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Why not...? - The desert and the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert”

Why not...? The desert and the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert”

During the SIHH 2019 IWC presented a whole new collection of pilot’s watches. One watch stands out more than the others, however, and immediately caught my attention.

During the SIHH 2019 IWC presented a whole new collection of pilot’s watches. As expected, they recall the legendary periods of aviation with names of famous combat aircraft (like the Spitfire), or remind us of our childhood dreams and the cartoons of Hal Jordan and other heroes wearing helmets, battling in ferocious dog fights at the controls of their jets.

One watch stands out more than the others, however, and immediately caught my attention. It has a name that is mythical for many, but for us here in Southern California evokes... the neighbourhood. It is the limited-edition “Mojave Desert” model.

As you might know, I live in Irvine, south of Los Angeles and around an hour and a half from San Diego. Mention California and many people will immediately think of surfers, waves, palm trees and Hollywood stars, but the desert is just as much part of this famous “California Republic”.

Because here, it is everywhere. First there are some arid hills on the outskirts of Orange County, but the further east you go, the stronger you feel its presence. The ground starts to dry up, bushes and yucca plants appear, as do new colours. And then there is, of course, the heat. It’s stifling to the point of being the hottest place on Earth in the exceptional Death Valley. Only a few roads cut across this infinite horizon - long straight lines with legendary names like Route 66.

The Mojave is as much about the lights of Las Vegas as it is about the ghost towns like Ballarat, remnants of the Gold Rush that are now home to wild donkeys, coyotes and a few solitary humans who live there. It is also about Trona, a lost town where nothing grows, or the magnificent Joshua Tree National Park.

But why should a pilot’s watch be celebrating the desert?

Because beyond the fact that it is a vast expanse of pebbles and bushes, the Mojave – like most of the western USA – plays a vital role in the American military arsenal. First of all, it is the home of the famous Edwards Air Force Base, where a number of legendary aircraft, like the X15, were tested, as well as the space shuttle.

USAF personnel who want to become test pilots and test the latest weapons of the Air Force are trained at the USAF Test Pilot School. Its alumni include Buzz Aldrin, Gus Grissom and Chuck Yeager.

The Mojave is also the huge expanse of land separating the bases of the US Navy in Miramar (to the south) and Fallon (to the north). The former, near San Diego, housed Top Gun (officially the US Navy Fighter Weapons School), which was active from 1969 to 1996. In 1996, Top Gun moved for Fallon – to the east of Reno – where it continues to offer the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program (SFTI) that teaches experienced pilots aerial combat.

But that’s not all.

The US Navy also tests its military capabilities – and prototypes of some of its most secret weapons – at the gigantic China Lake base, which, as its name does not indicate – is in the Mojave desert. IWC has actually dedicated this watch to this unique base.

If you are still not convinced of the tactical importance of this desert, I can also mention the Nellis air base which every year houses between four and six Red Flag training camps, named after the 414th Combat Training Squadron that organises the event. These camps welcome squadrons from all over the world and are a unique moment of confrontation – and camaraderie – for pilots of many different cultures.

But if the acrobatic antics of the jets give you nausea, don’t worry. You could also train at the world’s biggest US Marines base, which also happens to be found in this desert. It is the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC), where Marines are trained before being deployed abroad. One of the most well-known programmes is called Mojave Viper, in tribute to one of the other inhabitants of the region.

After the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines, there is the US Army. Fort Irwin, one of the main army training centres, is a two-hour flight from the MCAGCC. Like the Marines base, it mimics the topography of Afghanistan and houses the National Training Center.

Thus concludes our military tourist guide to the Mojave. Now it’s time to look at the brand and the watch that pays tribute to it.

Why IWC?

For many years IWC has been closely linked to air forces the world over and Top Gun in particular. Although the links date back to the Second World War, the collaboration between IWC and the Top Gun school dates back to 2007. Since then, the brand from Schaffhausen has produced a number of models that celebrate the SFTI programme.

In fact, even though Top Gun had featured a number of times in Hollywood films, the school had always refused a partnership with a watch brand until the middle of the 2000s. Since then, the Top Gun pilot’s watch collection has never stopped growing, offering fans of virile military watches plenty of choice, like the Miramar I wrote about a few years ago, but also simple and split-second chronographs – and even a Big Pilot – in black ceramic with the Top Gun logo.

IWC also offers much more exclusive models, which are produced only for the participants in the Fighter Weapons School, or for some pilots in US Navy units (such as the Royal Maces).

In 2019, IWC reinforces its star collection with models dedicated to the Spitfire and some new Top Gun versions, in particular an exceptional all-black double chronograph in ceratanium.

