IWC Pilot Watch Mark XVIII: Review



My father was a holocaust survivor. He drove a Mercedes Benz, manufactured by the same company that built the Nazi’s favorite automobile (the MB 770). The same company that used slave labor. So there was no reason for me – a minimalist watch guy – not to buy an IWC Pilot Watch based on the Luftwaffe’s Beobachtungsuhren (observation watch). But something stopped me . . .

German bomber (courtesy

This image of a German bomber wearing a pilot’s watch, calmly studying his manual, preparing to drop death and destruction on the enemies of the Reich. Sure, Dresden. And an object – be it flieger or firearm – is neither good nor evil. But the photo made me think that wearing a German-style pilot’s watch connected me to the wrong team. The very wrong team.

IWC Pilot Watch MKXVIII caseback

I know: IWC traces the IWC Pilot Watch Mark XVIII’s history to post-war Britain. But there’s no getting around the fact that IWC was one of five companies feeding fliegers to Nazi airmen (more than a thousand watches).

If you think I’m beating a dead horse, what of the JU-52 engraved on the caseback, the plane that bombed Denmark and Norway, dropped paratroopers into the Netherlands and the Balkans, and resupplied North Africa?

IWC Pilot Watch and guns

A weird choice for a commemorative image, especially as the Brits flew a MkXVIII Supermarine Spitfire after WWII. But then IWC already sells a Spitfire collection and the Swiss always liked to play both sides.

Anyway, after years of resisting fliegerliebe, I encountered an IWC Mark XVIII whose dial broke the rules and it was chocks away!

MKXVIII on desk

Am I so shallow that sidestepping the Reichluftfahrtsministerium-mandated black-and-white dial assuaged my misgivings about the German pilot’s watch genre? I prefer to point out that the silver-plated dial underneath the entirely effective anti-reflective crystal elevates the Mark XVIII’s legibility to Swiss Railways watch level. But sure, I finally found an excuse to set aside my cultural bias and pull the proverbial trigger.

Truth be told, the Mark XVIII had me on the bubble – its design was already a significant departure from the original flieger spec. I mean, you’ve got to laugh at IWC’s assertion that “The Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII is arguably the most uncompromising embodiment of a pilot’s watch.” Hello? Date window? If that little square doesn’t compromise the original design, I don’t know what does.


How about this: the original German fliegers were logo-free 52mm behemoths with a gigantic glove-friendly onion-shaped crown and a strap long enough to go around the planet twice. I mean, the outside of an airman’s shearling jacket.

IWC’s latter day 40mm Mark XVIII comes complete with brand-flexing text, a minimal crown and two standard length straps (beige textile and black leather).


You could make a case that the silver-plated IWC Pilot Watch Mark XVIII is true to the spirit of the original design, what with its dot-flanked triangle at the 12 and its shock and magnetic resistance (via a soft-iron inner case).

You can make an even better case that it’s a damn fine timepiece in its own right that looks something like a flieger. If you’re open to that interpretation, you’re open to it charms.

IWC MKXVIII close up

Again, legibility is the Mark XVIII’s trump card. The slightly glossy black indices pop against the silver-plated dial. The black-rimmed lume-filled hands are as easy to  read as Fifty Shades of Gray.

Saying that, both books and watch lack accuracy. The former in so many ways, the latter running three seconds fast per day. That’s well within spec for IWC’s ubiquitous 35111 Calibre (a modified ETA 2892), but I hoped for better.

MKXVIII keyboard

As for the date window bedeviling pilot watch purists, I’ll simply say it’s the perfect size, shape and position to be completely ignored.

The IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII’s lume is not so easily missed, thankfully, but night viewing accentuates the hands’ dopey, vaguely Far Eastern shape. Placing tiny lume dots at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 – as opposed to firing-up the hour indices like landing strip lights – is equally odd.

IWC Pilot's Watch

On the positive side, the Mark XVIII is as good a unisex watch as you’ll find, especially with the beige textile strap (not shown above). It projects a kindler, gentler, I’m-not-dropping-bombs vibe.

