Since picking up my Mark XVII, one of the features of the watch I’m 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 “brick” bracelet is a bit of a legend. Five links across, aesthetically it’s somewhere between beads of rice and Jubilee, you’ll see it used exclusively with IWC Pilot’s watches. Over time, it’s become a core part of the design language of these watches, and lives on in today’s versions of the Mark XX, Pilot’s Watch Chronograph, and Big Pilot. The current iteration of the bracelet is, as you’d 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. I’m 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. It’s 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 “elegance” truly never factored into the equation. The bracelet feels extremely robust and hard wearing. You get the sense that it’s virtually indestructible, and it’s 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 you’d use to impress a small button on the underside of each link to release it from the bracelet. It’s 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 “IWC” logo, which allows for the sliding of the clasp in and out, offering about a link and a half’s 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 I’m slightly overstating it, but it’s 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 don’t think of myself as a purist by any means, I’m glad that IWC continues to make a Mark that’s in conversation with the historically important references from the War years. As someone whose taste naturally veers toward the version of something that’s juat a little tweaked from the standard, I think the XVII is really the only version of this watch I’d ever consider owning. It’s a similar dynamic to how I’m really not very interested at all in the regular old stainless steel Pilot’s Chronograph. As objectively nice and well executed as that watch is, it’s 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 IWC’s tool watch, pre-luxury past, but I am certainly fascinated by how they got to the point they’re at now, and the Mark XVII is a piece of that puzzle. IWC