In 1917 a pocket watch made by the International Watch Company flew with its owner, a pilot in the Luftwaffe.

That was the first watch made by IWC to take to the skies, but it wouldn’t be the last: it was the start of a long and fruitful relationship between the manufacture and aviation, which saw its zenith in the 1930s and 1940s.

This was due to the love two young men had for airplanes: the sons of Ernst Homberger, the managing director of IWC. In the late 1930s, aviation was changing, as countries in Europe built up their air forces for the war that loomed on the horizon. The planes metamorphosed from the boxy wooden gliders of the First World War into the fat-bellied bombers that would rain death on Europe during World War II.

The needs of pilots changed as well. Like Alberto Santos Dumont—who inspired the creation of the first commercially available wristwatch (and arguably the first pilot’s watch), the Cartier Santos—the sons of Ernst Homberger needed a watch specifically suited to their needs. So they brought their idea to their father; thus, the Special Pilot’s Watch was born.

In the next decade, watches made by IWC would take flight in greater numbers, as IWC continued to supply watches to the navigators in the nighttime bombing raids the Luftwaffe carried out during the Blitz.

But perhaps IWC’s most iconic pilot’s watch was created in 1949, a product of peacetime, not of wartime.

That year, the Ministry of Defense issued a new standard, coded 6B/346. This standard required chronometer-grade and anti-magnetic movements for all watches destined for use by military personnel. Two manufactures were granted the contract: Jaeger-LeCoultre and, of course, IWC.

IWC adapted its best movements and materials in the creation of that watch, the Mark XI.

Instead of the Calibre 83 that IWC used in its previous military watches, the manufacture adapted the Calibre 89, which was developed by Albert Pellaton and is generally regarded as the best three-handed watch movement of all time. To meet the MOD’s rigorous requirements for anti-magnetism, IWC encased the Calibre 89 in a soft iron covering.

After a 44-day period of rigorous testing, the Mark XI entered service in 1949; it remained in use until 1981, reliable to the last.


SKU: AS02291

Stainless steel case is approximately 36mm (excluding crown). Calibre 89. Circa 1950.

Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition with signs of moderate use and wear. "T" dial is MOD replacement, with fine patina to the luminescent elements. Unsigned crown.

Includes one 19mm khaki nylon strap.

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