is a prime example of this: The richly deep green contributes a soft and sumptuous air to a wonderfully huge and hardened piece of horological might.

 

Let’s Pick a Favorite IWC Top Gun Watch

IWC now has nearly 20 Top Gun watches in its current lineup. These range from your classic three-handers to perpetual calendars, accurate for the next five centuries and beyond. And don’t forget the chronographs, which will likely be the crowd favorites. The three-hand timepieces are nicely clean and simple, even though their dials perhaps feel a bit empty considering the roughly 44-mm case size, not to mention prices that are in the same range as those of the chronographs. The chronographs balance function with legibility, and come in a range of beautiful cases, representing what IWC can and should be doing.

However, if I had to pick an absolute favorite in this budget-blind hypothetical scenario, I’d have to go with a perpetual calendar. Given the innovations IWC has brought forth for this complication, as well as their advances with case materials, and in light of the supreme legibility of a perpetual calendar that’s also a pilot’s watch, this clearly makes the most sense for me. Now, the really big question: Which color? In overly simple terms, it’s black vs. white vs. blue vs. tan vs. green. To help me make my choice, I’ll harken back to the day IWC released the Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert” (ref. IW503004). All I could think was, “Holy ****!” This is my ideal IWC, my favorite from the brand, my Top Gun.


About the Author

Thomas Hendricks

I didn’t grow up a watch guy, but a few years after graduating from university, I landed a job at the online publication Watchonista as a writer and marketer. “Welcome to the watch world,” my colleagues told me half-jokingly, “no one ever leaves!” Now at Chrono24, I work as a private client advisor, helping people find the perfect watch for major life moments.

Read more

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