Taking flight at this year’s annual SIHH Geneva watchfest, IWC's Mark XVIII – or, more simply put, the '18' – is the latest generation of what was once famously described as “every non-pilot’s favourite pilot’s watch.”
No preening pretender, the Mark XVIII is a practical timepiece with true aviation heritage – and it’s also exceptionally affordable for what will likely be your ‘everyday’ watch.
IWC Schaffhausen created the great grand-daddy of the Pilot’s Watch family in 1949, for the navigators and flying officers of the British RAF.
It had the down-to-the-second precision which navigators demanded; a soft-iron cage around the mechanism so its accuracy wouldn't be affected by magnetic fields in the cockpit; and screw-in glass that wouldn’t pop out of the case due to a sudden drop in altitude and pressure. (Those are all traits carried through to this day.)
That first watch wasn’t the Mark I, however – the British armed services simply assigned every bit of kit with a ‘Mark’ prefix, and so the Swiss watchmaker’s military-standard model was catalogued as the Mark 11 (using Arabic rather than Roman numerals).
The rugged and reliable Mark 11 remained in production until 1984, and in 1994 IWC took the military watch into the mainstream with the Mark XII – beginning the series of regular reincarnations which has now delivered this year’s Mark XVIII.
The Pilot’s Watch leads a squadron of flankers including super-accurate time-splitting chronographs, variants which salute the Spitfire fighter to the ‘Top Gun’ fighter training school, and super-sized Big Pilot’s models with dials up to a whopping 55mm diameter.
But the heart and soul of the series is wonderfully pared down to the essentials.
Try as you may, there’s not one superfluous detail to be found (although some would argue against the date window, which is more a concession to civility).
Instead, the face of the Mark XVIII is about ‘honest’ design and purity of form and function, beginning with the hallmark of any aviator watch: instant, at-a-glance legibility.
The uncluttered dial, without ornamentation or ostentation for that matter, is balanced and perfectly proportioned.
Large numbers and solid dial markers hint at 1940s DNA in the design; the propeller-like hands and a glyph at the 12 o’clock position which hints at artificial horizon indicator are knowing nods to the Mark XVIII’s aviation roots.
The case size is a ‘just right’ 40mm, and and at 11mm high it can neatly tuck under your cuff.
The calfskin strap from leather specialist Santoni hides a surprise: dress black on the top and sides, but Santoni's trademark orange lining at your wrist, giving a private flourish of colour each time you put the watch on and take it off.
Flip the Mark XVIII around and the caseback carries an embossed image of the Junkers Ju 52...
... a German tri-motor transport aircraft which IWC sponsors as part of its aviation outreach.
If the 40mm Mark XVIII is a little on the large size for your wrist, we’d point you towards the Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36 model.
Same clean design in a natty 36mm shell, with faces in appealing slate, silver and blue dial, and a stainless-steel bracelet or Santoni alligator leather straps in dark brown, grey or blue.
Another variant is the Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Le Petit Prince edition, which commemorates the work of French author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Identical to the XVIII but for a stunning metallic blue dial with white markings, it has an engraving of Saint Exupéry’s Little Prince character on the caseback and is coupled with a brown Santoni calfskin strap for a more fashionable contemporary cast.
- Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII (reference IW327001, black face; IW327002, silver face): $6,100
- Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Le Petit Prince (reference IW327004): $6,100
- Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36 (reference IW324001, IW324007 and IW324008 with Santoni alligator leather bands): $6,100
Locate IWC boutiques and authorised retailers are listed at www.iwc.com/retail