IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert: For When You Feel The Need For (Ceramic) Speed
by Martin Green
IWC and ceramic go together. The brand from Schaffhausen proved this when it became one of the first Swiss brands to house its watches in this material: both the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar and the Fliegerchronograph were available with ceramic cases in the 1980s and 1990s.
After that, the brand put ceramic on the back burner for a while. But now it’s coming back to take a more prominent position within the Pilot’s collection once again.
The majority of these ceramic watches feature a black case, the most traditional color for ceramic. One big and beautiful exception is the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert. Here IWC went for a sandy color, which is highly unusual for a ceramic case.
IWC also gave it a brushed finish, providing a technical look, which is further enhanced by a textile strap with rubber lining.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert
The dial is dark brown with all indices, numerals, and even the Super-LumiNova on the hands in the same sand color as the case, which creates a tone-in-tone effect that works very well.
Legibility is not as bad as you might expect with this color scheme, which adds to the likability of this watch – at least in my book. The crown and chronograph pushers in white metal (likely titanium like the case back) add just a touch of contrast and prevent the watch from being “too sandy.”
Kudos to IWC on bringing all these elements together.
In the past, IWC’s Pilot chronographs were powered by the ETA/Valjoux Caliber 7750 – an excellent, reliable caliber and one of my favorite chronograph movements.
Given the price point of IWC’s chronographs, customers started to expect something a bit more luxurious, though, or to be more precise something “manufacture.”
IWC answered that call for the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert and all other Pilot chronographs with a day-date function by fitting it with Caliber 69380, a movement based on Caliber 69370, which the brand introduced in 2016 in the Ingenieur Chronograph Edition Rudolf Caracciola.
Just like the ETA/Valjoux Caliber 7750, with which it still shares a design feature or two, Caliber 69380 is a workhorse movement.
There is not much to complain about regarding this caliber, but its diameter is only 30 mm, while the case of the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert is a whopping 44.5 mm.
IWC solved this on the back of the watch by simply not showing the movement. That was an easy fix as this watch is fitted with a soft iron inner case for protection against magnetic fields. So even with an open case back, you wouldn’t see the movement.
On the dial side, we note that the subdials are grouped toward the center. Honestly, I think that IWC pulls it off, but only because the dial design is well done and balanced. But it is a close one.
Quite frankly, I don’t know why this watch has to be so large as that size adds very little to it. For people who want an oversized pilot’s watch, the brand already offers the Big Pilot, and I think that for a chronograph 42 mm is the sweet spot. Although I didn’t mind the 39 mm of Reference 3705, the ceramic predecessor of this watch.
The good and the what could be better
I always wonder to what extent the fact that the case back of this watch is signed with the Top Gun logo helps with sales.
I presume that a lot of people who are now able to purchase this watch grew up with the blockbuster of the same name that made Tom Cruise a superstar. They might be enticed by it, but to me it merely muddies the water.
The United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, which was responsible for the Top Gun program, merged in 1996 into the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. To make things even more cloudy, it is based at the Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada, around 500 kilometers away from the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, the US Navy’s largest single landholding, which is in the Mojave Desert and supposedly the inspiration for this sand-colored case.
So the US Navy references on the case back of this watch look out of place.
In my opinion, the watch is good enough not to need such marketing mumbo jumbo. If IWC’s designers feel the need to be “inspired” by something, maybe the crash of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in the Libyan desert during the Paris-to-Saigon air race of 1935 would have been a better option. The event did, after all, inspire the author to write The Little Prince.
I also would love it if IWC could come up with another name for this watch. “Pilot’s Watch Chronograph” sounds terribly generic, and I would prefer to go back to the times when even in English-language catalogs IWC referred to it as a Fliegerchronograph. This watch pretty much coined the term, so use it!
The beauty of all the complaints I have is that they really don’t matter in the larger scheme of things. The case back is on your wrist, so once it’s yours, you can call it Fliegerchonograph or whatever you want.
What remains is an excellent watch that looks good, is well made, has an unusually colored ceramic case, a solid manufacture movement, and is limited to 500 pieces.
I am not going to say that the $9,100 that IWC is asking for this watch is cheap, but I do think that it offers fair value. Its limitation is low enough to make it rare, and it looks substantially different from the regular collection.
With all of this, the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert has proven its worth as a welcome addition to the IWC lineup.
For more information please visit www.iwc.com/en/watch-collections/pilot-watches/iw389103-pilot_s-watch-chronograph-top-gun-edition-mojave-desert.
Quick Facts IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Mojave Desert
Case: 44.5 x 15.7 mm, sand-colored ceramic, soft iron inner case protecting against magnetic fields
Movement: automatic IWC Caliber 69380 with 46-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds; day, date, chronograph
Limitation: 500 pieces