Iíve had an admiration for IWCís watches for a long time, and have owned multiple Pilotís Chronographs and an Aquatimer over the years, but until recently Iíd never spent a significant amount of time with a watch in their storied Mark series. These simple pilotís watches are core to IWCís history and the perception of the brand, and historically represent an entry point into the catalog for collectors. Die hard IWC fans have long debated the ďbestĒ of the Mark watches. Head over to any internet forum or comments section where watches are discussed amongst enthusiasts, and youíre certain to find people debating the finer points of date window placement, case thickness, and diameter across the breadth of Mark watches over the years.*
I acquired a Mark XVII from a local collector friend recently. This is a watch Iíve experienced on a nearly monthly basis at watch meetups over the last few years, and Iíve always said to this friend: Let me know if you ever decide to sell it. We all have a watch like this in our orbit, right? There might be an actual commandment against coveting, but in this hobby itís fairly normal to stake a claim for something you want that a friend has in their possession. Well, we reap what we sow. Said friend decided to let his Mark go, and after some (internal) deliberation, a deal was struck, and I quite unexpectedly owned one of the objectively strangest watches IWC has made in the last few decades.*

The thing is, the Mark watches arenít supposed to be strange. Modern Marks trace their lineage to the Mark XI, the post-Dirty Dozen pilotís watch that was a piece of military issued kit through the UKís Ministry of Defense for decades. (The first watch in the series, the Mark IX, was issued to pilotís by the RAF beginning in the 1930s, and bears little resemblance aesthetically to later Marks. The highly collectible Mark X is part of the aforementioned ďDirty DozenĒ pilotís watches that were issued during the WWII years). In terms of their design, they are simple to the point that it almost defies discussion: stainless steel, nondescript cases, dials designed for optimum legibility. No kooky design flourishes or radical mechanical complexity, unless you consider a soft iron inner cage to be the pinnacle of excitement. In short, theyíre practical, purpose built tool watches.*
But if you peel back the layers on these watches, you can get a sense of the evolution of IWC as a brand, which as a collector and hobbyist, I personally find to be fascinating. I reviewed the IWC 3706 Pilotís Chronograph a few years ago, and that watch, to me, will always represent the last gasps of IWC as a maker of no nonsense tools, before transitioning to a more luxury focused posture where we find them today. The Mark XVII is right in the middle of that transition period, with one foot on each side of the divide.*
Before I get into my thoughts on the Mark XVII, Iíll say at the outset, I donít really have a misty eyed, nostalgic view toward a previous IWC era. Maybe I did at one point, but my tastes and philosophy on these things have shifted with time. I quite like where IWC is at right now, as a maker of tech forward, incredibly well executed watches in a variety of genres. They have developed a mastery in working with alternative materials like colored ceramic and their own proprietary Ceratanium alloy, and have stepped up their finishing game substantially (a hot take, perhaps, but this is what makes the much maligned price point on this yearís Ingenieur actually quite fair – the edges of those bracelet links arenít going to bevel themselves). Shocking, I know, but Iím not overly sentimental about Glory Days that have long since passed. New doesnít always equate to improved, but in watches it frequently does.*

The Mark XVII debuted in 2012 and was in production for just four years before the Mark XVIII was launched, and, for many, corrected the mistakes IWC had made with this reference. The XVII has long been considered an odd duck in the Mark series, and if you line up each successive Mark and put them next to each other, itís the one that most stands out from the crowd. The truly odd triple date display gets the most attention when discussing this watch, but thereís also the red triangle pointing to the current date, and the missing 9 and 3 numerals. These three things, taken together, give the dial a weird idiosyncratic quality that other watches in the Mark series donít possess. To put it another way, youíd never look at a Mark XI and ask yourself ďWhy did they do that?Ē But with the Mark XVII, questions like that canít be avoided.*
The answers, I think, boil down to IWCís slow move to luxury. These elements exemplify the kind of tinkering that comes when brands are really overthinking the simple stuff. The Mark XVIII and the later XX feel like a regression to the mean, incorporating many of the lessons learned as IWCís perception in the market began to shift in earnest. The XVII feels like a watch made by a brand that is trying to figure out whatís next, and decided to do something just a little contrarian because of course thatís what youíd do if youíre upping the ante somehow. So we get a dial that winds up being a lot more open with those absent numerals, and a date display that makes the aviation theme explicit in a way that wasnít needed in prior versions of the watch. Itís IWC admitting they arenít selling this watch to actual pilots, but offering up a design trope ripped from a cockpit to give you the impression of a real plane.*

