IWC: A Watchmakers' Watch
The American and the Cheap Labor in Switzerland
In the 1860´s, Florentine Ariosto Jones, the director of the second largest watchmaking company “E. Howard Watch & Clock Company in the United States of America, was looking for new business opportunities in the then financially weaker Switzerland: due to a series of poor harvests and – consequently – lower wages, the predominantly rural population has been mass migrating across the pond in search of a better life.
However, Jones saw this situation as favorable for the relocation of the production of intermediate products to a much cheaper labor force. A few watchmaking companies were already at work in the Jura Mountains, but the workers, who were more accustomed to working from home, boycotted the idea of a centralized, industrial production of watch movements.
Iconic IWC Watches
When he was almost ready to give up, he heard about promotion of economic development in the canton Schaffhausen and met with the owner of the electric plant in Schaffhausen.
The latter made use of the potential for cooperation with a strong electricity consumer. The brilliant location factors in Schaffhausen in the late 1860`s encouraged Jones to build a manufacture next to the river Rhine. After more than a decade of successful operation, Jones left Switzerland due to financial difficulties, and the local businessmen took over the reins of the watchmaking manufacture.
IWC Schaffhausen started to gain recognition as the house of engineers and innovators. This was followed by a period of watchmaking surpluses, while over the years, the production complex became more and more powerful.
IWC is an icon of technical perfection, utilitarian visual sophistication and strong commitment to the tradition of mechanical timepieces.
The Evolution of IWC Pilot Watch
One of the first major innovation from the Schaffhausen masters was the replacement of the classic time display with the digital one in 1884: instead of indicators, hours and minutes could now be read via discs with numbers. This was followed by the first steps in the transformation from pocket watches into wristwatches: IWC Schaffhausen released first such watch, a woman’s caliber pocket watch with 64 metal fasteners for the strap, in the late 1890s.
Almost two decades later, the new trend was adopted by the general public and IWC in 1915 introduced calibers 75 and 76, intended solely for the installation into wristwatches. The latter finally came into their own because of military needs. Due to its convenience in displaying time, the wristwatch became a part of each soldier’s mandatory equipment, and in 1936, the IWC introduced the first timepiece intended for pilots and cabin use in military aircrafts.
IWC Pilot: The Design
A larger case was attached to an unusually long strap, which they could use to attach the timepiece to the upper arm or thigh, while the size of the winding crown was considerably increased to facilitate winding with gloves on. In order for the dial to be as readable as possible, they introduced a technically extraordinarily demanding display of seconds with a big central indicator, which had to be - because of its enormous size - balanced by a counterweight.
The pilot watches became a symbol of precision and endurance, and even today, as an icon of style, they remind us with their characteristic features of the times when hours served merely and only as a tool for the display of time.
IWC Pilot Watches
The IWC Portugieser Watch
Despite the reduced dimensions of timepieces, which were making their move out of pockets and onto the wrist, the IWC managed to anchor a watch to the wrists of the sailors; it was readable enough for professional use and had adequate precision for it to be used for navigation on the high seas.
Caliber 74, while being presented in the case of a pocket watch, was due to its dimensions still more accurate than the otherwise much larger marine chronometers, but was still small enough to fit on the wrist. But even with the pure aesthetics of the simple pocket watch case, the simple dial and chronometric precision, the timepiece, with its extremely large size – given the era – failed to convince the wider audience.
Ahead of its Time
People were leaning towards smaller, angular watches in the style of art deco, so in the coming decades, due to the low demand, only a few hundred watches of this type were produced. At the 125th anniversary of the watchmaking house, the Schaffhausen masters presented the limited and remodeled edition of the timepiece, which they named Portugieser; and with it, they set a new, historic milestone in the art of horology.
The IWC Portugieser has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the IWC manufacture, and today, under the name of Portugieser Siderale, it represents the most prestigious timepiece of this extraordinary watchmaking house.
IWC Portugieser Watches
Modern, Glass-lined Workshops
From the humble beginnings and to the present day, many historically important timepieces were produced under the roof of the IWC Manufacture, such as the Portofino collection, IWC Da Vinci, the diving instrument Aquatimer and even Ingenieur, which was – due to its antimagnetic properties – designed for those who have worked and continue to work in the timepiece-unfriendly environments with high magnetic fields.
Over the years, new collections were developed, and with the increasing range of products, new, modern premises started to emerge around the historic building in which the company was founded; they had sufficient production to meet the needs of the market and the increasing demand for precision of the watchmakers. There are a few hundred of those in the glass-lined workshops, while the whole company employs more than 1,000 people.
In the beginning, the intent of IWC might have been to provide cheap, but precise mechanisms for installation in the otherwise American products, but today, all stages – from planning and designing, to the manufacturing of components, the assembly of mechanisms and the fitting of the latter into cases– are completed in their own workshops, which are full of experienced, as well as young watchmakers.
One of the main concerns of the watchmaking house from Schaffhausen is to maintain the vitality of manufacture, so they pay a lot of attention to the education and employment of new watchmaking masters, thereby ensuring a constant influx of new energy and the intergenerational exchange of knowledge.
Every step in the manufacture of a watch mechanism is performed by a watchmaker with a very specific knowledge: from ruby insertion into plates and bridges, to their coating, the wheel assembly into the working whole, and to the fine adjustments to ensure the precision of the mechanism. In order to ensure cleanliness, the bulk of production is carried out in dust-free rooms which can only be accessed by employees, who must wear garments, intended for work in such environments.
The Rich History and the Eternal Classics
The watchmaking company from Schaffhausen has set many milestones in watchmaking industry throughout its history, experienced both ups and downs, and changed from being an independent timepiece manufacturer to being a part of a luxury group; it has collaborated with the designer F.A. Porsche and is still cooperating with Mercedes AMG and Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula OneTM Team, written success stories alongside many athletes, musicians and actors, and practically conquered the world with its extraordinary timepieces.
Today, as one of the largest manufacturers of mechanical timepieces, it tells the story of aesthetics that goes beyond trends and with its unique approach through eras of time, it continuously remains among the leaders in haute horlogerie.
The IWC is an icon of technical perfection, utilitarian visual sophistication and strong commitment to the tradition of producing reliable mechanical timepieces, which attracts both passionate watch collectors and those seeking merely for beautiful wrist decorations.