In response to what most consider the failed U.S. Military Operation Rolling Thunder during the Vietnam War, a training program was created to ensure that pilots were better equipped both from a piloting and tactical perspective. That program – still ongoing today – is called the Strike Fighter Training Program, also known as Top Gun. In 2018, IWC created the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” in collaboration with instructors based on the Naval Air Station Leemore in California.
That watch featured a case made of black ceramic, bearing the iconic Top Gun patch on the left side of the dial. The watch itself was quite unique, in that it was a two-register chronograph with both the hour and minute totalizers in a single sub-dial at 12:00. You might be wondering where you might be able to pick one up. Well, that’s the thing. You see, that watch is available exclusively for graduates of the Navy Fighter Weapons School only.
Now, IWC has decided to change that – somewhat. Today, the company has released the new Top Gun ‘SFTI’ Edition which – again – stands for: Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor. Inspired by that 2018 watch, this is a limited edition entrant into the existing Top Gun line, which offers a few design flourishes to help differentiate it from other models in the lineup. For one, there is an increase in red accents, from the seconds hand, to the pushers, to even the chronograph seconds hand. Available on a green textile and leather strap, this 44mm, ruggedly designed watch is limited to 1,500 pieces.
Off the bat, it is important to note that this is not a 1:1 reproduction of the 2018-released Chronograph Edition “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor” but rather a limited edition homage of sorts, for the non-military consumer crowd. For one thing, this new edition is a three-register chronograph, as opposed to two, and features a day and date complication as opposed to the single red date window on the 2018 model.
Getting even more granular on the differences, there are minor changes to the case. The case is made from black zirconium oxide ceramic with a Ceratanium caseback (Ceratanium being a recent innovation in 2017, from IWC’s materials engineers according to the brand). The 2018 version sported steel pushers and crown, while this new model has those features finished in Ceratanium as well. It is no small feat to have graduated from the Navy Fighter Weapons School, so I can understand why IWC is keeping the original in its exclusive form, and releasing this piece, the SFTI Edition, in its stead as an “inspired by” limited edition.
Getting to handle this watch in the metal made a world of difference to me in terms of contextualizing the size, wearability, and overall feel of the watch. For one thing, I received the watch prior to seeing the spec sheet. This means that I was flying blind in terms of the particular specifications. Sure, I could have assumed it would maintain the same sizing as its predecessors, but we know what happens when we assume. So let’s just say I had the full unadulterated, un-tainted experience going in.
I am generally on the fence when it comes to limited edition timepieces as well. There is a tendency to do a little bit too much in terms of design, and the result can sometimes come across as campy. This watch, however, manages to sidestep a lot of those potential landmines. There is a playfulness to some of the elements, and also a lot of restraint. That balance results in a watch which doesn’t feel like a limited edition at all, if that makes any sense.
Everything about this LE screams the Top Gun aesthetic, only you won’t actually find the words Top Gun anywhere on the dial. I especially like the pairing of the stark black and red, with the sort of drab, olive green strap. This seems to be the same strap which accompanies the IWC Chronograph Spitfire, and while it’s an unexpected pairing, I think it gives an elevated military feel to the watch. The strap also embodies function over form, as it does not have a deployant clasp system. It’s an old fashioned – buckle it yourself – strap.
As referenced earlier, the case is made of ceramic, with a Ceratanium caseback. This makes the entire watch highly scratch resistant and more durable overall as ceramic boasts a Vickers rating second only to a diamond. Similarly, as noted, both the crown and pushers are also made of that same Ceratanium. Unlike previous iterations of Top Gun Chronographs, this LE features red accents at roughly the midsection of the pushers. Using the red to break up the monotony of the black (which persists throughout the watch) adds an element of interest to the pushers themselves. This is also a callback to the Top Gun Double Chronograph which had a similar red accent on its left-hand pusher.
The red accents are a thematic element of the entire Top Gun line. The Mark XVIII Top Gun features red text on the dial, and prior variations of the chronograph have featured what has become the signature red seconds hand on the lower sub-dial. A unique design element for this limited edition is the inclusion of a red tip on the lower portion of the chronograph seconds hand in the shape of a jet.
The red paint on this jet is quite lacquer-like in appearance and is a fun addition to the watch, especially when the chronograph hand is moving. My mind goes immediately to the new Omega Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award 50th Anniversary watch with Snoopy traveling around the Moon. It never hurts to have a little bit of fun with these things.
I talked a bit earlier about how I received this watch before the spec sheet. Well, the overall profile and case construction is another aspect of the watch which I am glad I examined blindly. Reading the specs, you would see that the case is upwards of 15mm tall (actually 15.7mm to be exact). On paper, that screams thick, but let this be another lesson about how important it is to see these things in the metal before passing judgment.
