IWC Schaffhausen celebrates the 75th anniversary of its Mark series and launches two new versions of the Pilot’s Watch Mark XX. Harking back to the legendary Mark 11 developed for the British Royal Air Force, the Mark XX is the latest addition to the series. The two stainless steel novelties feature silverplated dials and complement the colour line-up that already includes blue, green and black dials.
Over 70 years ago, IWC Schaffhausen stood at the forefront of an unprecedented success story when it engineered the Mark 11 for the British Royal Air Force (RAF). This instrument watch for pilots and navigators was not only the start of the legendary Mark series, it also set the benchmark for the technical features and functional instrument design of most modern pilot’s watches. In 2022, IWC introduced the Pilot’s Watch Mark XX as the latest addition to the series. After presenting the model with blue, green and black dials, IWC is now completing the line-up with two silver-plated dial versions. One is fitted with a black calfskin strap (Ref. IW328207), and the other features a high-grade 5-link stainless steel bracelet (Ref. IW328208).
The Pilot’s Watch Mark XX features a 40-millimetre stainless steel case, thoroughly re-engineered with a revised side profile and an improved lug geometry. The slimmer and more curved lugs provide an even better fit on all wrists. The graphics for the numerals and indices on the high-contrast dial have been refined to the smallest detail. Luminescent elements on the dial and the black hands ensure perfect readability in all lighting conditions. The Pilot’s Watch Mark XX is powered by the IWC-manufactured 32111 calibre. The automatic movement features a silicon escapement and a double pawl winding system, building up a fiveday power reserve. The front glass is specially secured to remain in place even in the event of a sudden pressure drop in the cockpit.
Another practical feature is the integrated EasX-CHANGE® system, which lets the wearer change the strap or bracelet quickly and easily without any tools. A wide variety of straps and bracelets are available as accessories, allowing the wearer to customise their timepiece to their liking. The selection ranges from calfskin straps and stainless steel bracelets to durable, flexible and waterproof rubber straps in fresh and vibrant colours. This versatility, combined with the 10-bar water-resistant case, makes the Pilot’s Watch Mark XX a quintessential sports watch.
A success story that began 75 years ago
In the early days of aviation, pilots relied on astronomical navigation to determine their position in the sky. Relying on celestial bodies such as the sun or the moon to determine latitude and longitude, this procedure requires a sextant and a chronometer – a highly precise watch to measure the elapsed time. However, existing navigation watches back then were prone to numerous problems. Particularly challenging were the radar screens used during the approach phase as they generated strong magnetic fields, which could harm the accuracy of the watches. These issues made the RAF request the development of an entirely new navigation watch.
Setting the benchmark for modern pilot’s watches
Following the RAF’s request, IWC Schaffhausen developed the Mark 11. Officially designated as the “navigator’s wristwatch Mk. 11 – Stores Ref. 6B/346”, it was delivered to them in 1948. Its 89 calibres was housed in a soft-iron inner case to protect it from magnetic fields. Another essential requirement was perfect legibility. The Mark 11, therefore, featured a high-contrast dial with luminescence, which made it easy to read the time whenever visibility was limited. This functional design in the style of an easy-to-read cockpit instrument remains a signature feature of IWC Pilot’s Watches. During the following decades, the Mark 11 was continuously upgraded and refined. Even as interference-free radio beacons made astronomical navigation obsolete, the Mark 11 remained a critical “backup instrument” for pilots in various Commonwealth countries well into the 1980s.
The new versions of the Pilot’s Watch Mark XX are available immediately through IWC boutiques, authorised retail partners or online at IWC.com. Additionally, they are eligible for registration under the My IWC care program, benefitting from a 6-year extension to the standard 2-year International Limited Warranty.
The history of the Mark 11 is inextricably linked with the history of aviation. Or, to be more precise, with the history of navigation. Nowadays, we can determine our location on Earth accurate to the metre using any mobile phone. With modern satellite navigation, this is even possible in the wilderness, at sea or in the darkest night. This wasn’t always the case. For the crews of ships and, subsequently, aircraft, determining their exact position represented a tremendous challenge for many years.
In the 1930s and 1940s, commercial pilots navigated primarily using beacons or flight by VFR. The military relied on a “dead reckoning” process. The distance covered was calculated based on the flight speed and flight time. This, in combination with the course flown according to a compass, enabled the theoretical position to be determined. Since it was not possible to measure the exact flight speed, however, and side winds would cause the aircraft to fly off course, this “dead reckoning” only resulted at best in a rough estimation of the actual position.
