To celebrate Tom Cruise’s much anticipated Top Gun sequel, IWC has released a limited edition watch for civilians
If you can’t fly fighter jets, well, IWC new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun SFTI is the next best thing. At least that is what the Swiss luxury watchmaker is going for. “I have a cool job but I always wanted to be a pilot, a fighter pilot,” began CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr at the big reveal on Zoom earlier this month, sharing that this fascination with aviation began as a little boy when he attended air shows with his father.
Since he took the helm at IWC in 2017, this architect by training has also become a brand influencer, often sharing glimpses of upcoming timepieces (like the Pilot’s Mark XVIII ‘Aeronavale’ last week, with its distinctive Naval Air Arm roundel on the dial). Fans who follow him on Instagram will tell you he named his Bernhardiner Patek Philippe when he was just three and that he became obsessed with the Portofino and Portugieser Chronographs thanks to an IWC dealer he passed daily on his way to university. At 42, Grainger-Herr is one of the Richemont group’s young CEOs who have been successfully helping legacy brands move away from the traditional broadcasting approach. There is therefore much dialogue on social media, an ease with online interactions as seen at the Zoom Top Gun SFTI launch, and instant updates from F1 racetracks and film award ceremonies.
“Due to the global pandemic, we decided to organise an online webcast for this watch launch,” shares Grainger-Herr later on email, when asked about IWC’s pandemic-adjacent marketing. “We hit upon the idea of producing a short documentary movie to tell the story of our collaboration with the US Navy, our military-exclusive watches for US Navy squadrons, our dream for aviation as well as the new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition ‘SFTI’.” IWC have been producing the Top Gun watch since 2007, and since the release of the sequel to Tom Cruise’s 1986 hit has been pushed back to 2021, this chronograph for non-military customers and limited to 1500 pieces, will keep collectors happy.
Behind the movie
- Top Gun is a fictional story based on life at the US Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego County, CA, which until 1996 was the home of the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI) program, nicknamed TOPGUN.
Ceratanium, a proprietary IWC material with the qualities of both titanium and ceramic, has been used for the case back, the chronograph pushers and the pin buckle. “This is a change from the military-exclusive watches we introduced in 2018 for graduates of the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School,” adds IWC Creative Director Christian Knoop. He recalls how during frequent exchanges with the pilots, it became evident that they favoured an all-black, totally anti-reflective design. “So that they are not distracted in the cockpit from the watch reflecting sunlight. For the new model, we decided to stick to ceramic for the case, and do the other components in Ceratanium, achieving a tactical, matte-black design,” Knoop explains.
Former US Navy Captain Jim DiMatteo
IWC is the only watch brand that is officially licensed to work on watches for the US Navy and perhaps the biggest endorsement comes from former US Navy Captain, Jim DiMatteo. Having flown an F/18 Super Hornet at 7.57 Gs and an F/16 at 9 Gs (he lost two inches in height due to the effects of the force!), at the reveal he concluded with, “There are so many tiny, tiny pieces in a watch and I can’t get my head around how I can pull 7 Gs and it makes my head feel likes it’s going to explode and yet, these tiny pieces still work in those conditions”.
Priced at $9,150 on global websites.
Lessons on experiential retail from the new IWC flagship store in Zurich?
Christoph Grainger-Herr: It’s not so much a store, but more like a permanent event or a story that you can walk into and experience with all your senses. The centerpiece of the boutique is the original Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing”, the sports car of choice of the IWC Racing Team. Visitors can buckle up in the cockpit and enjoy a virtual reality driving experience through the Swiss Alps. As for digital features, customers can control the watch displays in the windows by scanning a QR code with their mobile phones. In the boutique, we have distinct thematic zones, including an on-site watchmaker for specific servicing and repair tasks. “IWC Racing Works” in Zurich is the first in a series of flagship stores that we are currently planning.
What forms of testing have gone into the IWC TOP GUN watches?
Christian Knoop: The watches that we manufacture for different US Navy Squadrons as well as for graduates of the TOPGUN program are worn by actual pilots every day. They wear them on an aircraft carrier in the humid and salty sea air or the cockpit of their supersonic jets. We also have rigorous, integrated quality control at IWC. For example, we test every single in-house 69 calibre chronograph movement for up to 15 days in robot-operated machines that were specifically developed for this purpose. At the IWC Test Lab, every new model [undergoes] impact, humidity, temperature or UV tests. The watches are also put in climate chambers or immersed into salt water.