Sure this watch is a bit chunky, a little burly, but isn’t that what you expect from a watch inspired by fighter pilot instructors? These are people who do some of the most intense tactical military piloting – and a watch which represents them needs to convey that sort of strength and might. Despite the near-16mm height, the finishing on both sides of the ceramic case helps to mask any extra thickness.
One of the more surprising aspects is the construction of the screw-down crown. When you unthread the crown on the IWC Top Gun SFTI, there is a distinct ratcheting sound, almost akin to the sound of winding the watch itself. This sound stops once the crown is unthreaded to let you know it is in a position to be set. The 60-meter water resistance of the Top Gun SFTI coupled with the screw-down element makes this watch more than appropriate for swimming, as well.
This is an in-house, vertical-clutch, column-wheel chronograph. The orientation of the dial is set up with the small seconds at the bottom (measuring running seconds), the minute totalizer at the top (meaning the chronograph minutes up to 30 minutes), and the hour totalizer on the left (measuring the chronograph hours up to 12 hours).
They say that white-dial watches give off the appearance of being larger than their black-dial counterparts. Well, if that’s the case, then this watch has a duo of case shrinking features. First is the black dial itself, and second is the black ceramic case. Both of these things combine to make a watch which is listed at 45mm, feel decidedly akin to a 42mm-wide watch – 43mm at maximum. In addition, the combination of ceramic and Ceratanium used to create the case results in a completely matte finish, which completes the tactical look. The aforementioned green strap has brown leather on the underside and a matching ceramic buckle.
The Top Gun SFTI features a closed caseback. IWC is also known for its caseback engravings, generally featuring the illustration of an airplane. With the Top Gun line, the brand mixes things up. This watch features the well-known Top Gun logo made famous (if ever there was an understatement) by the 1986 film of the same name, starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer. Surrounding this logo is text that reads “US Navy Fighter Weapons School.” Behind that closed caseback is the IWC in-house caliber 69380 movement – the very same movement found in the Chronograph Spitfire. That movement is secured in a soft-iron inner case for protection against magnetic fields.
If you are familiar with the general IWC pilot watch aesthetic (Spitfire line excluded), then this layout will be extremely familiar to you. The stark white numerals, in the signature thick rounded typeface, make this watch very legible. This watch is, in many ways, quite similar to the Chronograph Spitfire but without the vintage-leaning design affectations. There is the vertical orientation of the subdials, as well as the day and date complication on the right-hand side of the dial – all a product of sharing the same movement, no doubt. You will also find the IWC wordmark atop the day and date window, as well as the word Schaffhausen beneath it. Similar to the Mark XVIII, the date wheel matches the matte-textured black dial, allowing for all of the elements of the dial to coalesce and coexist harmoniously.
Much of the legibility of the dial comes from an outer and inner application of anti-reflective coating, which IWC has become known for using. Sure, you get this somewhat purple sheen on the dial in certain lighting conditions, but for the most part, it is effective in aiding the legibility of the watch. On paper, a black-case, black-dial, and white-text watch should be boring, but the dial is not just black. Rather, it is a textured matte black with thickly painted white markings. The lume on this watch is the same as any other Top Gun or Mark series watch, where only the 12, three, six, and nine markers are coated with luminescent material.
The Pilot series for IWC has an unmistakable look, and that look is displayed here in full force – in a package which exudes the military fighter pilot spirit of the Top Gun program. The watch itself is meant to withstand the extreme strain that pilots experience in the cockpit of supersonic jets like the F/A-18 Super Hornet, according to IWC. Accentuating this idea is the fact that the sapphire crystal is secured against displacement by a drop in air pressure.
While you cannot have the actual Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor watch issued to graduates of the program, you can have this, the IWC Chronograph SFTI Edition. That is no consolation prize either. With this watch, you are getting a limited edition timepiece, with design accents that are both fun and rugged all at once, and featuring an in-house column-wheel chronograph movement. As mentioned, this watch will be limited to 1,500 pieces, and I think – at that number – they likely won’t around for long.
Model: Top Gun SFTI Edition
Reference Number: IW389104
Case Material: Ceramic case, Ceratanium case back,
Dial Color: Black
Indexes: Arabic numerals
Water Resistance: 60m
Strap/Bracelet: Green textile strap
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, day, date, chronograph
Power Reserve: 46 hours
Frequency: 4 Hz
Chronometer Certified: No
Pricing & Availability
Price: $ 9,150
Limited Edition: Yes, 1,500 pieces
For more, click here.
Photos, Kasia Milton