IWC has a long and legendary history when it comes to pilots’ watches, and their modern ones form both a popular and an important part of their collections. They also love to do historical nods, and this is now manifested in the form of the new limited edition Mark XVIII Tribute to Mark 11.
The Mark 11 military watch to which it is a tribute started production in 1948 and ceased in the early 1980s, when it was replaced by the Mark XII. The IWC Mark 11 was first fitted with the then groundbreaking manual-wind Calibre 89 movement (about which you can read at this link), which after a long and distinguished service was eventually superseded by automatic movements from Jaeger-LeCoultre and ETA. This new watch uses the automatic IWC Calibre 35111, which is based on the Sellita SW300-1 and used in many of IWC’s watches.
As a military watch, the original Mark 11 may not just be the most recognisable but also arguably one of the most groundbreaking exemplars. It was born of the British Air Force’s need to improve air navigation. They had been reliant on three advanced radio beam based systems called H2S, and ‘astro navigation’. The former was unable to be used when not over land, so Bomber Command didn’t have much choice.
If ‘astro navigation’ sounds familiar and old school that’s because it was – sailors had been using the skies for navigation for one and a half centuries already by that point, and the use of chronometers a given, with the aid of sextants. However, chronometers and sextants on ships are one thing, having them on military aircraft is quite another. They just aren’t practical.
This lead to the Royal Air Force creating a bubble sextant that was suitable for planes, and then the development of a suitable chronometer-grade wristwatch, which had to withstand quite different challenges than its marine forebears. Not just in terms of precision, but also in terms of being able to withstand corrosion, be protected from magnetic fields, be able to handle impact and well, the expected travails of instruments under battle conditions and in difficult conditions inside military aircraft. What they came up with was the Mk 11 Air Chronometer, with its initial specifications basically as per below, and with a strict set of tests that it had to pass, laid down in Spec. No. G943.
This new 2017 tribute piece is in a 40mm sized stainless steel case with the clean classic design of the black dial, Arabic numerals, baton stick hands, and ‘vintage patina’ coloured luminous markers at 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock and 12 o’clock familiar from the original on which it is based and the specifications above. The original specifications formed the basis of this line of watches, which have been variations on this theme in the decades since, but the Mark XII in particular is worth noting here.
As mentioned, a key difference is that the movement inside is now automatic instead of being a manual-wind movement as per the original, but this is not the only concession to modern tastes, there is also the addition of a date window. As regular readers of Horologium will know, the addition of a date window to modern ‘homage’ to vintage military watches is something that we mention a lot, and something about which we have asked brands.
From the point of view of vintage IWC milwatch fans, or in fact milwatch and vintage collectors in general, being a purist is the ultimate goal in an homage (and this means no new functions and movement fidelity), but it comes down to consumer demand in most if not all instances – it is a simple fact that nowadays, many people like date windows, and most now prefer automatic to manual movements.
The new Mark XVIII Tribute to Mark 11 comes on a green textile strap and will be released in a limited edition of 1,948 pieces. Starting next month (July 2017) it will be available exclusively at Harrod’s in London for three months, after which it will be available in IWC boutiques worldwide. The RRP is 4,790 EUR.