Those who read my review of the Sinn U1 S, know that occasionally I use hyperbole and a bit of humor, but the IWC Big Pilot 43 Top Gun really is the best wristwatch. Or at least one of the best watches for doing the core job of a watch. Don't believe me? Keep reading.
First Impressions of the IWC Big Pilot 43 Top Gun
Compared to my other Top Gun watch, the Porsche Design 7176S (I swear I don't have a type), the IWC is bigger and badder. A large, domed crystal covers crisp white numerals and hands compared to the aged tritium on the vintage piece. The only thing that they really have in common is being all matte black and hyper-legible (and that they both have a connection to a famous movie).
I decided that I wanted an IWC Top Gun as I wanted to experience the brand as well as a ceramic case. I thought it would be a watch that I could wear every day. I looked at the 41mm Automatic, the Chronograph, or the Big Pilot. I was afraid the BP would be too big, but I finally decided that it's the icon. If I bought any of the other models, I'd be questioning if I should have gone for the Big Pilot.
IWC Big Pilot 43 Top Gun Details
The case is solid ceramic rather than the Ceratanium ceramic/titanium used in some of the brands other models. The caseback, crown, and clasp, however, are made from titanium. It keeps it light, and the darker shade looks better against the black ceramic than steel would.
The lugs turn down, and there is a thin bezel molded in.
The 43mm lacks a date, giving a clean and symmetric look to the dial. All of the text is down the center and every hour other than 12 is present.
Although I love some of the other tribute models, I prefer the pilot-style hands on the standard models. I find the shape more appealing, and love the blacked-out centers.
Wearing the IWC Big Pilot 43 Top Gun
It wears larger than its 43.8mm width would indicate, due to its large dial and large crown. The 53mm lug-to-lug distance doesn't help either. That being said, I never found it to be too big. It looks imposing, but its ceramic case with titanium hardware make it quite light. It's also much smaller than the original Big Pilot, which would have overpowered my 7 1/4" wrist.
At 13.9mm, the thickness is also not bad for its size. It sits flat on the wrist and feels well-balanced.
The Big Pilot's legibility is one of the best out there. Large white hands extend to the edge of the matte black dial. It can be read clearly at any angle.
The iconic triangle at the top of the dial helps orient it as well.
The lume is also better than expected on the Big Pilot. Despite not having applied markers to fill with lume, the application is thick and glows bright green. Unlike other IWC Pilot watch variants, I like how every hour as well as the numerals are lumed. This makes it really easy to read after grabbing it off a nightstand.
Contributing even more to the legibility, the domed crystal is distortion-free, and uses an effective AR coating on both sides. The small downside is that this pre-owned watch has a small scuff in the coating, but I didn't even notice it until I started zooming in to these macro photos of it. AR coating tends to show fingerprints more too. A minor issue at most.
Ceramic cases are also supposed to be scratch-proof. Every used Top Gun that I've seen for sale (including this one) has a few scratches on it however. I've heard that it's actually the material of whatever you banged it on getting deposited on the case. Either way, the result is the same. I barely notice in in person, these macro photos greatly exaggerate it.
The upside is that I bought this watch to wear regularly. Now I don't have to worry about putting the first scratch in it!
The Strap and replacement straps for the IWC Big Pilot 43 Top Gun
Many of the new IWC Pilot watches use the brand's EasX-Change system. this includes the textile strap that came with my Big Pilot. It's a clever system that allows for quick strap changes like a quick-release spring bar. IWC offers a wide variety of straps to use this system, although they are expensive (~$270).
The strap itself is substantial and feels how you'd expect a $270 strap to feel. The titanium clasp secures with a solid click but does not use any push buttons. I'd prefer if the tail tucked under like the deployant strap in my Omega, but this feels more authentic for a WW2 pilot watch.
What I like about EasX-Change is that, unlike other brands' proprietary strap systems, it uses conventional spring bars. This means that any 21mm StrapHabit strap can be used!
Not only that, but the clasp has a built-in quick release mechanism too!
Additionally, Smooth Rubber looks great on it!
Scroll to the end of the article to browse and purchase replacement straps for the IWC Big Pilot 43 Top Gun.
Powering all 43mm versions of the Big Pilot is the IWC-manufactured 82100 calibre. This updated version of the brand's in-house calibre features its Pellaton winding system which has been improved with wear-resistant ceramic components. The skeletonized rotor (or turning the crown towards you) winds it to a power reserve of 60 hours. It uses 31 jewels, is adjusted in 5 positions, and beats at 28,800vph. Although IWC does not COSC-certify the movement, mine has been running within a few seconds per day.
Unlike with steel versions, it can't be seen through the titanium caseback on the Top Gun. It's a shame, as the movement features attractive finishing, but it is also protected from magnetism by a soft-iron inner case. Since this is a functional tool watch, I can accept looking at photos of the movement.
I've heard people question why the Big Pilot is more expensive than IWC's more complicated Top Gun Chronograph, or the 41mm Automatic Top Gun with date. I believe that it comes down to the movement. Neither of those watches use the Pellaton winding system, nor do they use a free-spring balance as 82100 does.
IWC describes the movement in the Big Pilot as being "IWC-maufactured," but I believe that most of its movements are made by the also Richemont-owned Valflurier.
Is the IWC Big Pilot 43 Top Gun really the best watch?
One could argue that there are better watches out there, but it all depends on your criteria. A G-Shock is more durable. Grand Seiko has better case and dial finishing. My Omega Planet Ocean has a better movement.
At over $10,000 MSRP it would be hard to argue that it's even a good value. A Q Timex Chronograph offers more functionality for less than a third of the sales tax on the IWC in most counties.
But if we look at the job of a watch, it's to attach to your wrist and legibly and accurately display the time. IWC has completely optimized the Big Pilot Top Gun for that job and only that job.
It has the largest possible dial inside the largest possible case that is still comfortable to wear on most wrists. Huge white hands stand out against a black dial, and a crisp seconds hand stretches right to the edge. Everything else is matte black, making only the time the main focus. Each hour is clearly labeled and lumed.
Setting it is a breeze with the large crown and it keeps time within a few seconds per day. It is shock, magnetic, and pressure resistant, and can go deeper in water than any person would go. challenge you to find another wretch that achieves these targets better!
Name: IWC Big Pilot's Watch 43 Top Gun
Reference Number: IW329801
Lug Width: 21mm
Movement: IWC-Manufactured 82100 Calibre
Power Reserve: 60 hours
Water Resistance: 100m
Crystal: Sapphire with anti-reflective coating on both sides, secured against displacement by drop in air pressure
Strap: Black textile strap with EasX-CHANGE system
Shop Other Straps for the IWC Big Pilot 43 Top Gun