As IWC's Aquatimer, Portuguese and Portofino lines have all received their statutory makeovers, it was about time for a re-vamp of the brand's lynchpin pilot watches - including the racy Top Gun models. QP reported to the IWC stand at SIHH for a full briefing.
Having accidentally become someone who writes about fast cars and motorcycles, luxury wristwatches, fine art and different ways to have adventures, I'm often asked to name the 'best' press event I've been fortunate enough to attend during my 14 years as a freelance journalist.
The red silhouette of an aircraft on the seconds hand is in stark contrast to the black-and-white dial of the Big Pilot Top Gun.
Driving Land Rovers up the highest road in the Americas must be a contender, together with lapping the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on a Ducati under the instruction of former Superbike world champion Doug Polen; being a guest at Sir Richard Branson's private island was pretty unforgettable, too, as was realising a long-held ambition to ride the Cresta Run in St Moritz.
But I have this magazine to thank for leading me to what was undoubtedly the most extraordinary journalistic experience of all - attending the launch of IWC's original Top Gun Pilot's Watch. Long-standing QP followers might have read about it five years ago in issue 23, where I attempted to describe the extraordinary situation of being flown onto the USS Ronald Reagan aboard a C-2A transport aircraft.
The Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar Top Gun has a ceramic case and a double moonphase.
Just to recap, the Ronald Reagan is the most powerful warship ever built. It weighs 95,000 tons, is nuclear-powered and can, theoretically, remain at sea for 25 years. IWC boss Georges Kern and his team allegedly spent two years negotiating the trip, during which we were allowed to spend more than an hour on deck watching a succession of fighter, reconnaissance, surveillance, cargo, AWACS and anti-submarine aircraft practicing take-off and landing manoeuvres in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was loud, it was thrilling, it was frightening and it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The memory of it came flooding back as soon as I saw the IWC stand at this year's SIHH: designed to resemble the deck of a carrier, it was even equipped with a fully working jet fighter simulator - and you didn't exactly need a degree in avionics to work out that the impressive set dressing meant that we were about to discover a range of re-vamped Pilot's watches.
IWC's most recently updated line of watches pays tributes to the legend of the elite US Navy pilots.
Last year we saw new life breathed into the Portofino range and the year before it was the turn of the Portuguese. Both families were tastefully, intelligently and impressively upgraded, so hopes were high for the important Pilot pieces. The 'hero' watches in the new range are probably the two completely fresh Top Gun 'Miramar' models named after the US Marine Corps' installation near San Diego, which, until 1996, was the base of the Naval Fighter Weapon's School which runs the celebrated Top Gun courses.
Since the original launch in 2007, the Top Gun watches have been selling steadily in chronograph and double chronograph form but, as of now, the Top Gun line-up comprises no fewer than five new models with the Miramar sub-line being available in either 'Big Pilot' style or as a vertical sub-dial chronograph.
Each watch gets an anthracite ceramic case with a titanium back and suitably military-esque identity through buff-coloured hands and markings (which remind me of a Bremont) and a business-like textile strap in olive green. According to US Navy pilot Lt. Comm. Guy Snodgrass, who is quoted in a lavish book about the watches, this "goes perfectly with our flying gear". It's always good to know that our protectors are properly co-ordinated, don't you think?
When I saw an advance picture of the Miramar Big Pilot it appealed to me instantly - in the flesh, however, I couldn't help but feel that it was excessively large. The reason is that it is actually 2mm bigger than that of the classic BP, an alteration that has apparently had to be made due to 'technical reasons' concerning the case construction. Inside, you'll find IWC's lovely in-house Calibre 5111 self-winding movement with nominal 8.5 days of power reserve (but which is actually designed to stop after precisely seven days to ensure consistent timekeeping).
The Miramar chronograph, meanwhile, measures-up at a more conservative 46mm, despite the inclusion of a soft iron inner case. Like the Big Pilot, it features minute markings on the outer edge of the dial in true observer's watch style and the date display is meant to resemble an altimeter, while the in-house Calibre 89365 movement features a flyback function.
The Top Gun course, officially the US Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Course, is based at Fallon, Nevada and operates a training centre for especially talented combat pilots.
The basic, black and white, non-Miramar Top Gun line-up is headlined by a decidedly impressive Perpetual Calendar model with double moonphases (for northern and southern hemispheres) based on IWC's Calibre 5000 movement.
The same, black ceramic, 48mm case and black fabric strap are used for the Top Gun Big Pilot, while, as with the Miramar model, the chronograph measures just 46mm - and, if you're wondering about the old double chronograph offering, that's no more. Part of the aim of this exercise has been to equip the Top Gun line 100 per cent with manufacture movements and, as yet, there is no in-house double chrono.
There is, however, now a double chronograph in the re-vamped 'classic' range - it uses an ETA calibre upgraded with an IWC module. The only other entirely new model is an extremely nice looking World Timer in a 45mm steel case. And it's a proper world timer, too, complete with indications for countries, which use daylight saving time (simply shown by a line with a dot at the end).
Regarding the three remaining classic Pilot models meanwhile, the Big Pilot is still the only one in the line-up to be equipped with a manufacture movement; the chronograph is up-sized by 1mm to 43mm and the new MK XVII (the simple, classic aviator watch with date reading) grows by 2mm over its predecessor to 41mm.
That just leaves the Spitfire range which has been upgraded with manufacture movements across the board, the addition of an optional rose gold case for the chronograph (which now has 68 hours of power reserve instead of 44 and a Spitfire-shaped winding rotor) and an entirely new model in the form of an expensive perpetual calendar watch in rose gold with digital date and month indications.
Looks as though we're still going to have to wait a while for the IWC Messerschmit, though.
For more information: www.iwc.com