Pros: Case design, dial legibility, reliability, accuracy, manufacturer history/support
Cons: no in-house movement, single-fold deployant clasp can be uncomfortable.
A superb alternative to the usual (Rolex) and quite possibly the perfect watch. The IWC Mark XV is the latest in a long line of Pilots style watches spanning decades from IWC. It has clear historical ties, yet is relative in a modern context as well. Its a nice stealth watch that only a select few will recognize if they see it.
A Little History
IWC or the International Watch Company was founded in the late 1800s by F.A. Jones. I believe that IWC is the only major Swiss manufacturer to be founded by an American. Their first productions were pocket watches, including some nice jump hour models. Later, as technology and market demands permitted, IWC moved into the realm of wristwatches. They produced many robust in-house movements (more on this later) such as the Cal. 83, Cal. 89, and Cal. 854/854X models. Like most great Swiss manufacturers they were hurt by the Quartz Craze of the 1970s that almost bankrupt the Swiss watch industry, but IWC managed to survive and today they are known as one of the finest brands and are very well respected in the Swiss watch industry. Although IWC has made a few ladies models over the years, they primarily focus on mens watches as indicated by their latest Ad campaign (Engineered for Men). Their Mark line of pilots watches starting with the Mark IX and the Ingenieur (Engineer) models are among their most significant historical models. The Mark models were commissioned by many militaries for their pilots during WWII and beyond. Old military versions of the Mark watches are hard to come by and fetch high prices with collectors.
The movement is basically the engine of the watch for lack of a better term. Its what makes the watch tick. Movements can be mechanical (powered by a spring) or quartz (powered by a battery). Traditionally mechanical movements are more highly regarded than quartz. Mechanical movements can be hand wound or automatic (oscillating weight winds the spring automatically from body movement/gravity). Movements can be made by ETA a major supplier of movements to many Swiss watch makers or they can be made in-house. Many fine watch connoisseurs prefer an in-house movement that is all of the mechanical workings are designed and produced by the watchmaker at their factory. IWC makes several in-house movements, but the Mark XV does not have one of them. That being said, the Mark XV uses an ETA based Cal. 2892A automatic movement that has been extensively reworked and upgraded to IWC specs. This is not your standard ETA movement and shouldnt be regarded as such. This movement meets or exceeds the C.O.S.C. chronometer specifications for accuracy when it leaves the factory even though IWC does not certify its movements as chronometers. (Many feel that the chronometer certification is more of a marketing gimmick than anything look at Rolex for instance)
Width: 38mm (not including the crown)
Height: approx 47mm
Thickness: approx 10.5mm (will fit under a dress shirt)
Case: Stainless Steel (brushed finish)
Dial: Black w/ luminous 3,6,9,12 markers, hour, & minute hands. Date window at 3.
Strap: Black Buffalo Hide Leather w/ single fold deployant clasp in steel
Bracelet: (optional) stainless steel "beads of rice" style w/ easy adjustment feature
Crystal: Sapphire, slightly domed(new models have anti-reflective coating)
Movement: Automatic IWC Cal. 30110, 21 Jewels, 42 hour reserve, 28,800 VPH
Weight: 73 g w/ strap - 123 g w/ bracelet
Misc: Water resistant to 60M, screw down crown, hack seconds,
Let me first note that I am not a flashy guy. While I appreciate the finer things in life, I'd rather have the Lexus than the Mercedes. I prefer utility, functionality, reliability, and value over status any day. In my years of owning watches, I have owned watches by Omega, Rolex, Panerai, TAG Heuer, Cartier, Tiffany & Co., and others. I have bought (and sold) the IWC Mark XV three times in my quest for the perfect watch and I always find myself coming back to it. Now that I have it back for the 4th time I realize that the quest is over and I plan on keeping it. Its finish is better than any of the others that I have owned. I am not a pilot, but that doesnt bother me when it comes to this watch. (How many people actually go diving with their Rolex Submariners?) The watch has a subtle look to it and it is more low-key than most other watches out there. It has a German Bauhaus feel to its design. It's basic and utilitarian in its look and function. Youll notice that some Swiss watch companies have a German feel to them (Omega, IWC, Zenith, Panerai, etc.) and some have the French feel (Baume et Mercier, LeCoultre, Vacheron, Patek, etc.). The dial is clean and legible without being clouded with too much text. The date function is easy to read and movement accuracy is superb. It averages in the +3 to -1 sec a day range which is great for a mechanical movement. Durability is good as is water resistance (for a non-dive watch). Mine is on a leather strap as I prefer it that way, but IWCs stainless steel bracelet is excellent for this model very comfortable, and extremely easy to adjust. More watchmakers should copy IWCs bracelets as their design is excellent. I found the watch comfortable to wear in most all situations. The included single-fold deployant clasp for the band didnt sit on my wrist properly and made it uncomfortable to wear so I changed it with a double-fold model and it fits great. Those with larger wrists may not have any problems with the clasp. The Mark XV models have a soft iron inner core to protect against magnetic field interference.
