In every watch collectors life comes a time when s/he identifies a grail. Sometimes this grail is either no longer available or is in extremely short supply. In my case, the IWC 3799 Doppel Chronograph Edition Top Gun is my grail watch. When I set eyes on it some seven years ago, the quest to own it was ignited.
So, why did I hunger for a 3799? I had always wanted a highly anti-magnetic watch that had some haute horology complication (like a rattrapante) and serious aviation lineage (I am a sucker for pilots watches, if you havent already guessed as much!). A few years back I had the opportunity to order for a 3713, but the piece had some defects so I had to woefully return it to the AD for a full refund. When IWC launched the 3799, around 2007 it was all that I wanted and yet some stealthy ceramic case, and those lusty hands. I had to have one! But it was a rare watch Not only was it a limited production piece, IWC had pulled the plug on it in 2012. So I ended up buying 2 other Rolexes in quick succession a Rolex GMT IIC (another pilots classic), being one of them. Unfortunately, our minds work in weird ways, and the thirst to own this extremely rare piece remained unquenched.
Then one day I casually sauntered into another AD that had only recently started to stock IWCs, and my eyes fell on a 3799 in the flesh! With my finances (and my fiancé) permitting, I was just about to pull the trigger when some pictures of a broken ceramic cases caught my attention. Finally after going through multiple forums and interacting with the friendly forummers, my fears were laid to rest an incident that would break ceramic would irreversibly dent a metallic case as well. So I went back to the AD, agreed on a good price and bought it. The watch had been with them for more than a year it was as if it was destined to be mine!
Initially I found very few reviews of this watch and thought I would share my experience with others. Though the 3799 is no longer available, I hope readers may get some information on the common themes (such as the ceramic case, anti-magnetic features et cetera) that tie this unique reference to IWCs current pilots lineup. In order to keep it simple and interesting, I have divided this review into 4 parts that capture the various dimensions. This factual review is based on whatever research I was able to do on the watch. I will really appreciate any inputs from knowledgeable readers to correct any deviations they notice. I am not a professional photographer, so please bear with the quality of pictures!
Now lets fly straight into the review!
The 3799 has a classic styled 46 mm case that is typical of the IWC pilots line, with an inter-horn length of 22 mm. The material used for the case is the highlight. IWC used Yttrium stabilized Zirconia (YSZ) for the case and uses an injection molding process to create a case block which is then baked. The ceramic case block actually shrinks in the oven. Once this process is complete, diamond tools are used to sculpt it to the final shape. This is then attached to a titanium case ring, on the inside, using adhesives ensuring that case is water resistant to 6 bars.
The material itself is extremely hard and is rated at around 1400 Vickers in hardness. Not only is the material light and skin friendly, it has a comfortably warm feel when you touch it. Like its newer IWC ceramic siblings currently available, the crown, pushers (all three of them) and the case back are made from Grade 2 Titanium. Unlike the button guards and the sides, the tips of the buttons themselves are polished. The tip of the crown is polished as well. The crown has the Probus Scafusia tastefully embossed onto it. These polished areas worried me because of the softness of Grade 2 Titanium of around ~180 Vickers. But IWC being the pioneer in the use of Titanium, have done something that makes them more scratch resistant. The case back has the Top Gun logo reverse printed under a sapphire crystal. All these together make the watch feel much lighter than what you expect given its size.
The entire case has a matte finish that gives it an absolutely stealthy and understated look. Though this is an expensive watch, it looks like a quintessential aviation tool and you feel like putting it through the paces. I have been continuously wearing it for the last couple of weeks and have had it on my wrist in situations where I have been working with an impact drill, cleaning my roof..and so on! Only yesterday, I bumped it once on the wall, and that gave me a minor heart attack. So I decided to inspect it using a 5X loupe under a spot light the material is absolutely amazing! Not a single scratch or blemish on it after weeks of such harsh use. I have read many an instance, where other owners have seen a scratch on the ceramic after bumping into something, only to realize that it is material deposited from the object the watch bumped into. I hope that glory lasts my lifetime at least!
Though I have not opened the watch, there is a soft iron inner movement ring and an inner case back that, together with the dial completes the inner case. This shields the movement from detrimental effects of a stray magnetic fields to at least 24,000 A/m (300 Gauss), or more.
The native strap that comes with the 3799 is made of Kevlar, with a leather lining. The tang type buckle is made of stainless steel which has been bead blasted to look like titanium. I was initially vexed on this point when I bought the watch, and I though there had been some mistake in my case. But further correspondence with IWC and subsequent research on forums revealed that the tang type buckle is indeed steel, as is the case with 2012 Pilots line-up as well. In 2013 however, the titanium Ingenieurs got titanium buckles. It is difficult to work with titanium, and production costs for such a small part were probably not justified - IWC being a pioneer in the use of titanium, I trust their decision. This little detail however, does not bother me as I have installed a NATO on it keeping in line with the overall theme of the watch. Its only proper to use a MOD spec-ed G10 on an IWC with its RAF Mark XI heritage!
Dial and Hands:
The dial design is absolutely functional given the theme of the watch. The extremely legible layout only adds to the Spartan beauty. There is something about the main hour and minute hand that is so good. IWC seems to have gotten the proportion of the hands close to perfection. These two hands are filled with Super Luminova (probably Strontium Aluminate). The black exterior of the hands contrasted by the white of the lume is just perfect!
The dial is made of soft iron, to complete the anti-magnetic inner case. This is probably also the reason why the dial does not have any complex designs (such as raised numerals) on it. The luminous elements seem to be attached, rather than applied to the dial at the four points - 12 (the triangle), 3, 6 and 9.
