Now that wristwatches have been common personal items for nearly a century, it is natural that various categories of watches have developed, touchstones which help to center the design of a given watch, whether for the engineer and manufacture, the marketer or retailer, or for the buyer, collector and consumer. For example, a traditional dress watch might be described as relatively small and thin, of simple design with no more than 3 hands, and cased in precious metal. Such a shorthand is useful even when dealing with exceptions and wild variations; a "large dress watch" might be 38mm diameter, while a "large diving watch" could easily be 46mm, and although a "radical chronograph" could sport 5 concentric hands, a "radical perpetual calendar" might have only two.
At the same time, these historic norms provide a reference for those who are intent on refining the original concept. Although one might think that the design of simple, time-only dress watches would have stagnated decades ago, the fact is that everyone from Seiko to Patek to Breguet to several AHCI members are still spending thousands of hours and millions of currency seeking perfect simplicity.
historically, military watches took many forms:This is also the case with military wristwatches, but it was not always so. Through the first World War and into the 1930s, wristwatches used by the military were simply adaptations of everyday designs. They might be cased in base, rather than precious metal, and have a protected or grilled crystal. Some were very large because they housed older, pocketwatch movements, but others were so to increase legibility, and also had high contrast dials; early aviators' watches were often marked "special" on the face. As with many seminal creations, the early prototypes for what we now accept as "military (-style)" watches are more recognized and admired today than they were in their own time.
Today, we generally see a military, pilot's or aviator's watch as being round and of relatively large size, with black dial and a (nearly/)full set of white, Arabic numerals, luminous hands and numerals or markers, and an outer railroad track or bold minute marks. The case should be heavy, and provide protection from shock, dust and water, and magnetism. The movement is to be reliable, accurate and isochronic, and the seconds-hand should stop when adjusting the time. These (and other) attributes were formalized when the British Ministry of Defense issued specifications for the most famous military watches ever, the WWWs (watch(es), wristlet, waterproof) of late-WWII.
IWC (International Watch Company) military watches, 1930s-50s:Always considered as manufacturing well-designed and executed watches of high precision and durability, IWC was historically early and active in producing watches intended for military use. In fact, IWC has become so identified with this type of watch that while only the post-WWW Navigators' watches were officially identified as "Mark 11 (XI)", this nomenclature has not only been successfully applied to their newer (non-issue) models, but retroactively to their older ones! Thus, the Mark XI's immediate predecessor, of WWW fame, is known as the Mark X, and significantly, their 1936 design is called Mark IX. It is this latter watch which subsequent history has shown as providing the example for the sub-industry which exists today. (A wonderful article by Jurgen is posted at the official IWC forum (login required).)
IWC Mark IX, Cal. 83, circa 1937:Now that it can be seen in retrospect, here is the timeline of IWC's "Mark"-series military watches:
Mark IX: 1936-1944, IWC caliber 83, diameter: ???
Mark X: 1944-1948, IWC caliber 83, diameter: 36mm
Mark XI: 1948-1984, IWC caliber 89, diameter: 36mm
Mark XII: 1993-1999, IWC caliber 884 (Jaeger-LeCoultre Cal. 889/2)*, diameter: 36mm
Mark XV: 1999-2006, ETA Cal. 2892A2, diameter: 38mm
Mark XVI: 2006-____, IWC caliber 30110, diameter: 39mm
*except for a few special editions in titanium using ETA Cal. 2892A2Against this historical background IWC has issued numerous special and limited editions within the Mark XII and Mark XV lines, often honoring anniversaries, automobiles, customers and aviation-related events. In addition, both modern lines include a watch specifically recalling the design of their fabled Mark IX ancestor by employing most of the original dial elements, including a full set of luminous Arabic numerals, the perimeter railroad track and the unique Poires Paris hands.
The Mark XV version is labeled "Spitfire" on the dial, and was sent to the British market:
(picture source unknown, sorry)
It is however the earlier and rarer MarkXII example which has stolen my heart! Produced for the Asian market in 1998, the edition is 80 pieces numbered 301-399 (excluding all numbers which would include a "4"). The case is significantly heavy platinum, has a screwed-in crown and sapphire crystal, and the movement is the excellent JLC automatic; otherwise the design is as traditional as can be: 36mm diameter, matte-black dial with full luminous Arabics and no legend whatsoever other than that of the manufacture, and also those fabulous hands! There are 2 excellent articles regarding IWC's Mark XII special editions, a brief catalog posted by Stephen Sugiyama, and a beautifully illustrated overview by Hans Goerter, et. al.. In addition to the authors and owners of the articles and pictures linked above, I am indebted and greatly thankful to the friendly participants of the Military Watch Forum, and the Official IWC Forum for their expert assistance.
Click the pictures for even larger!
I do love military watches!
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I hope you enjoyed this!
April 19, 2006
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