Nevertheless, it’s the sand-coloured model that immediately caught my eye, so it’s time to talk about the watch of the desert that is the IWC Pilot Watch Chronograph Mojave Desert.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert”: the tomahawk takes flight

The famous Tomahawk cruise missile, one of the most talked-about weapons in recent decades, was developed at the China Lake base. Given this reference, IWC had to give its Mojave chronograph a look that would also be talked about. And this signals and end to the exclusivity of black and steel that has hitherto characterised most Top Gun models.

Our IWC Mojave Desert chronograph is dressed in sand-coloured robes, taking the colours of the desert but also those of the overalls of the fighter pilots who train above this expanse of 40,000 square kilometres. Somewhat surprisingly, this choice softens the look of the classic Top Gun chronograph, which looked more rebellious in its black guise.

Like its colleagues in the Top Gun squadron, the case of the Mojave chronograph – 44mm in diameter – is in matte ceramic, which is a first for IWC. The pushers are in titanium and have the matte grey look of this alloy, which helps them fit better with the overall design of the watch.

IWC Chronograph Pilot Edition

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert” © IWC

To give the Mojave Desert chronograph some relief, the IWC designers used a brown dial, keeping the sand colour for the hands and hour markers. The date and day indicators are the same colour and a fabric strap in the watch’s dominant colour completes the look. The folding clasp is in titanium, as is the case with the brand’s other ceramic models.

Another major change for 2019 is that the IWC Mojave Desert chronograph is fitted with a new self-winding column-wheel chronograph movement, calibe 69380, which offers a power reserve of 46 hours. It is protected by a soft iron cage, as every pilot’s watch should be. The watch has a full case back with the familiar Top Gun logo.

IWC Chronograph Pilot Edition

Case back view IWC

This model is an interesting talking piece whose colour is a pleasant surprise and which ushers the Top Gun models into a new environment. Now I just need to wait for the first ones to arrive at the IWC store in Costa Mesa to try one on. Then I can head out on to Interstate 15 and with luck see a few F35s fly across the blue Californian sky. Or maybe a UFO heading for the top-secret Area 51, another hidden legend in this surprising desert…

What does the devil’s advocate think?

The devil loves heat, so it’s difficult for him not to respect a watch that has been inspired by the hottest place on the planet.

The IWC Mojave Desert comes from good stock and is one of the most appealing models in the latest collection from Schaffhausen. As far as improvements are concerned, I have one comment that may surprise you: As much as I like the general colour of the watch, I could also have imagined a wider colour palette. Because the desert is not only brown and sand coloured. You only have to walk in the Mojave at nightfall to see shades of orange, yellow and sometimes even blue. And all these colours can also be found on the uniforms or the equipment of pilots. I wouldn’t hesitate to wear the Mojave on a camouflage NATO strap from Crown & Buckle or a leather NATO by Bulang & Sons.

Apart from this purely aesthetic comment, I could have also imagined the Mojave in a more modest size, between 41 and 43mm. But these two comments do not prevent me from finding this watch as appealing as it is surprising.

How to wear the IWC Mojave Desert with style?

Let’s start with the head for a change. If you’re in the desert you need some protection – without the right headgear, you are at risk of sunstroke. The best option is the Tilley, the famous Canadian hat that is guaranteed for life. Never go out without it. It is full of resources, indestructible and will be replaced even if you lose it trying to climb the rocks at Joshua Tree.

Lightweight clothing is compulsory. A T-shirt and a jacket. The latter is vital for protection from the sun. It should be practical and lightweight, ideally in linen. I would go for a Hackett Velospeed in linen or cotton.

Shorts might seem to be the best option down below, but think about the sun and the nasty critters that might be lurking anywhere in the desert. So keep your shorts for the hotel, for the walk to the swimming pool. If you’re heading off the beaten track, trousers are essential. The choice is huge, from loose jeans to trousers in linen or cotton. Cargo pants are the best and you will soon find their pockets useful.

Your shoes should be able to withstand pebbles, dead branches or the odd bone that might be lying around. So go for sneakers (why not Golden Goose with their used look?) or Pampa Lite canvas boots by Palladium.

Finally, you need to think about a backpack. It could save your life in the event of a breakdown, providing that it is well stocked (water, cereal bars, first aid kit etc.). If style is important to you, I can only recommend the excellent model in gold leather and white canvas by Brunello Cucinelli. Another option is the re-issue of one of the first North Face backpacks, the 1968.

Now you are ready to discover the Mojave. Take care and enjoy!

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