Together with these four points and the two main hour and minute hands are the only luminous implementations on the watch dial - IWC stuck to their theme. The white on the chronograph center seconds, rattrapante seconds and the two sub-registers is just white paint - they are not luminous. The legibility is absolutely superb at all angles even in low light.
I will spend some time on the two superimposed hands of the chronograph the center seconds hand at the bottom and the rattrapante hand on the top. This sequence of superimposition is due to the fact that the rattrapante hand is connected to a co-axial tube on the outside and the center seconds arbor is inside this tube. IWC has done something really tasteful here and this was one of those little things about the watch that attracted me to it. The counterbalances of the rattrapante hand and the center seconds hand are designed in such a manner that when they at 12 in reset, a superimposed motif of a jet plane is visible the wings forming a part of the counter-balance of the rattrapante hand and the tail forming a part of the center seconds counterbalance. The magic happens when you activate the split mechanism and these two hitherto superimposed counterbalance separate and split (pun intended) the motif! I get ahead of myself more on the movement later!
The running seconds register at 9 oclock is also in bright red and together with the red of the Jet motif of the center chronograph seconds and rattrapante hands give a splash of bright red to the otherwise Spartan business like presentation of the dial.
Another small detail worth a smile, is the way in which all of the hands main timekeepers and the chronographs interact with the markers. As I have already mentioned, these markers are white strokes. When the hands go over them, they dont cover the markers entirely, instead falling short by a fraction. So all you see is a small white dot of the marker and then the hand below it. This really enhances the instant and accurate readability of information something critical to a pilots watch!
The chronograph registers at 12 and 6 are slightly depressed into the dial and have a very light circular design ingrained into them. This is visible only at certain angles. Given the anti-magnetic capabilities of this watch, all the hands, are also made of non-magnetic materials
Aaah the jewel of the crown Inside beats the IWC caliber 79230 29 jewel. This engine is based on an extensively reworked chronometer grade Valjoux 7750. Earlier ETA used to supply IWC with unassembled 7750 kits that IWC used to extensively work upon to improve an already proven workhorse. Since the first decade of the millennium, ETA has stopped supplying movement kits such as the 7750, they have been delivering completely assembled movements to non-Swatch group companies. IWC states that ETA reworks the movements (2892, 7750 et cetera) according to IWCs own standards before delivery.
The rattrapante module was developed by Richard Habring when he worked for IWC. Unlike most other 7750 based rattrapante movements, Habrings module is attached to the bottom plate of the reworked 7750 rather than the top plate. This is a more traditional approach. My research tells me that IWC has a special department that (probably amongst other complications) deals with assembly of this add-on.
If given the right training and a good environment to grow, does an adopted child really underperform when compared to her sibling who is genetically related to the parents? I think not! Even though the Valjoux 7750 base in manufactured by ETA, IWC plays a major role in modifying it to its own specifications. I do not know if the particular 79230 beating in my 3799 was created from a 7750 kit or was it delivered fully assembled to IWC by ETA based on the formers strict specification. It really does not make any difference. The IWC magic is immediately obvious.
Its a known fact that 7750 and its multiple variants (including the 7751) feel a bit stiff when you manually rotate the crown to wind the mainspring. I have a Omega Speedmaster and a Longines, both of which have 7751 based movements inside. I have felt this stiffness myself. But the 79230 inside my 3799 feels silky smooth when winding though, it could be in part because of the large crown. Also, the typical 7750 rotor wobble is all but missing on this caliber, when compared to its cousins from Omega and Longines I own. Experts say that IWC does a lot of things to the 7750 (or ETA does them according to IWCs specs). As the individual components are refined, their efficiency improves requiring a weaker mainspring to be installed to reduce stress.
This caliber has been superseded by the 79420. There are no differences between the 79230 and 79420 except the plating of the movement.
I have noticed an accuracy of half a second fast everyday on the wrist. I am yet to gauge the accuracy across various positions though. Given the overall robustness of the 7750 and IWCs modifications thereon, I would be very surprised if this watch did not perform as accurately in the long run.
One of the things I had against this watch (other than its extreme lack of availability) was its size. On paper it looks huge. At 46 mm in diameter and with a height of 17.8 mm, strapped to my diminutive 6.5 Asian wrist, the watch can be perceived to look like a clock! But in person its a different animal altogether. When I had the opportunity to handle this rare beast in person and strap it to my wrist, the black case with the simple styled dial makes the watch feel perfectly sized on my wrist. Though the watch is quite tall at 17.8 mm high, it matches pretty well with the well proportioned 46 mm case. Also, given the watchs lightness, you tend to overlook this height when you consider whats under the hood the additional height of rattrapante module and the soft iron inner case. Since its black all over and devoid of unnecessary bling, its size also goes into the stealth mode and wears smaller than expected. All in all the watch feels perfectly proportioned on the wrist. All in all the watch feels perfectly proportioned on the wrist. It neither feels too tall nor too wide to wear. Its a tool, and it looks like one!
As I have already mentioned, this is my grail watch its here to stay. As I age and my eyesight deteriorates, the large ample dial and its white marking are going to put a smile on my lips. I know may purists may feel that this watch borrows on multiple aviator watches without being truthful to any one of the lines the hands inspired by the Beobachtungsuhr, and the dial from the Mark XI. Nonetheless, somehow (at least to my happy eyes ;)) they got all the good aviator designs in one place and created something so beautiful. It is one hundred percent a pilots tool watch that carves a niche of its own!
One thing I will admit the watch was responsible for my spending hours on the Microsoft flight simulator, with this baby timing all the flights!
I hope you have enjoyed this review! Do share your thoughts!