They also made the case bigger, bumping it up from 39mm to 41mm. Keep in mind that Marks XI and XII, always much loved by the connoisseurs, were only 36mm, so in 2012 a 41mm Mark watch would have likely been met with some level of incredulity from the hardcore fans. I get that. The 00s and early 2010s was a period where watches were getting bigger and bigger, and weíve only seen big brands begin to swing the other way very recently. But I have to say, on my wrist, I think this size is just about perfect. If your goal with a watch in this style is for something commanding but not truly oversized (like IWCís Big Pilot), 41mm works really well. Iíd say that visually it appears a little bigger thanks to the open qualities of the dial and its 51mm lug to lug span, and this works in the XVIIís favor as well, adding presence and, in the case of the dial changes, aiding in legibility.*
The other element here that makes the XVII so nice to wear is the case height. Somehow, even with the soft iron inner cage, this watch measures just 11mm tall. It wears very thin, and viewed from the side it becomes clear that the downturn of the lugs and the thin, sloped bezel are carrying much of the weight here. The case has a satin finish across all of its surfaces, save a very thin polished bevel running down the length of the lugs, and another at the base of the bezel.

Since picking up my Mark XVII, one of the features of the watch Iím asked about most (and one of its characteristics that appealed to me most strongly in those watch meetups where I became acquainted with it) is the bracelet. The IWC ďbrickĒ bracelet is a bit of a legend. Five links across, aesthetically itís somewhere between beads of rice and Jubilee, youíll see it used exclusively with IWC Pilotís watches. Over time, itís become a core part of the design language of these watches, and lives on in todayís versions of the Mark XX, Pilotís Watch Chronograph, and Big Pilot. The current iteration of the bracelet is, as youíd expect given the movement of IWC, a little more luxe, with polished links providing accents rather than the all satin finishing of the Mark XVII bracelet. Iím not opposed to polished links by any means, but I do think in terms of pure aesthetics the non-polished bracelet on my Mark XVII is perfectly coherent and the correct design choice.*
Visually, the bracelet is fantastic, but I have some gripes with the way it wears. The big drawback here is that there is no tapering at the clasp, which adds a certain clunkiness to the experience of wearing it. Itís hard not to compare it to the far more elegant and comfortable five-link bracelet on my Tudor Black Bay, but to be fair, I think this is the sole aspect of the XVII where ďeleganceĒ truly never factored into the equation. The bracelet feels extremely robust and hard wearing. You get the sense that itís virtually indestructible, and itís by far the most tool-ish aspect of a watch that is gradually becoming less of a tool as the years go by.*
Special attention, I think, should be paid to the mechanism by which links can be added and removed, as well as a trick clasp that was well ahead of its time. Every link on this bracelet is removable, and adjustments can be made without tools, except maybe a toothpick, which youíd use to impress a small button on the underside of each link to release it from the bracelet. Itís incredibly easy to size, and because there are no screws or pins to be removed, the links have a clean appearance from the side.

The clasp offers micro adjustment capabilities by depressing the ďIWCĒ logo, which allows for the sliding of the clasp in and out, offering about a link and a halfís worth of leeway on either end. It works very well and allows for the dialing in of the correct size on the fly, and the fact that this feature was available on a watch in 2012 is a reminder that it really ought to be illegal to sell bracelets without it in 2023. Maybe Iím slightly overstating it, but itís truly tough to convey how much more likely I am to wear a watch with this sort of functionality built into the bracelet than one without it.*
As I mentioned above, if you look at the Marks that followed this release, it becomes clear that IWC made a decision to reverse course on this product line. I wonder, though, what the current Mark would look like if IWC had made the opposite decision, and continued to expand what this watch could be beyond the completely and unapologetically utilitarian. Could we have seen Marks with additional complications, even more inventive ways to display the date. What would a quad-date even look like? I imagine this type of experimentation would not have sit well with loyalists, and while I donít think of myself as a purist by any means, Iím glad that IWC continues to make a Mark thatís in conversation with the historically important references from the War years. As someone whose taste naturally veers toward the version of something thatís juat a little tweaked from the standard, I think the XVII is really the only version of this watch Iíd ever consider owning. Itís a similar dynamic to how Iím really not very interested at all in the regular old stainless steel Pilotís Chronograph. As objectively nice and well executed as that watch is, itís got to be Ceratanium for me.*

The Mark XVII, like any watch, is a snapshot of the ideas and values of the brand that made it at a particular time. The XVII remains interesting to me because it shows IWC feeling out new ground, searching for something. To fuss so much with a watch that is such a signature for them (and has notably not been fussed with all that much for decades outside of this reference) would seem to indicate they were in somewhat rare form in 2012. I might not be sentimental about IWCís tool watch, pre-luxury past, but I am certainly fascinated by how they got to the point theyíre at now, and the Mark XVII is a piece of that puzzle. IWC

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