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 . . .
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.
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?
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!
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.
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 watch and book 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Case: Stainless steel outer, soft-iron inner
Height 11.0 mm
Dial: Silver-plated dial with luminescence at 12, 3, 6 and 9
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 indicies.
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.