IWC, which has had a reputation for precision and top quality watchmaking since its foundation in 1868, was one of the first manufacturers to take up the challenge of making wristwatches airworthy. Early pilots took their bearings from their pocket watches – which wasn’t particularly practical – and these included models by IWC.
Besides, under the unbelievably harsh conditions that existed inside an aircraft cockpit back in those early days, a pilot’s watch not only had to be extremely robust, but also extremely precise and reliable. This realization resulted in the design and manufacture of watches that provided answers to the problems of vibration, fluctuating temperatures and magnetic fields – answers that have lost none of their validity to this day.
With its Mark IX, the first-ever timepiece designed specifically for aviators, IWC established its long tradition of pilot’s watches. The first large-calibre pilot’s watch used exclusively for military purposes and manufactured from 1940 onwards, was equipped with an IWC pocket watch movement.
This was produced alongside models like the smaller Mark X military watch and, later, from 1948, the legendary Mark XI military watch, all three of them with hand-wound movements. These were followed in 1993 by the Mark XII, featuring an automatic movement and date display.
IWC’s First Special Pilot’s Watch – the Mark IX
When IWC made its first watch for pilots in the mid-1930s, flying – whether civil or military – was still extremely complex and stretched both pilot and wristwatch to the limit. To assist navigation, air crews needed a watch that could be relied on to keep accurate time even when surrounded by strong magnetic fields.
The 1935 Mark IX fulfilled all the necessary criteria. Adjusted at temperatures between -40 and +40°C, it had a classical bridge movement with an antimagnetic escapement, extra-strong luminous hands and figures, an unbreakable glass and rotating glass bezel with a marking showing take-off time and the time spent flying on each individual course. The Mark IX was the first pilot’s watch from IWC with a soft-iron inner back to shield the movement from magnetic fields.
The Large 52 Calibre S.C. Pilot’s Watch
The second professional-standard pilot’s watch from IWC, featuring a sweep seconds hand (which could be stopped to facilitate precision setting) in the enlarged IWC 52 calibre pocket watch movement, was launched at the beginning of the Second World War. A series of 1200 of the 52 S.C. calibre movements was manufactured in 1940 for use in English deck-watches and pilot’s watches.
The unusual features of the large pilot’s watch are the 55 mm satinized steel case, the extralarge crown; the back dial with its extra-bright luminous hands and figures,; the stop-second function for exact setting; and the leather strap, which was extra-long to make it easier to fasten when worn over a flying suit. The watch is likewise fitted with a soft-iron back as protection against magnetic fields.
The Mark X Military Watch
The Mark X was manufactured for the British armed forces, but not specifically as a pilot’s watch. It featured a black dial with luminous Arabic numerals and luminous arrow-shaped hands as well as a “chemin de fer” chapter ring. One of the special features under the IWC logo on the dial is the so-called royal arrow, found on all the watches made for the British forces.
Fitted with the same IWC 83 calibre movement found in the Mark IX, about 6000 of this model were manufactured between the late 1930s and 1947 (case numbers 1131001 – 1137000). The 83 calibre was also fitted in many IWC watches designed for civilian use. Specifications were the same as for the first special pilot’s watch.
The Legendary Mark XI
In 1948 the Mark XI – still the best-known of all IWC’s pilot’s watches – prepared to take off with its newly developed 89 calibre movement on board. It rapidly gained official endorsement when it was selected for military and civilian use by air forces and civil airlines all over the world. The experience gleaned from the pilot’s watches of the past and many recent developments in watchmaking flowed into the ingenious, high-precision movement and the well-designed case.
Like the extra-large pilot’s watch before it, it too featured a soft-iron inner case to protect it against magnetic fields. Before delivery, every watch underwent an extremely though 16-day test program for navigator wristwatches, in the course of which it was tested in five positions at temperatures between -5 and +45°C.
The Mark XII – The Pilot’s Watch Reborn
In 1993 the time had come for another mechanical pilot’s watch. This one was an automatic with the addition of a date display. Otherwise, the Mark XII was a virtual replica of its forerunner: a luminous triangle at 12 o’clock, eye-catching markers at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock, Arabic numerals.
