When we wear tool watches with a certain amount of historical significance, we often have these absurd fantasies of period correctness. Wearing an Heuer Carrera? You might as well be timing laps at Le Mans behind the wheel of your Ford GT40. A Rolex DeepSea? Get your ass to the Mariana trench. An OMEGA Speedmaster? One giant leap for mankind, am I right? By this logic, when I put the IWC Mark XVIII on my wrist, I should be cutting through the air at the yoke of a Supermarine Spitfire. I’m not. The closest I’ll come to that is flying the 9:55 p.m. Spirit flight from Chicago out of LGA.
The problem is, when a watch is saddled with history, we tend to focus on that rather than the real-world merits of the watch itself. So I’ll get to the elephant in the room right away: the IWC Mark XVIII is a descendant of what many herald as the iconic pilot’s watch. The original IWC Mark XI was built in 1948 to the specifications of the British Ministry of Defense, who required chronometer-grade accuracy, resistance to magnetic fields (produced by aircraft electronics) and serious legibility.
The resulting watch was a restrained 36mm in diameter, had big, lumed Arabic numerals around the dial with a triangle at 12 o’clock, and a soft iron dial and soft iron cage surrounding the movement. The Mark XI immediately became a timeless hit and was made for decades until it was replaced in 1993 with the Mark XII. The watch has undergone numerous iterations since, but for the most part has retained the simple, legible dial and anti-magnetic build that made it such a lovable timepiece in the first place.
The XVIII revealed at SIHH is much the same story, but there have been some significant improvements over the last couple generations that bring it closer to the Mark Series’ roots. For starters, the “9” numeral is back, gone since the XVI released in 2006; its absence has irked many an IWC devotee. IWC also dropped the three-date display from the XVII in favor of a black single-date display, and the old model’s 41mm case has been downsized to 40mm. Simplicity and legibility are once again the reigning traits of the IWC Mark.
The result? A great, everyday causal timepiece that would pair with anything short of a suit — it paired with my daily attire of black jeans, black chelsea boots and a gray t-shirt better than any other watch I’ve worn this year (including my personal watches). The 40mm case is welcome in a world still filled with chunky watches (even if the current trend is towards downsizing), and looks refined while maintaining the robust edge you normally see in tool watches. And the sharp contrast of the black dial and the white, luminous markings means that the time is really just a quick glance away. Wearing a chronograph or a diver means it’s easy to get distracted with a sub-dial or a large timing bezel. If all you’re after is the time, the Mark XVIII is as legible as they come.
Frankly I don’t even care much about the XVIII’s history. This is a practical, legible watch with sophisticated looks and reliable innards. What more do you want in a casual timepiece?
As for the anti-magnetic inner-cage and dial protecting the ETA 2892 ticking inside, I don’t encounter many aircraft instruments (nor do I work at CERN or in an MRI lab), but I do encounter microwaves, TVs, computers and speakers. Magnetic fields are produced by any number of household electronics and appliances, and they have the tendency to throw off the accuracy of a mechanical watch, so much to the point that demagnetization is a fairly standard element of servicing a watch. Sure it’s a fun nod to what made the original Mark XI special at the time, but it’s also a practical feature.
So no, I will never pilot a vintage fighter plane (or any plane for that matter), in the same way that Speedmaster owners and DeepSea owners don’t get much out of their timepieces beyond the thrill of owning a continuation of some interesting history. But frankly I don’t even care much about the XVIII’s history, either. This is a practical, legible watch with sophisticated looks and reliable innards. What more do you want in a casual timepiece?