• IWC pay homage to their archetypal pilots’ watch with the Pilots Watch Mark XVIII Edition ‘Tribute to Mark XI’

  • All the vintage design cues of the original, all the technical prowess of the current generation

  • A chance to revisit the timepiece that laid the foundation for the vast majority of aviation watches around today

  • Limited to 1,948 pieces worldwide

There are plenty of watchmakers out there that have taken to the skies on more than one occasion, yet none has been as inextricably linked with the world of high-flying aviation as IWC. For the better part of a century, the two have been synonymous with one another, a relationship that began with the Mark XI.

IWC made pilots before that particular 1948 watch of course, but it was the Mark XI that became the archetype for most aviators’ timepieces since. It’s not hard to see why either. Its simple dial is easy to read at a glance, the case is fittingly militaristic and the overall streamlined look is more than at home in a vintage cockpit.

Needless to say that IWC have relied on that formula ever since; we’re now up to the Mark XVIII and still the DNA of the original is a clear and present inspiration. So much so in fact that IWC decided to pay homage to their pilots’ genesis in the not so catchy named Pilots Watch Mark XVIII Edition ‘Tribute to Mark XI.’ It says what it is I guess.

Whatever the name, the new watch follows on the heels of the ever-growing number of re-issues and tributes to come out in the last few years and, like the lot of them, it’s not a fully-faithful rendition. That’s not such a bad thing; for one it would shrink the perfectly-sized 40mm stainless steel case to minute proportions. For another, IWC’s movement have come a long way since the 1940s.

The IWC caliber 35111 movement inside has all of the very few things a pilot could need. It’s accurate, reliable and, thanks to a soft iron inner case, highly resistant to magnetic forces. Granted today there are far more advanced materials in most aircraft but it’s better to have an analogue back-up and not need it than be missing it when the worst happens. Or you might just like flying vintage plans; either or.

The difference then is pretty much entirely down to the dial which is far more elegant than the current Mark XVIII. The dial markers are slimmer and more delicate, and each compass direction has a solid, luminous rectangle for low-light time-telling. The 12 o’clock triangle is also lacking the two dots found on most modern IWC pilots – a small change but one that illustrates the watchmaker’s attention to detail.

The lume itself has also gone the vintage route and rather than bright white or green-tinted, they shine with a kind of sepia cream hue. It’s meant to give the watch an aged feel but is also a little less offensive to the eyes. Finished with a khaki nylon NATO strap in keeping with the Mark XI’s military roots, it’s a fine tribute indeed.

There’s not a world of difference between the tribute and the current Mark XIII, enough that you might wonder, why bother? Yet the original Mark XI is a legend amongst vintage timepieces and, if you like me are more than happy to jump on the vintage-inspired bandwagon, this particular timepiece just has to appeal.

With 1,948 pieces available however (I’ll leave it up to you to guess why they picked that number) you might want to get a move on. Leave it too long and you have the same chance of getting an original Mark XI – i.e. not much of one.

Words by: Sam Kessler