Flying Since 1948: The IWC Mark

As we await the arrival of a new year, we reflect on how much difference a year (or several) can make when comparing one watch to its predecessors. WatchTime looks back on three iconic watches that demonstrates how a classic timepiece changes over time. Earlier this week we took a look at the Rolex Submariner; today, we examine the IWC Mark series.

What the Rolex Submariner is to diving, the IWC Mark series is to flying. The stark minimalism of this three-hand watch has its origin in the Mark 11 from 1948. IWC had introduced predecessor models in 1936 and 1945; their small seconds displays and the additional details on their dials gave them a dramatically different look from the later classics.

At the time the Mark 11 was introduced, simplicity was the order of the day. The Mark 11’s dial had two different designs for the luminous hands that showed the time on clearly marked hour and minutes tracks with luminous indexes at 3, 9, and 12 o’clock. The 36-mm steel case had an entirely brushed finish to prevent distracting reflections.

IWC Mark 11 - 1948-1952
First introduced in 1948, the Mark 11 pilots’ watch had a triangle added to the dial in place of the 12 in 1952.

The Mark XII of 1994 followed the basic design codes of the Mark 11. As before, the case size was 36 mm. However, Roman numerals were now used for the “12” in the model name, a different font was used for the numerals on the dial and a date display was added. The new version now bore the name of the model and the word “Automatic” on the dial in addition to the name of the brand. This would continue on subsequent models, even though it disrupts somewhat the original, extremely clear layout of the dial.

IWC Mark XII - 1994
The most important innovations to the Mark XII, from 1994, were the use of Roman numerals in the model name, a different typeface on the dial and the addition of a date display.

The Mark XV followed in the year 2000. (The model numbers XIII and XIV were skipped since some think they are unlucky.) The case grew from 36 mm to 38 mm, which caused the date to shift closer to the center of the dial. To compensate for the larger case size, the indexes and hour markers were made thicker so the dial appeared to have the same proportions as the dial of the Mark XII.

IWC Mark XV - 2000
Mark XV of 2000 had a larger case and a bolder typeface for the markers on the dial.

The alterations to the Mark XVI made a big step forward: the case grew by only 1 mm, but the shape of the hands was changed to the broad sword shape, which, for the sake of legibility, is used on many pilots’ watches. This change made the new model look more like historical observation watches, but unfortunately it also made it look more like the vintage pilots’ watches made by other manufacturers. Another change was IWC’s return to the slimmer font seen on the dial of the original Mark 11. With the exception of the 4, all the numerals looked like those on the 1948 version.


IWC Mark XVI - 2006
In 2006, the greatest change to date came to the Mark XVI: sword-shaped hands and a return to the original numeral font that was used in 1948.

On the path toward the current Mark XVII, the case gained 2 mm in size, now measuring 41 mm across, while the case shape and the appearance of the dial stayed basically the same. Unfortunately, only basically, since the addition of the elongated date window with its red arrow pointer meant that IWC abandoned the clean functionality of its earlier models. The new display is a design element that introduces an additional color to the dial, with the red triangle, but it does little else to contribute to the famous model series.

IWC Mark XVII - 2012
In 2012, the Mark XVII was given an elongated date display with a red marker arrow.

For more on iconic design in the watch world, download our WatchTime Special Design Issue 2015 for $9.95 in the WatchTime online store.

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