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03/20/2024
 4 minutes

Aviation Heroes: The IWC Mark Collection

By Barbara Korp
IWC-Mark-2-1

The IWC Mark Collection

IWC is second to none when it comes to pilot’s watches. Today, we’re taking a look at the history of their Mark collection, with timepieces designed by engineers specifically for pilots, offering fantastic technology and legendary design.

Birth of the Mark Collection

When the British government called for bids to produce watches for the Royal Air Force in 1948, IWC developed a very special watch: the Mark XI. The first models were delivered in 1949, and would see service until 1981 – a resounding testimony to their popularity, not only with RAF pilots, but with many others serving the Commonwealth as well.

The Mark XI exudes IWC DNA. It’s a watch created by engineers, and perfectly reduced to the absolute timekeeping necessities. Its black dial with white lume-filled indices and classic Flieger triangle at 12 o’clock guarantee optimal legibility under all lighting conditions. A soft metal casing inside protects the watch from magnetic fields. This watch was a visual understatement – which is exactly what helped make it the perfect everyday watch for pilots. Considering that the watches of the era tended to come from the classical Métiers d’Art scene, this new focus on technology was a remarkable and impressive approach.

IWC – Mark XI
IWC Mark XI

Mark XII

This watch model fell silent around the early 1990s. No longer used by the Royal Air Force, the Mark XI spent less time in the horological limelight, perhaps even seemed to have disappeared. Some people even speculated that this was the end of the Mark series, which, to the delight of the watch world, turned out not to be the case.

The comeback was complete in 1994 with the introduction of the Mark XII, a watch very close to the original, albeit even more timeless and equipped for everyday wear. The Plexiglas was replaced by sapphire crystal, and a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement powered the timepiece that now also featured a date complication. For the first time, IWC offered the watch on a steel bracelet, further enhancing its coolness factor. The Mark had made the final leap from the cockpit to take its place in the world of watches as a fantastic everyday wearer.

IWC – Mark XII am Stahlband
IWC Mark XII on a steel bracelet

Mark XIII and XIV

Ever wondered why you’ve never seen a Mark XIII or XIV? The simple reason is that those model numbers don’t exist. The unlucky number 13 (at least for us in the West) was a no-go, as was 14, a bringer of bad luck in parts of Asia. The thinking was that even if these watches were driven by the spirit of engineering, it couldn’t hurt to stay away from these particular numbers, just to be on the safe side.

Mark XV to XVIII

In the years that followed, more versions of the Mark pilot’s watch were released, with all the updates being very subtle and stylish. The most noticeable difference was the increase in size from 36 to 40 mm. Collectors were suddenly attracted to this series, which sometimes included “Le Petit Prince” models with a beautiful blue dial and a depiction of the title character on the case back. Special Antoine de Saint-Exupéry editions followed; their dark brown dials gave each of these timepieces a special charm. These were no longer black-dial pilot’s watches in the classic sense, but beautiful tributes to man’s fascination with flight and the origins of aviation.

IWC Mark XVIII Le Petit Prince
IWC Mark XVIII Le Petit Prince

Mark XX

In keeping with the spirit and history of this collection, the 2022 release of the Mark XX focused on technology, not marketing. No celebrity testimonials, no flashy ads, just a presentation in IWC boutiques for enthusiasts to try on in person.

The Mark XX came out of nowhere, it seemed, and was everything everybody was hoping for. Optically subtle, with a finer and more ergonomic feel on the wrist. It was technologically breathtaking as well, featuring an in-house movement with a staggering five days of power reserve and world-class precision. The IWC engineering spirit had truly created a watch that was more than ready for the future.

IWC – Mark XX
IWC Mark XX

Summary

There are so many reasons to have a Mark pilot’s watch on your wrist. These timepieces bring together all the aspects that watch enthusiasts love: looks, technology, heritage, feel – all at a great price. There are two things in particular that make me reach for my Mark XX so often. First, it feels great on my wrist, even at 40 mm. Second, it’s a statement piece. While the guys may be leaning towards the Big Pilot, which is around 43 or even 45 mm, as a woman I can put on a 40-mm pilot’s watch and enjoy the same great look.

It looks amazing with a sporty outfit, exuding character through and through. And this watch goes great with evening or business attire, providing a subtle, head-turning contrast. How many watches out there let you be so daring with so much style? Whether it’s a very welcome dose of freedom or fashion sense (or a little of both) that this watch gives you, it’s the one I wear most often and have received the most compliments on. More than any other watch in my entire collection.


About the Author

Barbara Korp

The moment I learned that watches were a lot more than just simple jewelry, I was hooked; I become enamored with the elegance of timekeeping. But there was one small hitch: most models were just too big for me to wear! That didn't discourage me, however. In fact, I developed quite a niche interest.

Read more

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