War, military, fast machines, aircraft… no one ever gets tired of them. And so, in spite of a crowded market, aviator watches are still very much in demand. For some brands, they are a tradition, of course.
At this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, IWC Schaffhausen launched its new pilot’s watch collection. The launch of the collection, appropriately named “Top Gun,” was held in the presence of celebrities, from actress Cate Blanchett, to former tennis star Boris Becker, passing by Jean Reno, Ewan McGregor and Ronan Keating. Tony Scott, the British director of the 1986 American action drama film Top Gun, is known for the extremes he is willing to go to in order to achieve perfection. During the filming of one of the highest-grossing films of that year, the U.S. Navy made available several F-14 fighter planes as well as the flight deck of the USS Enterprise. During one particular filming sequence, the ship’s captain changed the ship’s course, thus altering the light filtering through Scott’s lens. When he requested that the aircraft carrier resume its previous course, he was informed by the commander that it would cost USD 25,000 to turn the ship back. Scott wrote the Navy a cheque for USD 25,000 so that the ship could be turned and he could continue shooting for another five minutes.
Georges Kern, CEO of IWC, the Schaffhausen-based watch company, is also a man who keeps an eye on detail and will go to immoderate lengths to achieve perfection in both his brand’s products but also in telling their story. Kern introduced Top Gun by saying: “Our aim this evening was to create an emotional experience for our guests, based on the story of our pilot’s watches: a story that started in 1936 with the Special Pilot’s Watch and has been part of IWC Schaffhausen’s DNA ever since.” The French-German CEO, who has been at the helm of IWC since 2002, hosted the Top Gun gala dinner celebrating the launch in much the way Tony Scott might have directed it: The 1000 guests that gathered at the Palexpo conference centre suddenly found themselves embarking on the IWC 12, a spectacular replica of an aircraft carrier.
Fun and games
Check-in was handled by a ground crew in white dress uniforms, while other personnel, sporting authentic flight-deck gear, coordinated the evening. The new pilot’s watches from IWC were displayed in a walk-in control tower, giving them a perfect setting and an ideal exhibition space. IWC’s exhibition stand at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie was another reference to Top Gun: a highly detailed aircraft carrier spanning some 900 m2 and featuring a command centre structure, flight deck, steam catapult, hangar, flight control and pilot’s locker room. The presentation was scripted in full-blown Hollywood style to tell the story of IWC’s pilot’s watches.
Tony Scott detailed the Top Gun fighter pilots at the Miramar Naval Air Station, located in San Diego. Air crews selected to attend the Top Gun course were chosen from front-line units. Upon graduating, these crews were considered to be top-notch fighter pilots, the best of a breed. Perhaps Georges Kern’s scenario reflects the IWC pilot’s watches as being, themselves, a benchmark for the watch industry…
IWC’s tradition of building professional pilot watches goes all the way back to the 1930s and has seen the creation of timeless icons such as the Big Pilot’s Watch or the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph. These notably robust and reliable timepieces meet the requirements of contemporary pilots and aircrews. In the pioneering days of aviation, the main priority was to protect watches against dust, extreme temperature fluctuations and the strong magnetic fields created by cockpit instrumentation. Today, IWC pilot watches like the Top Gun are built for up to 30-g forces. They also have a wide range of functions and are made of hightech materials like ceramic and titanium. One requirement, however, has remained unchanged since those early days: the dial must offer optimum legibility at all times. This was the reason IWC developed the cockpit-style design for its very first aviator models.
Article by John François Béguin