For many enthusiasts, the IWC name is virtually synonymous with its bold and functional line of pilot’s watches. The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph in particular has come to largely define the look and feel of modern military pilot’s watches, and the brand’s close relationship with the U.S. Navy is proof of just how influential its design has become. In addition to its famous collaboration with the U.S. Navy’s TOP GUN fighter pilot training academy, since 2018 IWC has worked with over a dozen U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps squadrons to create exclusive limited-edition models available exclusively to members of those squadrons. For its latest iteration on this cornerstone design, IWC is making three of these exclusive designs available to civilian buyers for the first time. The new limited-edition IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Squadrons Collection, including the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Royal Maces,” the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tophatters,” and the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Blue Angels,” combines vibrant tributes to three of America’s most historic military aviation units with some of the brand’s most cutting-edge ceramic case work.
All three models in the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Squadrons Collection start with beefy 44.5mm cases in matte zirconium oxide ceramic. The case design of the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph series has always been stark and function-forward, and the Squadrons Collection is no exception. This is a case with serious wrist presence, thanks to longish tapering lugs and tall unadorned vertical case sides. The lightweight ceramic material helps prevent this bold design from feeling overwhelming on the wrist, however, and the old adage of black being a slimming color holds somewhat true for the black ceramic cases of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Royal Maces” and the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tophatters.” IWC puts its recently developed blue zirconium oxide ceramic to use for the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Blue Angels,” offering the boldest look of the trio with a deep and richly saturated deep navy blue case. Although the overall shared case design may be simple, there’s an attention to fine detail that sets these tree models apart on the wrist. The highlight stripes on the black inverted Ceratanium pushers are a prime example of this sense of detail, with the “Blue Angels” and “Royal Maces” complementing these elements with a vibrant hazard tallow ring while the “Tophatters” model instead opts for a blazing red. All three models complete their cases with sharply engraved solid casebacks in Grade 5 titanium. The Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tophatters” keeps this element simple with a rendering of the squadron’s patch, while the other two models in the collection take a more visually ambitious route. For the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Royal Maces,” IWC uses a detailed plan view rendering of the squadron’s F/A-18E “Super Hornet” fighter jet, and the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Blue Angels” features the squadron’s iconic four-man display team flying in close formation. Water-resistance continues to be an Achilles heel for the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Squadrons Collection, with all three models offering a disappointing 60 meters of water resistance.
In order to dive into the significance of the squadron insignia used for the dials of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Squadrons Collection, it’s important to dive into the significance of the military units themselves. Forming a crucial component of the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed Seventh Fleet stationed in Japan, the VFA-27 “Royal Maces” squadron is a vital component in the United States’ first line of air defense in eastern Asia. The VFA-14 “Tophatters” squadron based in California is the oldest active squadron in the U.S. Navy, participating in nearly every major conflict since its inception in 1919. Lastly, the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron “Blue Angels” needs no introduction, performing for more than 500 million spectators at air shows around the globe since its creation in 1946.
Each of the three models in the Squadrons Collection largely follows the established Pilot’s Watch Chronograph pattern, with flieger-style hands and bold rounded printed Arabic numerals in white. With this clean and ultra-legible backdrop, the 6 o’clock running seconds subdials turned into squadron patches naturally become focal points. The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tophatters” takes the simplest and highest-contrast approach, with the basic black top hat against a white backdrop forming a stark and memorable silhouette. As with the case, the dial of the “Tophatters” adds bright saturated red highlights for the running seconds hand, the central chronograph seconds hand tip, and the day/date display at 3 o’clock. This last element does add a distinctive touch, but the red text is markedly tougher to read against the matte black backdrop than the bright yellow used for other models. The ornate armored fist and mace emblem used for the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Royal Maces” offers a subtler and more complex look, with comparatively few yellow highlights for a more serious and purposeful feel. Fitting its display team roots, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Blue Angels” is by far the flashiest of the three, replacing the black base dial with matte navy blue and offering more vibrant yellow highlights in its shield emblem and the fully yellow central chronograph seconds hand.
All three models in the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Squadrons Collection use the brand’s in-house 69380 automatic chronograph movement. Although there is a superficial similarity between the 69380 and the long-running Valjoux 7750, the 69380 is markedly different in layout, construction, and technology. IWC uses a bidirectional pawl winding system here for more efficient winding, while the chronograph complication itself uses a column wheel actuation system for a crisp and precise pusher feel. The brand equips the movement with a soft iron cage for greater magnetic resistance and rates the 69380 for a decent 46 hours of power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate.
Each model in the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Squadrons Collection is paired with a unique strap option. To reflect the long heritage of its respective squadron, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Tophatters” is mounted on a traditional distressed black leather pilots strap with full red contrast stitching and matching lining. The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Royal Maces” takes a more contemporary approach, with a woven fabric strap complemented by bright yellow full stitching and calfskin inner lining. The navy blue fabric-topped rubber strap of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “Blue Angels” is surprisingly the most restrained of the bunch, fading into the background visually to allow the colorful case and dial to take center stage.
With tangible links to military history and the brand’s first commercially available blue ceramic chronograph design, the limited-edition IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Squadrons Collection is a bold and complex tribute to the brand’s ongoing legacy in military aviation. While not strictly limited overall, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Squadrons Collection will produce only 500 examples of each model in the line annually. All three models in the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Squadrons Collection are available now through authorized dealers at an MSRP of $10,900 each. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.