When the news broke a few weeks ago that IWC would be releasing the Pilot's Watch Mark XVIII 'Tribute to Mark XI,' there were two main responses: excitement that this mainstay would be getting a more heritage-inspired treatment, and skepticism over the current faux-vintage trend writ large. I'll admit that while I'm a firm believer that new ideas can and should be as exciting as old ones, I was really looking forward to getting to spend some time with this watch in the metal. Luckily, I didn't have to wait very long.
On the wrist, the Tribute to Mark XI doesn't look overtly faux-vintage.
I'll admit right off the bat that I'm a bit biased here: I own a Pilot's Watch Mark XVII and really enjoy it. As someone who flies a lot for my job and loves anything related to aviation, there's a certain romance to a pilot's watch, not to mention the modern Mark watches being extremely versatile and flat out comfortable to wear day in and day out. I like that you can trace these watches' lineage all the way back to the original Mark XI and many of the design cues are still there in some form or another. Sure, there have been changes over the years (some for better and some for worse) but the core of the watch's identity is still very much intact.
The introduction of the Mark XVIII brought the series closer to the original watches, after the Mark XVI did away with the numeral at nine o'clock, and the Mark XVII added that three-numeral date window (supposedly inspired by an altimeter). With the Mark XVIII we've got the "9" back and the date window is a normal size, not to mention the case has been reduced by one millimeter down to a very likable 40mm. It's on this platform that the Tribute to Mark XI is built, taking the architecture of the most recent Mark and adding details from the original.
Next to the standard Mark XVIII, the differences between the two watches become extremely pronounced.
You'll notice a few things immediately, while others take a little more looking. First off, there's the old-school handset. The iconic Mark hands are baton shaped, with a squared-off end on the hour hand. Also, the seconds hand is polished steel instead of white, with a smaller counterbalance. The result is just as legible as what you get from the large luminous sword hands, while also being a bit more subtle. The Luminova on the hands and the dial is also a soft cream color instead of a bright white – it doesn't look overtly faux-aged and I find it a little less jarring to look at in daylight, when the large white SuperLuminova hands can actually be a little too much.
The triangle at 12 o'clock uses cream-colored lume and isn't flanked by the two dots.
The dial is much more open, with less texts and slimmer markers throughout.
The numerals themselves are smaller and in a slightly more angular typeface that resembles that of the original Mark dials, and to balance things out the slimmer hash marks for the hours and minutes are also elongated. Combined with the lack of "Mark XVIII" on the dial, this results in much more open space and a dial that feel less cluttered. Finally, the blocks at three, six, nine, and 12 are luminous, as is the lone triangle below the 12 o'clock marker. There are no dots flanking the triangle either – another little thing that cleans up the dial in a meaningful way.
The NATO strap that comes with the Tribute to Mark XI is the perfect strap for a watch like this.
On the wrist, the Tribute to Mark XI is very comfortable. This is no surprise, as the basic Mark XVIII wears great too. The only practical change here is that the Tribute to Mark XI comes on an olive drab NATO strap with leather detailing around the pin holes. I tend to wear my Mark XVIII on a NATO most of the time, so this watch felt right at home on my wrist this way. The watch was easy to read at a quick glance, despite the reduced hands, and the lume was bright and visible at night even with just normal exposure to sunlight. I was a little worried that the charm would wear off after the first day or two and that it would end up feeling almost identical to the typical Mark XVIII, but I have to say I was wrong. I continued to enjoy wearing it for the few days I had it on my wrist and I think IWC did a really nice job with the balancing act of creating this tribute.
It's hard to find much to argue with on this one.
Ultimately, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Tribute to Mark XI to anyone looking for a great modern pilot's watch that's on the more understated side. It's every bit as well built as its other Pilot's Watch brethren, including the normal Mark XVIII, and the homage elements aren't overdone or so obvious as to make this watch look faux vintage. If I were to buy a pilot's watch from IWC today, this would undoubtedly be the one I'd go for.
As a final little touch, the Pilot's Watch Tribute to Mark XI is a limited edition of 1,948 pieces, with 1948 being the birth year of the original Mark XI. The watch is exclusive to Harrods in London through the end of September, though word is there are still pieces available. The price there is £3,790 (approximately $4,925 at time of publishing, including VAT), though it will retail for $4,150 when it goes on sale in the U.S. in October.