A thin polished bezel sits atop a generic brushed steel case supporting a minimally convex sapphire crystal, all drawing zero attention to themselves. In a word, it’s a classic.

MKXVIII on book

The Mark XVIII’s front glass is “secured against displacement by sudden drops in pressure” – which is awesome for unexpected airplane depressurization. I’d think you’d have other worries at that point, but it’s good to know your watch glass won’t become a projectile in an unfortunate aeronautical event.

The IWC is only water resistant to 200 feet (6 bar), which is not safe watch swimming depth. As Toots warned, pressure’s gonna drop on you.

JU-52 and Mont Blanc (of all things)

So now I have a German-style flieger – an IWC Pilot’s Watch no less – and a clean conscience. After all, the JU-52 was also a passenger plane – that ferried Hitler and his minions to and from countries where the National Socialist Worker’s Party and their all-too-willing conspirators built concentration camps.

Maybe it’s best to keep in mind the justification my father used when a Jewish friend questioned his choice of automobile: vade ad victor spolia. To the victor belong the spoils.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII
Price: $4200


Case: Stainless steel outer, soft-iron inner
Diameter 40mm
Height 11.0 mm
Dial: Silver-plated dial with luminescence at 12, 3, 6 and 9
Crown: Screw-in
Crystal: Secured scratch-resist sapphire with anti-reflective coating both sides
Strap: 20mm wide beige canvas black leather
Movement: IWC 35111 Calibre, hacking seconds
Power reserve: 42 hours Power Reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date
Water resistance; 6 bar (apprx. 200 feet)

RATINGS (out of five stars)

Design * * * * *
This is not the period-faithful flieger you’re looking for. It’s better than that, especially with the silver plated dial and beige canvas strap – assuming you can ignore the small date window. Which you can.
Legibility * * * * 
The MKXVII’s forte. Star removed for stingy lume on the indices.

Tactility * * * *
It’s not a highly sensual timepiece, but it doesn’t feel like a cut-rate microbrand watch either.

Comfort * * * *
A 2.6 oz. watch is never going to weigh you down, but a 40mm watch with straight lugs may be a bridge too far for horophiles with wrists smaller than my 7″ wrist circumference.

Overall * * * * *
A classic design made more palatable by a suave dial, highly effective anti-reflective coating and well judged details.


  1. As I read the moral indignation of the writer toward the “bad” German people, the flagrant hypocrisy is almost too much to bear. Clearly, the author is unaware that the nation to which he declares his allegiance perpetrated the largest genocide in human history, and thanks to Yankee ingenuity the US was first to develop and deploy, as the ultimate means of control, a system of desolate and distant concentration camps euphemistically termed “Indian Reservations.”
    When the Pilgrims arrived, the Native American population of the continental US was between 10-15 million. The US Census of 1890 counted a total of 200.000 Native Americans. Many tribes were butchered into extinction. Tribal lands were stolen en masse.

    Yes, the intrinsically wicked German people will be forced to continue to pay and pay and pay ad infinitum. Seventy-five years after the end of WW II, Germany continues to pay Israel billions of dollars. Anytime Israel wants German technology, all of the anti-German propaganda is put aside temporarily then the pro bono shopping begins. Within the last couple of years, Israel requested and of course Israel received Germany’s most advanced submarine. As a consequence, Israel now possesses the ability to launch SLBM nuclear missiles. Fantastic.

    Reminder: Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  2. I was under the impression that the MK XVIII had its origins in the MK 11 commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense shortly after the end of WWII. Granted the Mk 11 dial is similar to some of the German Fliegers, but to me it is more of a British military watch than a German Flieger. The most defining feature of the German Flieger was its enormous size, the MK 11 and the current MK XVIII are quite small in comparison.

    • Yes, but iwc tried to consolidate their brand under one Flieger aesthetic with the mark XVI when the company was bought out in 2005. In my opinion this was massive mistake.

  3. Florentine Ariosto Jones, a watchmaker from Boston, founded the International Watch Company in 1868 with an aim to produce high quality pocket watches for the American market. With the help of Swiss watchmakers, modern technology, and hydropower sourced from the nearby River Rhine he manufactured pocket watch movements of the highest possible quality.

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