July 9, 2022
by Ariel Adams
The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Lake Tahoe is an extremely fun and handsome, albeit imperfect, timepiece that will do well for the IWC brand. Debuted at Watches & Wonders 2022, the “Lake Tahoe” was one of a few color-themed new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition models to be released, and given its bold black and white monochromatic theme, it was quickly the most talked about. When people think of California’s Lake Tahoe, they normally think of blue water and green trees. So why is this watch white? As the story goes, the watch is meant to be the color of the snow around the mountains of Lake Tahoe, as viewed by the Top Gun fighter jet pilot students who fly around them from the school’s nearby Reno, Nevada location. That’s pretty cool.
As design people know, there isn’t just one shade of white. The Lake Tahoe watch is a particular shade of white, but it is also a particular texture of ceramic. Not polished and not brushed, the finishing is more “satin,” and it has a great look and tactile feel. One issue is that the ceramic case material seems to scuff, a tendency I’ve seen with other stone or ceramic items produced in this texture. Ceramic is often valued for its scratch-resistant properties, so this is something that many consumers might not anticipate. Sometimes the scuffs wipe off, but others are more stubborn. I’m not an expert with this material, so I’ve not tried to clean it, but I think it is worth noting this fact.
IWC likely went with this case finishing because it is attractive and more masculine than, say, a polished white ceramic case. Som IWC was going for a particular look and feel, and one downside is that this ceramic case — at least during my brief experience — is not as wear-resistant as most ceramic-cased watches. I also want to applaud IWC for having the bravery to go with an entirely black and white look for the watch. A good argument could be made that just a dash of color would make the dial feel a bit more “right,” but then again, there is a beautiful simplicity to a black and white object. I would have liked for IWC to take that even further and remove all of the visible metal elements. The Lake Tahoe has steel chronograph pushers, crown, and strap deployant buckle. I would have preferred for these elements to be in a matching black or white color, especially at this price point.
The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Editions work well because they have the visual appeal of many pickup trucks. They are masculine yet conservative, make someone feel active and a bit wild, and are also admittedly practical and versatile at the end of the day. The “flieger-style” pilot’s watch dial is at least 80 years old at this point, and it blends no-nonsense legibility with a military sense of purpose. It is large, however. I can’t help but feel like this watch could be slimmed down in most ways and still be highly effective. I don’t mean that the case should be narrower, but the case seems like it could be slimmer, along with the strap. I know part of the appeal here is the bold size, but given the relatively pedestrian 60 meters of water resistance that the case could easily be slimmed, and I’d love to see IWC keep this a wide watch but make it a slimmer one.
The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition timepieces have cases that are 44.5mm-wide and about 15mm-thick with a roughly 54mm long lug-to-lug distance. Over the dial is an AR-coated and domed sapphire crystal, and the screw-down caseback is in steel. One odd thing about the dial of watches in this collection is that only four of the hour markers (12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, in addition to the hands) have luminant on them. I just don’t entirely understand why IWC would paint the 6 o’clock hour indicator with luminant, but not the 4, 5, or 7 o’clock indicator, even though they more or less are identical shapes. Otherwise, IWC really shines when it comes to pilot’s watch dials since they know how to get the parts right, such as the proportions of the hands to the important matte textures. Overall legibility is high, which is exactly where a product like this should succeed.
Attached to the case is a white rubber strap that has a matching inlaid white textile-like segment. The strap looks cool, but I found it quite long for my wrist. That, combined with the steel deployant clasp (which I tend to not like in watches like this), makes the strap far too bulky for my anatomy. I would ask IWC for a shorter strap on a traditional pin buckle or, alternatively, I’d start to get creative and imagine what other kinds of straps would look good with this watch. Not only can a design like this accommodate a black or white strap of pretty much any type (sorry, the watch does use an uncommon 21mm-wide strap size), but given the neutrality of the black and white case, you could pair a watch like the Lake Tahoe with any color strap you like, and it would probably work. Speaking of pairing, the watch travel roll that the Lake Tahoe watch is sitting on is from Bennett Winch of London.
Inside the watch is one of IWC’s in-house movements, the caliber 69380 automatic, which features the time, 12-hour chronograph, and day/date complication calendar. At a glance, the layout looks like that of the more common Swiss Made ETA Valjoux 7750. Of course, the movements don’t look the same but a quick way to tell the difference via the dial is by identifying where the subsidiary seconds dial is. In the caliber 69380, the subsidiary seconds dial is located at the 6 o’clock position of the case, and in the Valjoux 7750, the running seconds indicator is located at the 9 o’clock position subdial. The caliber 69380 automatic operates at 4Hz with a power reserve of 46 hours. It is a pretty handsome movement, but in this case, we aren’t presented with a display caseback.
Instead, the metal caseback of this white ceramic watch has the Top Gun United States Navy Fighter Weapons school logo on it. I think, from a mainstream marketing perspective, the Top Gun association is nice, even if the connection doesn’t really have anything to do with the design or theme of this particular watch in any significant manner. Instead, people seeking a neat luxury watch that isn’t your standard Rolex will probably approach the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph collection with heightened interest because of the Top Gun relationship. So, in that sense, it is a good thing for IWC to continue to brand these as “Top Gun Edition” watches.
Speaking of “edition,” these reference IW389105 watches are not limited, but IWC has promised an annual production limit of 1,000 pieces. On top of that, there might be some challenges to get them from IWC given their limited availability. As of writing, the IWC website doesn’t have a “Buy Now” button for the Lake Tahoe watch, but rather an “Enquire Now” button. That means you need to call and see if one is available. Buying watches is just a lot more interesting these days, isn’t it?
The visually assertive nature of this handsome black and ceramic-white pilot’s watch from IWC, combined with its exclusivity, will probably ensure that it remains a commercial success for IWC, for a long time. But I do hope that the IWC I love, under intelligent direction from current CEO Mr. Grainger, will consider some of my refinement feedback and continue to improve the core Pilot’s Watch Chronograph product while also working on some of these remarkable visual treats. The product also isn’t cheap. An entry-level Pilot’s Watch Chronograph from IWC will cost you about half the price, and that’s still a luxury watch. It is, however, hard to say “no” to good looks. Price for the reference IW389105 IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition Lake Tahoe is $10,700 USD. Learn more at the IWC watches website here.