Ceramic Meets Titanium in IWC’s Pilot’s Watch Family

New Watch! • 19 Feb 2019

Ceramic Meets Titanium in IWC’s Pilot’s Watch Family

by Blake Reilly


Humans have a remarkable capacity to harness those materials found in the natural world and make things of immense beauty. Raw materials become a vehicle for human expression. Such an example is ceramic: a material which can be both fragile when used to make delicate porcelain, and sturdy when found in the bricks which form the architectural landscape of our cities. But what about if you were to combine say, two materials like ceramic and titanium, in… a watch? IWC recently put this idea to the kiln, and the result was ‘Ceratanium’ – a new composite material which features in the latest Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph from the Top Gun collection.

IWC SIHH 2019 Booth

Turning Off the Lights

What strikes you immediately is the bold, blacked out aesthetic. Aside from two subtle details of red, the watch is entirely coated in a sleek black monochrome from strap and dial to crown and case. Fear not however if the lights suddenly turn off, the luminescent dial will ensure that the timepiece will never disappear in the darkness.

The considerable 44mm diameter holds inside a robust automatic 79420 Calibre movement which spins at a frequency of 4hz and offers a reliable power reserve of 44 hours. The dial features a typical IWC day-date display, chronograph functions with hours, minutes and seconds, and an all important split-seconds hand – the feature which gives the watch its ‘Double Chronograph’ name. The movement is thoroughly competent and the colour choice adds a novel twist to what is presented mechanically as a classic cockpit companion.

Dynamic Duo

Indeed, the most exciting element of this watch is the inclusion of the latest in material innovation from Schaffhausen. Debuted in their Aquatimer ‘50 Years Edition’ in 2017, Ceratanium combines the durable and lightweight benefits of titanium with the scratch resistance and wearability of ceramic. Keeping in mind the increasing trend towards watch companies daring to play with composite case materials, it is hardly a surprise that the innovative minds at the International Watch Company decided to experiment. Of course, both titanium and ceramic have previously played a role in timepiece production, except the first easily scratches and the latter can crack if dealt a solid blow. The combination takes the best from both and so allays any qualms or concerns.

IWC Aquatimer Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month Edition “50 Years Aquatimer”

Where does that gorgeous matte black finish come from you ask? IWC insists that it in fact occurs naturally during the process of oxidation when the parts enter the oven – but this is no Sunday roast, a complex multistage process creates a hardy material that requires no coating and so will neither flake nor chip. Almost half a decade in the making, the result is undeniably a success. Yet ceramic is hardly a new gun in their arsenal. One may look back over almost 30 years of ceramic in watchmaking and find that IWC was truly one of the pioneers in using the material in watch cases. A superb example of this from the company is the Da Vinci Reference 3755 Perpetual Calendar Moonphase – be sure to take particular note of that distinctive case colour and how stunning it looks alongside the accompanying gold features.

Left: IWC Black Zirconium Oxide — IW3755-02 in black ceramic (1986). Right: IWC White Zirconium Oxide — IW3755 in white ceramic (1986)

Flying Through the Night Sky

IWC has maintained a commendable relationship with the skies for 80 years. From supplying their Mark 11’s to the 1948 British Royal Air Force to harnessing the aesthetic aviation inspiration of fighter planes, the Pilot’s Watch has been a central feature of the IWC identity for decades.

Forty eight years after the legendary Mark 11 was launched, the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph (Ref. IW3740) was designed, whilst in 1994, IWC launched a Pilot’s Watch Chronograph (Ref. 3705) for modern aviation. This edition came with another top-flight feature: a zirconium oxide case. This high-tech ceramic is as hard as sapphire and virtually indestructible.

The close family that is their Pilot’s Watch Collection includes the Spitfire, Le Petit Prince, Classic and Top Gun models. Whilst the veritable pilot’s watch is more likely to be found sitting on the wrist of an aspirational aviator rather than a professional pilot, the quality, precision and sophistication of these timepieces is higher above the clouds than it has ever been before. That said, it will indeed be an IWC accompanying and assisting two British pilots on their upcoming attempt to fly around the world in Spitfire fighter plane –it is the longest journey planned of its kind and so the best of luck to the two! Back on terra firma, IWC’s watches certainly invite one to dare to dream of sky high ambitions.

The Top Gun range from which the Ceratanium Double Chronograph hails certainly has a fascinating history of its own. The name pays homage to the US Navy’s ‘Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program’ which prepares Navy Pilots for all those death-defying twists and turns which turn your stomach upside down just to think about. Do remember, these pilots are subjected to extremely unenviable and unpleasant gravitational forces caused by the incomprehensible acceleration of their aircraft. Consequently, the cockpit demands that any timepiece daring enough to take to the sky must be adequately robust to cope with a couple of knocks and bangs. The new Top Gun range – recently refreshed at the 2019 Salon International de la Haute Hologerie in Geneva – undoubtedly fulfils the necessary requirements to stand as competent, durable additions to any pilot’s wrist.

Also unveiled at SIHH the distinctly coloured Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert”. The colour, which perfectly matches the flying suits of the Navy’s pilots, results from a combination of zirconium oxide with other metallic oxides. Limited to 500 pieces, this striking chronograph is powered by the IWC-manufactured 69380 calibre.

Flying Forwards

Evidently, a lot is happening at IWC. The Double Chronograph in Ceratanium does so much more for the company than merely acting as an exciting new watch to attract customers. Rather, the latest Top Gun addition to the the Pilot’s Watch collection is an ambassador for exciting things happening within the Schaffhausen creative department. Last year, IWC celebrated 150 years of producing their exceptional timepieces and ceremoniously expanded their production by constructing a remarkable new facility which they like to call ‘Manufakturzentrum’ – for the first time, cases and movements are both manufactured under the same roof. Ceratanium not only offers durability to the customer, it is testament to their willingness to push horological boundaries. It is difficult to predict what might be coming next, but currently companies like IWC are even pioneering the use of ceramic bearings and pawls in watch movements. Only one thing is for sure: innovation is the new black.

Tags: 79420 calibre ceramic ceratanium double chronograph iwc iwc schaffhausen iwc top gun le petit prince mark 11 pilot watch pilot’s watch pilot’s watch double chronograph schaffenhausen spitfire top gun

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