Among the parameters to take into consideration when choosing a “beater”, esthetic appeal, design, wearability, history, technology, reliability, complications, accuracy, after-sales support, price, resale value, even brand awareness are all variables that must be examined. Each and every one is important. Leaving aside the subjective criteria of each prospective buyer, I think it is vital to state that very few models encompass all of the above in equal measure. Among those that do are the watches in the Mark series by IWC.
The issues under scrutiny
It’s often the case that a watch rates more strongly in one area than another. There are times, for example, that a watch steeped in history lacks wearability. Or a technology-laden model may be lacking in reliability. There are occasions where a model which is offered at a great price falls short when it comes to resale value. Striking that perfect balance is no easy task. It’s a general rule that most modern dive watches cannot be worn easily for day-to-day activities, when we are more likely to look for a thinner, compact watch. Dress watches are slim and easy to wear but they lack robustness, and most of the time are stylistically constraining. Modern chronographs, with few exceptions, are rather bulky as well.
Sure, no watch is perfect, especially if we want to use it every day, and we all make concessions based on subjective criteria. The legendary Omega Speedmaster ‘Moonwatch’, for instance, has a manual-winding calibre, and while it ticks most of the boxes this might daunt some prospective customers who prefer an automatic, which is more suitable for daily use. Another icon, the Rolex Explorer, lacks a date complication. Some might argue that the absence of a date display makes for a cleaner dial; personally, I consider a date complication vital for an everyday watch. The same goes for the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic. The Breitling Navitimer lacks in water-resistance. Both the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet and the Nautilus by Patek Phillipe come with a hefty price tag. Closer inspection thus reveals that even iconic designs can be lacking in some areas, thereby excluding them from the ideal formula of what constitutes the perfect, everyday watch. This is not the case with the IWC Mark series.
The Spezialuhr für Flieger (Special Pilot’s Watch), produced in 1936 by IWC, was one of the archetypal aviator timepieces. It had a high contrast, black dial, luminous hands and a rotating bezel. It was, of course, a hand-wound timepiece, driven by Caliber 83, a shock-resistant, meticulously tested and adjusted movement. It’s important to point out that IWC never labeled it Mark IX, although this is the name by which it is known. Its name derived colloquially from the next model, which was classified Mark X by the British Ministry of Defence, and issued to the military for service in 1944. It had the same calibre, and was signed with the broad arrow (which denotes property of the British Crown) and the three letters W.W.W (Watch. Wrist. Waterproof). For five years it was used by various military personnel.
It was replaced by the legendary Mark XI, a model built to the stricter specifications required by pilots in their duties. Once again, the British MOD requested a highly accurate movement with hacking for precise time-setting, a Faraday cage offering protection against magnetic interference, a stainless steel, waterproof case with a screwed ring to protect the crystal in the event of a sudden drop in air pressure, and a black dial with luminous hands. Upon delivery, these watches were subjected to an exhaustive, 44-day testing period for ‘Navigator Wrist Watches’. Each batch then had to be sent, every year, to the chronometer workshop at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Herstmonceux for re-calibration. This model was driven by the IWC Calibre 89, and although the last Mark XI was delivered to the RAF in 1953 it was not officially decommissioned until 1981. IWC actually sold around a thousand through its commercial network, while XIs were still being issued to pilots and navigators of the BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation).