All the connotations and daydreams that come with the image of a fighter pilot are on show in the intriguing replica IWC Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium, a functional tool watch that transcends the genre. The cool black finish could only be German, and following a strict code of functionality that, while formal in its monochrome symmetry, exudes a calm feeling of trust. The case is not exactly lithe at 44mm with a close-to 17mm thickness, but the fit on the wrist makes me believe that there is a well-staffed Department of Ergonomics at IWC Schaffhausen. Even without the visual cliché of black being slimming, the elegant shape of the lugs sure make it shrink, and yes, Ceratanium is light enough that, with eyes closed, you’ll think it’s a slim 40mm.
The Ceratanium case
The lineage of ceramic pilot’s watches starting in 1994 culminates in what here is a matt black case with a smooth surface. The stealthy feel is a masterstroke by IWC, combining titanium and ceramic in a composite material, having the lightness of titanium while being ultra scratch-resistant. The surprising feature is that Ceratanium has a softer feel, both through its silky surface and feeling warmer on the skin than steel.
Through the production experience, Swiss made IWC replica watches have now managed to include both pushers, crown and buckle in the same material, with the single pop of a red ring around the 10 o’clock pusher slipping through the monochrome scanner. The pushers manage the perfect haptic balance between a slight resistance triggering your build quality-sensor, while being large enough to even work while wearing. Let’s be honest and say winter gloves rather than pilot’s gloves — even if we all feel the strong TOP GUN inspiration, at well past 40, with poor eyesight, chances are I’m not accepted at the academy.
An exemplary pilot’s dial
Under the charming occasional flash of blue AR, we have legibility with a capital L, while the image is understated stealth through the use of grey print and lume instead of crisp white. While calming down the contrasts, this is still the ABC of Pilot watch design, with a wealth of information delivered at a glance. From the classic 12 o’clock triangle and dots, to the black day-date windows, even a slight twist of the wrist gives you all the necessary mission input. The textured dial embodies tool minimalism with its pure weapons-grade black, while the Arabic numerals are large and decisively IWC of font. Liberal amounts of Super-LumiNova will keep you informed through the darker hours, and we love the classic IWC sharp sword pilot’s hands. They are proportionate, while striking a fine balance with the needle tip of the chronograph seconds hand, a charming lume pip at the end of its counterbalance. The chronograph seconds hand number two for the rattrapante function is black, with a fresh pop of red needle tip to match the pusher at 10, allowing for intermediate timing. Three recessed registers are as crisp as you would expect, with the running seconds at 9 alone more legible than the entire dial of an average 38mm diver. Seriously.
The Double Chronograph movement
Unless you know your rattrapante from a normal chronograph, you will only have a vague suspicion about the red-ringed pusher at 10 o’clock, and the rattrapante seconds hand can’t be seen. Ah, but you see, the black and red split-second hand hides a hair’s breadth under the main chrono seconds hand, awaiting your bidding … An assertive resistance when I push the chronograph pusher at 2 o’clock and the seconds needle is away; when pushing the red-ringed pusher at 10, voila! The hidden rattrapante hand appears and stops, giving you an intermediary or lap time. Push it again, and it springs back to hide with a charming flutter as it hangs on to the main seconds hand as it carries on. This is the main reason for the thickness of the watch, and the dance of the two timing needles is worth every millimetre.
The IWC Doppelchronograf movement harks back to the movement designer Kurt Klaus in the late ’80s, at a time when in-house movements were not that prevalent; the gauntlet eventually taken over by the IWC movement designer Richard Habring, now of Habring2 fame. Instead of a delicate rattrapante (another name for the DoppelChrono) movement not suitable for a weapons-grade tool watch, RH developed a more simplified module based on the solidity of a Valjoux 7750. Tough, reliable and easy to service. So, this is neither a new pilot’s watch or movement, but rather the pinnacle of the established credentials of IWC now in the stealthy case of the TOP GUN series. The simple yet complex module-based double chronograph complication explains the thickness, fitted securely within a soft-iron, antimagnetic inner case. Bulletproof strength marks this 25-year-old movement, rather than the regal delicacy of a Vacheron or Patek split-seconds heart. But these qualities of the in-house 79420 calibre respect the mission brief. Listen up, troops! The majority of the 44 hours of power reserve is not meant to be spent under a tailored shirt cuff, tempting as it is on the tool-comfortable fabric-inlaid soft rubber strap. The Ceratanium case might be silky smooth, but the TOP GUN nomenclature is here for a reason. Whether you are strapped into an ejector seat or on a wintery trek up a mountain, this is your trusted wingman. The IWC Double Chronograph has got your back.