The first time I ever read anything about the IWC Mark series, it was thanks to (of course) everyone’s favorite non-watchmaker watch writer, the inimitable Walt Odets, who in his series, “Tweaking The Mark XII” called that particular Mark “every non-pilot’s favorite pilot’s watch.” (I call Mr. Odets a non-watchmaker but of course, while he might not be a card-carrying full time professional, he obviously is a guy who knows his way around a movement, to put it mildly.) I wasn’t so much interested in the Mark XII as I was interested in what you’d do to tweak a movement so as to wring the best possible precision out of it, at least at first, but like many, I gradually began to find the simplicity, clarity, legibility, and history of the Mark XII irresistible and like many, I’ve followed the evolution of the Mark series ever since then with avid interest.
Overall, the Mark XVIII is one of those watches that you can simply wear every day, without taking any particular notice of it, which I mean as a compliment. Over the time I wore it (which was actually longer than a week by several days) it quickly became a matter of habit to pick it up, put it on my wrist, and pretty much forget that it was there unless I needed to check the time. At 40 mm in diameter, and 11mm thick, it’s a watch that has enough substance, and size, to feel and look reassuringly solid when you glance at it, but not to a degree that calls attention to itself in any way when you aren’t using it as it was intended to be used.
A big part of the easy wearing experience is the strap, which is a black strip of pretty heavy-duty feeling calfskin, made by Santoni for IWC, with an eye-catching orange lining. You don’t see it at all when you’ve got the watch on, of course, but the little flash of color you get when you take the Mark XVIII off adds that much more character to the wearing experience. A little touch, but a nice one. The strap, like the watch, has a very substantial feel, and it’s a little stiff at first although it starts to break in nicely after a couple of days. I suspect it’ll age very nicely and become comfortably supple without losing any of its toughness after a few weeks of regular wear, and like the watch itself, it manages to convey a feeling of being able to tolerate hard use, but also not call too much attention to itself (at least, once it’s worn in). The strap and the watch together definitely feel like a piece of trustworthy equipment.
The time is, as it should be, instantly legible, pretty much under any lighting conditions you could possibly imagine, from direct sunlight to total darkness, thanks to the high contrast dial and generous application of lume on the dial. It’s not as torch-bright as some of the most brightly illuminated watches I’ve worn, but even after the first bright glow of charged Super Luminova wears off, you can see what time it is just fine. This is a very, very versatile watch as well, thanks to the simplicity and utilitarian nature of the design.
Oddly, despite the fact that both it and the Mark XVII are nominally sports watches, to me the Mark XVIII feels a bit more like a sports watch, probably thanks to the altimeter style date window, which of course was the single most polarizing aspect of the Mark XVII’s design. Without it, the Mark XVIII has a more universal feel to it and depending on how you dress, you can probably get away with wearing it with anything short of black tie. Come to think of it, a gent of sufficiently imposing and masculine carriage, probably could wear it as a sort of go-to-hell gesture even with a tux (although it takes a lot of self-assurance to pull that sort of thing off, and if you hear the slightest whisper of a doubt in your head, I wouldn’t try it).
Now, about that date window. My impression over the years has been that it is very hard to add a date window to a Mark watch without irreversibly ticking some people off, and deploring the use of any date window on a Mark series timepiece goes all the way back to the Mark XII, which was (of course) deplored in some quarters for diluting the austere beauty of the Mark XI with a reminder of the current date – in white, no less. I don’t think anyone would argue that the position of the date window in the Mark XVIII is going to rub some of us the wrong way (of course, we don’t need to speculate as every online review of the Mark XVIII that has a comments section has hosted a very vigorous back and forth on the subject). The two basic objections are to its placement (slightly further from the edge than the other dial elements) and to its being there at all.
I don’t feel especially passionately on the subject either way. Very often the watch I happen to have on doesn’t have a date guichet, but (and this is just a personal note) I tend to forget the date and I don’t mind having it there on the Mark XVIII. In principle I definitely sympathize with those who wish it weren’t there at all, but in practice I found it something I could simply ignore, and in real life (or as much of real life as a week and a half represents) it didn’t bother me in the least. I will say though, that if you hate it in pictures, you’re probably not going to stop hating it if you have the Mark XVIII on your wrist.
The Mark XVIII is a very simple watch, but it carries a lot of history along with it, and how much you enjoy wearing it depends a lot – maybe mostly – on how emotionally connected you are to that history in general, and what parts of that history resonate with you the most in particular. For me it was a very satisfying watch to wear. It’s clean, clear, with terrific legibility and ease of wear on its side, and I’m sort of a sucker for any watch that achieves its antimagnetic resistance through an iron inner case and dial instead of through the use of amagnetic alloys and silicon, which for no particularly rational reason I just don’t find as sexy. It’s an outdated solution, sure, but there’s something romantic, something kick-the-tires-and-light-the-fires about it. I’m definitely not a pilot, but I like my pilot’s watches to be a little window into a world whose authenticity I have to appreciate from the back seat, so to speak, and I’m very pleased that the Mark XVIII lets me, just a little bit, feel like I’m in the cockpit rather than behind a desk.
The IWC Mark XVIII is 40 mm x 11 mm with a soft iron dial and inner case for magnetic resistance. As shown, black dial; sapphire crystal with double antireflective coating, “secured against displacement by drop in air pressure,” water resistance, 6 bar/60 meters. Movement, caliber 30110 (ETA base) adjusted to temperature and five positions by IWC, center seconds with date, 42-hour power reserve. Price, $3,950. See the whole collection at IWC.com.
Check out our in-depth comparison of the Mark XVIII with the Mark XVIII “Le Petit Prince” and how they stack up against the Mark XI here.
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