I have found that pictures don't do this watch justice. You have to see it in person to appreciate it. It's very understated which is one of many reasons I like it so much. A white dialed version was available (now discontinued) and may possibly be found new in someone's stock somewhere if you look around enough. IWC tried to "update" the look of the Classic Mark watches last year with the introduction of the "Spitfire" versions. The spitfire versions are the same watch with a different dial and hands. It was an unnecessary attempt by IWC to fix something that wasn't broken in my opinion. Retail price of the Mark XV on a strap is $3400, and $4600 on a bracelet (yes - the bracelet is really worth $1200 if you prefer it to a strap.) Expect to pay @ $2500 or $3400 online (gray market) depending on which version you prefer. Authorized Dealers are likely to discount 10%-20% on retail depending on the model and dealer. IWC does not officially allow it's authorized dealers to sell online. Buying from most places online means that you're giving up your IWC Manufacturer's 2 year warranty, but you may get a retailer warranty in place of the IWC warranty.
IWC is known for its overall fit and finish of its cases and movements. Quality of this brand far exceeds lesser brands such as TAG Heuer, Tissot, Omega and others. While the previously mentioned brands are nice watches, IWC is considered by most to be above them in quality, design, and manufacturing. Most would place IWC in the second tier of manufacturers. IWC has many other models to choose from aside from the Mark XV and if you are in the market for a nice high-end watch I strongly suggest that you take a serious look at IWC. They will guarantee parts availability long past your lifetime and are still able to service watches that they made 70+ years ago with original parts. IWC is also constantly updating
A note on that "other" watch brand - Rolex:
I feel inclined to include this as most people shopping for a high-end Swiss watch turn immediately to Rolex since it's the brand that most people have heard of. Let me first start by saying that Rolex is a good watch. They are durable, reliable and well made. But, they are way overpriced for what you get when compared to other watches in the high-end segment.... and it sems like everyone has one. Everyone knows about Rolex from their excellent marketing campaigns. They are the number one selling luxury watch brand in the world. Its my opinion that what you are buying with Rolex is marketing. Its almost as if they have to inflate their image in ads so that you dont question what you paid $4500+ for. Have you ever tried to get a vintage Rolex serviced? If so youll know that parts are scarce if available at all. How can you be expected to hand down a watch to your kids if you cant get parts for it when its 30 years old.
The major contribution that Rolex made to the horological (watch) world was their invention of the first truly modern waterproof case (the "Oyster" case) about 50 years ago. While it was a good invention - it wasn't technically challenging or even that novel of an idea. Most other watch companies have continued to develop new and significant contributions to the watch world in terms of movement innovations (IWC's Pellaton winding system, Omega's Co-Axial escapement, etc.) and model design changes. Rolex has remained stagnant in their designs over the years making only minor changes over time. While they do introduce a new movement once in a while - It's basically a rehashing of the same old thing with them. (Rolex didn't even make their own chronograph movement for the Daytona. Until the late 1990's they used Zenith movements.) Some may argue that you shouldn't change something if it continues to work. If that's the case then why did Ford ever change the Model T?
True watch connoisseurs and the elite (really rich) are definitely not buying Rolex watches. It seems to be more of a middle-class reaching upward thing. Rolex is a status symbol for many and thats a sad fact of overmarketing. Buying a watch for its merits is one thing, but buying it to keep up with the Jones is just plain sad. Why be like everyone else there are plenty of nice, high-end watches out there like Jaeger LeCoultre, Glashutte, Omega, IWC, and others that can be had for the same amount of money and youll truly get what you pay for.