After the Second World War, the Royal Air Force (RAF) worked intensively on the development of new navigation systems – for example on the basis of beacons or radar. At that time, however, the “radio beacons” only had a range of around 300 miles, and a ground radar could not transmit useful data across the sea. These and other teething problems with electronic systems forced pilots to continue to use tried and tested astronomical navigation.
This procedure, used in shipping, is used to determine the longitude and latitude according to celestial bodies such as the sun, the moon or certain fixed stars. This requires a sextant and a chronometer – an extremely precise clock. These nautical instruments are not, however, suitable for use in the cockpits of aircraft, where completely different conditions and space requirements prevail. While a sextant suitable for flight was developed relatively early on, the search for an airworthy watch proved more difficult.
The early navigation watches used by the RAF were in fact quite accurate. However, their leaky cases made from aluminium or chrome-plated brass could not withstand either the salty North Sea air or the hot and humid Asian climate. The radar screens used for the target approach presented a further problem. They generate strong magnetic fields and therefore interfere with the rate of the watches in the cockpit. All of these challenges prompted the RAF to develop a completely new navigation watch.
The result was the Mark 11, developed by the engineers at IWC in 1948. The “navigators wrist watch Mk. 11 – Stores Ref. 6B/346” featured the extremely precise calibre 89 with stopwatch. Its second greatest feature was the highly effective magnetic field protection. Since the antimagnetic material commonly used at that time was susceptible to wear, the IWC engineers built a cage out of soft iron, with which the dial formed the upper part. The front glass of the watches featured special protection to ensure it stayed in place even if the pressure dropped suddenly inside the cockpit. Finally, the highcontrast dial with luminous material made it easy to read the time even at night or in poor visibility conditions.
The Mark 11 not only set standards in terms of the technology used but also in terms of its visual appearance. During its term of service, the design of the navigation watch was continuously refined. On its introduction in 1949, the numbers from “1” to “12” were still written out. The small rectangles at “3”, “6”, “9” and “12” o’clock were already made from luminous material. In 1952, the number “12” was replaced by the characteristic triangle with a dot on either side. This is now one of the most important visual features of the IWC Pilot’s Watches.
For around 15 years, the RAF only provided their best navigators with a Mark 11. From the 1960s, pilots in the British air force were also given the privilege of wearing this timepiece on their wrists. The value the RAF places on these navigation watches is also underlined by the fact that no-one other than the Royal Greenwich Observatory is permitted to service them. The watches are thoroughly serviced every twelve months and precisely adapted to the individual movement patterns of their wearers. No other watch in the history of the RAF has been more intensively maintained.
Even with the subsequent introduction of a system of interference-free beacons, the Mark 11 remained an important “reserve navigation system” in the event of technical problems. Up until its withdrawal from service in 1981, the watch was also used by other Commonwealth countries such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The icon from Schaffhausen also made its way into civil aviation, namely the airline BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation). Right up until the early 1970s, pilots flying across the Indian Ocean to Australia calculated their position using a sextant and a Mark 11.
This watch is also featured in another story: New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary was not only the first person to conquer Mount Everest; in 1958 he also led the third team to reach the South Pole by land. To determine his position during this expedition, the navigator from the New Zealand air force relied on his watch: A Mark 11 from IWC Schaffhausen.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XX Technical Specifications
- Mechanical movement
- Date display
- Central hacking seconds
- Screw-in crown
- Glass secured against displacement by drops in air pressure
- IWC-manufactured calibre 32111
- Frequency 28,800 vph / 4 Hz
- Jewels 21
- Power reserve 120 h
- Winding Automatic
- Materials Ref. IW328207: Stainless steel case, silver-plated dial, black hands, black calfskin strap with EasX-CHANGE® system Ref.
- IW328208: Stainless steel case, silver-plated dial, black hands, stainless steel bracelet with EasX-CHANGE® system
- Glass Sapphire, convex, antireflective coating on both sides
- Water-resistant 10 bar
- Diameter 40 mm Height 10.8 mm
With a clear focus on technology and development, the Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen has been producing timepieces of lasting value since 1868. The company has gained an international reputation based on a passion for innovative solutions and technical ingenuity. One of the world’s leading brands in the luxury watch segment, IWC crafts masterpieces of Haute Horlogerie at their finest, combining supreme precision with exclusive design. As an ecologically and socially responsible company, IWC is committed to sustainable production, supports institutions around the globe in their work with children and young people, and maintains partnerships with organisations dedicated to environmental protection.