About a month ago, via the Instagram of its CEO, Christophe Grainger-Herr, IWC Schaffhausen casually released the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Ref. IW377724 to the market. This new watch is a conglomeration of historical designs by the brand, taking its foremost influences from the legendary WWII-era Mark 11 military watch, the early-1990s IWC Doppelchronograph reference 3711; the Mark 11-influenced 1994 Fliegerchronograph Reference 3705/6; and also from more modern styles developed by the brand, most notably in the contemporary Mark XVIII and the accompanying “Tribute to Mark XI” watches released last year. This might all seem a bit complicated, so to break it down, it’s basically a modern re-creation of a 1990s derivation of a 1990s watch inspired by the vintage Mark 11— simple, right?
To offer you a brief history on each of these historical watches, let’s begin with the vintage model (pictured below). The original Mark 11 was a utilitarian pilot’s watch first developed for the German military in the late 1930s, but then brought into the fold by British military in the early 1940s. It was easy to read and quick to produce, it could take a beating like few other pieces of the time, and — like so many other watches that have clung to soldiers’ wrists and changed the world — it has since been repackaged and re-imagined with luxury finishing for the modern market.
The original Doppelchronograph Ref. 3711 (“Double Chronograph” in English; pictured below via Christie’s) was not a military timepiece, but rather an innovative split-seconds chronograph designed by Richard Habring in 1993, able to time multiple events or multiple splits of one event at once. The double-chronograph mechanism (sometimes known as a “rattrapante,” from the French rattraper, for the act of recovering and recapturing) wasn’t innovative because it was a new innovation for the time — having first been created in the 1830s and first brought into a wristwatch by Patek Philippe as early as 1923— but because Habring was able to redevelop the complication through a complex series of modifications on a common Valjoux 7750 movement.
Finally, the 1994 Fliegerchronograph for which the newest Pilot’s Watch draws its most direct inspiration (pictured below, in ceramic), it was a watch almost identical in style to the Doppelchrono, yet critically differed in its lack of a double-chronograph mechanism in favor of the humble single chronograph. In the series’ run, it spanned two references (3705 and 3706) and alongside the Doppelchrono was a foundational model in the IWC Pilot’s Chronograph line.
The new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Ref. IW377724 has elements of each of these watches in its design, alongside a number of modern liberties more common in the brand’s repertoire today. The 43-mm flieger-style case, with its use of brushed steel, has a clear military aesthetic with an unadorned, solid caseback, the familiar Pilot’s Watch Chronograph pushers, and a dark green canvas strap. The black dial of the watch clearly distinguishes it from its IWC boutique counterparts, with its subtle outer minute ring reminiscent of a tachymetric scale, faux-patina-accented quarter-hour markers, and thinned Arabic numerals for the rest of the timing positions. Toward each quarter-hour is a different display, with a 30-minute counter at midnight; the day, date, and corporate logo toward 3 o’clock; 12-hour counter at the bottom of the dial; and running seconds at the 6 o’clock position. Displaying the time are Mark 11-inspired and faux patina-filled hour and minute hands, with a simple white pointer used as the chronograph seconds counter.
Inside the IW377724 is the automatic IWC Caliber 79320, capable of a 44-hour power reserve, which— like its ‘90s predecessors — uses a Valjoux 7750 base movement. Accompanying its unorthodox arrival to the market is its an equally unusual limitation: the watch will not be made in a limited-edition quantity, but rather will only be available for a limited period of time (until October 2018) through IWC’s online boutique.
This isn’t the first time we’ve covered the Mark 11 and its modern derivations for “Vintage Eye” (you can check out our first coverage of the Mark XVII from 2015, here), but this is the first time we’re seeing a watch not labeled as a “Mark” watch explicitly take on its vintage influences. More commonly, modern pilot watches with clear World War II vintage-style attributes are credited to the B-Uhr style like that seen in IWC’s Big Pilot series, which itself heavily influenced the development of the historical Mark series in the late 1930s. Nonetheless, in the style of hands, quarter-hour markers, Arabic numerals, and in nods to both utility and history via an undecorated caseback and faux patina, the influences of the Mark 11 are obvious on this modern watch.
However, it would be an overstatement to call the IW377724 a direct descendant of the vintage model, as it is much more the “re-creation of a 1990s derivation of a 1990s inspiration,” as stated prior. In comparison to the Doppelchrono and Fliegerchrono — two watches similar in all attributes but complications and size — the newest Pilot’s Watch Chronograph shares most of their traits. Between the flieger-style case, with its trademark pushers, and the dial configuration, with its hour markers, Mark 11 hands, and vertical subdials, the modern watch’s retro design distinguishes it from all its contemporaries in the series.
Of course, there are some differences: notably, the Doppelchrono was 42 mm in diameter and the Fliegerchrono 39 mm, while the IW377724 is 43 mm. And while the two retro pieces are still appreciated today in collectors’ circles, the contemporary piece benefits quite a bit from the past 20-plus years of improvements in finishing; this likely owes more than a bit to the luxury status Richemont has sought to bring IWC since acquiring the brand in 2000. These two traits have led the dial and case to appear cleaner, with less wording and more prominent subdials, and have allowed the watch to stand well on its own not simply as a 1990s watch re-creation, but also as a Mark 11 homage and an interesting piece in its own right.
The newest IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph is the kind of piece that vintage-watch writers love; a type that makes me feel like some sort of music guru, breaking down modern songs and pointing out that they’re little more than remixes of remixes of remixes. I would go so far as to say it’s the kind of piece, considering its unique features and unusual release strategy, that one would normally expect to see produced through some partnership between a brand and a specific boutique. (Or, as is becoming increasingly common these days, a partnership between the brand and a horological publication to create a limited run). However, and fortunately, it was released to the public directly by the brand for us to discuss; even more fortunately to some, it is priced the same as the non-limited, time-only Pilot’s Watch Chronographs at $4,950 — though who can say what its resell value might be come November? The limited-edition (and undoubtedly more significant) Mark XVIII “Tribute to Mark XI” (below) is now sold out by the brand, and available secondhand for close to $2,000 above retail.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare the Seiko Prospex Diver 300m Hi-Beat SLA025 to its historical counterpart click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first discovering horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.