When Watches & Wonders got underway, the big news from IWC that everyone seemed pretty focused on was the introduction of a pair of colorful ceramic chronographs in the expanding Top Gun family. I wrote about those watches at the start of the show, which now seems like a million years ago, and while people are still excited about these ceramic chronos (particularly the white one, which is popping up all over my Instagram feed) there’s another IWC chronograph that I think is something of a sleeper in their Watches & Wonders announcements. For everyone complaining about the size of the ceramic watches (I hear you, but also, they’re not as ridiculous on the wrist as you’d think, and wear better than they have any right to) let me turn your attention to IWC’s Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 Top Gun Ceratanium. It’s a watch in a more wearable case, in what is arguably a more interesting material, and shows just how differently watches in the same Top Gun family can present on the wrist.
My IWC meeting was among my last at Watches & Wonders, and I have to be honest that heading in I had muted expectations. I wanted to see the ceramic pieces and the new colors up close, but I knew they’d be a bit bigger than I’d normally like, and was convinced that IWC wouldn’t have anything this year that would really “wow” me. My eyes were immediately drawn to the smaller, darker chronograph laid out in the presentation room, and I remembered this watch was also included in IWC’s press packet, but for whatever reason (let’s call it general information overload for the week) it didn’t immediately resonate.
In person, however, it made a very strong impression. Maybe that’s just because of the contrast it cuts with the significantly larger ceramic Top Gun pieces, but I loved the aesthetics of this watch, and found it to be really pleasant on the wrist. The IWC supplied photos make this one look like a murdered out, all black pilot’s chrono, the type that would have been popular during the all-black-everything moment we experienced a number of years ago. But it’s not blacked out at all – it’s really more about tones of gray, both in the case and dial accents, which are quite legible in person and not at all what you’d typically experience with the black on black on black look.
The color of the case that sets the tone for the rest of the watch is a result of the process IWC uses to create ceratanium. This is a metal that starts out as a specially made titanium alloy, and is fired in a kiln at very high temperatures in a very precise way. Airflow around the case is controlled during this process, and titanium has to be treated prior to firing in order to get the desired effect, which is a dark coating with ceramic-like properties that is virtually scratch proof. The mystery alloy itself is also important – IWC assured me you can’t just heat a block of regular old titanium and wind up with the metal they’re using here.
I see two main benefits to ceratanium. First is the practical benefit of a lightweight, scratchproof sports watch. I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of that? You get all the durability of ceramic here without its inherent brittleness – the watch has a silky texture and feels great in the hand, and of course because its titanium at its core, it’s incredibly lightweight. The other benefit to ceratanium is the aesthetic. It’s a midpoint between normal titanium and a watch that’s had a black coating applied, and is more visually impressive than the light and flat gray of grade 5 titanium, and more versatile when it comes to day to day wear than a completely black watch.
The watch runs on IWC’s 69385 automatic chronograph caliber, and in another nice touch is visible through a dark tinted crystal that matches the tone of the case. This is an impressive modern chronograph movement from IWC with a 46 hour power reserve and a column wheel, and was a pleasure to operate in my brief time with it in the IWC booth.
The Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 Top Gun Ceratanium is a limited production timepiece from IWC but is not a numbered limited edition. The retail price is $12,600. IWC