Much has been said, and subsequently written, about IWC’s Mark collection this year. I guess that that’s what happens when a manufacture decides to re-tell the story of an icon through a revamped collection. This year’s Mark XVIII was a very pleasant surprise from IWC, and a week on the wrist of our managing editor Jack Forster confirmed the strong first impression it made when it was launch. The guys and gals at the office are unanimous in their verdict, this is a pretty great timepiece.
However, it’s not immune to criticism. The size, placement, and general need for a date window has divided opinion, but like Jack, I find it to be one of the more useful functions for a daily watch, a role the Mark XVIII is striving to play. Removing it would mean doing a straight revamp of the Mark XI (aside, of course, from the shape of the hands and the overall size) which IWC seems content to leave alone for now, waiting perhaps until the model’s 70th anniversary in 2018.
Until then, and only if both our feet are resolutely in the sans-date camp, vintage is the answer. And it becomes an incredibly attractive proposition when you find out that Mark XIs in good condition usually start around $5,000; only slightly more than the new Mark XVIII – those cost $3,950.
I recently had the chance to try on a historical model – albeit for a much shorter amount of time, and in the safety of the IWC boutique in London – after they received a Museum piece from Schaffhausen. Bear in mind IWC chose this piece, among other things, for its condition. A similar model should be much harder to find at the prices quoted above, but one can always hope for a great find. (This particular watch appears to have had some restoration work done to the dial, but still presents really well.)
Although I do not own one, the Mark XI is watch that I greatly admire for its wearability. It’s small – only 36 mm – and couldn’t be more subdued in its appearance. It is made economically, in stainless steel and bare of any decorative elements, but it is made with purpose. Issued in 1948 to Royal Air Force pilots, the Mark XI had to meet a number of requirements set by the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) in terms of accuracy, legibility, and reliability in combat situation. It would go on to be issued to a number of both civilian air services and military air services, before the last production models were shipped to retailers by IWC in 1984.
The Mark XI completes the critical mission of legibility quite subtly, with important features that do not distract from the classic design of the watch. Large Arabic numbers with radium highlights at every quarter and smaller batons for every minute provide an instant read, while the hour and minute hands are filled with tritium – a luminous, but radioactive material, used before the advent of Superluminova.
But much of its commercial success resides in its movement, the manually-wound caliber 89, which had the novelty of placing the seconds hand centrally – a feature previously unavailable in its pilot reference 436 – that made it very attractive to the RAF because of the instant readability of the time.
The only mistake IWC made with the Mark XI is that they cannot make it twice. The IWC boutique in London is currently displaying a collection of museum pieces from Schaffhausen, including a Big Pilot Watch made for the German Air Force in 1940, a Mark XII from 1994, a Lady Mark XII, and a Big Pilot from 2002.
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