Like the Mark XI before it, the Mark XII is a perfect combination of form and function. The plain, simple case with its uncluttered dial contains an inner case made of soft iron to protect it against strong magnetic fields. The crown screws in and the Mark XII is water-resistant to 60 m. The hardness of the sapphire glass (grad 9) effectively ensures that no unsightly scratches detract from the beauty of the dial and hands.
The Mark XII is fitted with the superb IWC 884 calibre movement, adjusted in five different positions. A stop-second function like the one found in its predecessor guarantees absolutely precise setting while a rapid advance mechanism makes child’s play out of setting the date.
IWC’s modern pilot’s watches perpetuate an ongoing legend
The advent of modern air travel has inevitably led to the demise of a great aviation tradition, but that alone is enough to wish to preserve the pioneering spirit of earlier times through pilot’s watches like those made by IWC.
Over the years, IWC’s commitment to technological development has never stopped, as reflected in its pilot’s watches. The tradition was given a further boost in 1988 with the “semi-mechanical” IWC pilot’s chronograph.
The automatic IWC “Doppelchronograph” with its split-seconds hand followed in 1992 and the family was increased in 1994 by the pilot’s chronograph with its automatic movement and day/date display, but minus the split-seconds hand.
Since 1998, regular time zone-hoppers have had a perfect companion in the UTC pilot’s watch; the Mark XV, which already has the makings of a watchmaking classic, is the latest in a long and illustrious line.
The Pilot’s Chronograph
On October 1, 1988, more than 40 years after the launch of the original Mark IX, an IWC pilot’s watch that was brand-new in every respect took off. Stylishly organized, the event had been preceded by a watchmaking achievement of immense proportions, namely the development of the world’s slimmest chronograph movement.
From the outside an obvious off-shoot of the Mark XI, the pilot’s chronograph set new standards in watchmaking technology and functionality with a quartz-controlled movement and an electrically powered but mechanical chronograph movement. Recorded times can be read off on the central seconds hand and on the two smaller, slightly elevated dials at 9 o’clock (30-minute counter) and 3 o’clock (12-hour counter).
The Split-seconds Chronograph
A professional timekeeping instrument designed for pilots, adventurers our lovers of complex mechanical watchmaking, the first split-seconds “Doppelchronograph” left the factory in Schaffhausen in 1992. Weighing in at just under 110 g and measuring 42.2 mm in diameter and 16.5 mm in height, it was a veritable giant of its kind.
But perhaps the most interesting feature of the 79230 calibre self-winding chronograph movement was the split-seconds mechanism itself, perfected over a period of several years and containing several patented features, which enabled the user to record intermediate times within any one-minute cycle.
The split-seconds hand, which runs synchronously with the chronograph hand, can be stopped at any time using the third button at 10 o’clock.
The Mechanical Pilot’s Chronograph
Following in the footsteps of the small IWC pilot’s chronograph and the huge split seconds Doppel chronograph, the mechanical pilot’s chronograph became the latest addition to a group of pilot’s watches with a stop second function in 1994.
Fitted with a case measuring 39 mm in diameter, it was just about half-way between the Doppel chronograph (42.2 mm) and the small pilot’s chronograph (36 mm). Apart from the lack of a split-seconds function, the automatic movement and its functions are identical to those of the split-seconds.
The UTC Pilot’s Watch
UTC stands for Universal Time Coordinated and expresses the spirit of a new age in which the world has become a global village. Time and distances melt and journeys from one time zone to another are no more significant than a bus ride to town. It was this that inspired the engineers and watchmakers at IWC to create a pilot’s watch with a fascinating new function.
The watch houses a sophisticated mechanism and 24-hour display that shows pilots – and their passengers – the universal time standard used in international air travel. The UTC from IWC represents an innovative breakthrough that has done much to reduce the significance of once important factors like distance and time differences.
The Mark XV Pilot’s Watch
In 1999 IWC launched the Mark XV. The case of this eye-catching model has been enlarged by 2 mm to 38 mm and contains a new 37524 calibre movement that increases its power reserve from 38 to 42 hours.