IWC Manual labour and a little prince on his asteroid
Surrounded by the river Rhine in the scenic town of Schaffhausen, Swiss watch manufacturer IWC produces watches with a masculine flavour.
“No. This robot will never ever threaten the skills of our talented case polishers,” Thomas Humez tells meduring my visit to the case-making facilities of IWC in Neuhausen, a few kilometres outside the hometown of the Swiss luxury watch manufacturer. The question was only fair when observing a huge grey robot-like machine monotonously polishing case after case in the same room as rows of primarily female hands doing the same job, albeit at an entirely different speed.
“Our polishers have a least five years of training to ensure an outstanding level of case and movement finishing and even though the robot is a fantastic piece of precise machinery, it will never be able to do what human hands can do. Besides, we would never let a machine polish our precious metal cases,” says Thomas Humez.This is a pretty clear indication that Swiss watchmaking still invests in hands and that the growing number of computer numerically controlled machines is simply there to help meet the demand for luxury mechanical watches made in Switzerland.
In the beginning
IWC was founded in Schaffhausen in 1868 by the American watchmaker F. A. Jones from Boston. He moved to Schaffhausen to take advantage of cheap labour as well as of the water from the neighbouring river Rhine that provided electricity for mass production. Due to this smooth-flowing supply of hydropower, Jones was able to produce pocket watches at a price much lower than an American production could offer.
Jones was however very unfortunate in that the end of the American civil war meant increased import fees and made his watches too expensive to sell in the US. Left with an empty order book and angry shareholders, he decided to sell his business to a local businessman, Johannes Rauschenbach, who guided the company safely and prosperously into the 20th century.
Under the leadership of George Kern
In 2000 the Geneva-based investment company Richemont Group purchased IWC and since then the company has successfully expanded under the leadership of George Kern. With Kern at the helm, the company now offers six horological families: the classic Portofino, the diver's Aquatimer, the elegant Portuguese, the rugged Ingenieur, the celebrated Da Vinci and the perennial Pilot´s Watches.
“The Portofino, Pilot and the Portuguese models are our best-sellers,” marketing director Goris Verburg, tells me during a scenic lunch, overlooking the spectacular Rhein Falls. “Our entry level is approximately Euro 4,100 for a steel Portofino with automatic movement and our most expensive watch is the Portuguese Siderale Scuderia with constant force tourbillon made of platinum that costs approximately Euro 650,000. Our core business is however around the Euro 8,500 mark,” he says.
The Little Prince
Undoubtedly one of the most recent watches will also be a bestseller: the Big Pilot Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince limited to 270 pieces. Not only is the model made of luxurious rose gold, but also features a stunning blue dial. However, the best detail on this watch is the moon-phase indicator as it resembles the legendary image of the Little Prince on his tiny planet, Asteroid 325. This truly is an amazing watch that should not only appeal to lovers of fine horology, but also to romantic grown-ups.
A one-of-a-kind platinum version is to be auctioned by Sotheby's Geneva on November 12th. “I would like to see the watch sell for Euro 80-90,000,” Uwe Liebminger, IWC Department Manager of Public Relations tells me when discussing the relationship with the Saint-Exupéry Foundation. “The proceeds from the auction will be used to find the building of a school with a library in Cambodia,” he said. “Cambodia is one of the places where illiteracy remains a critical issue and this is why we chose to support this project,” he answered when asked why this particular project was chosen.
The past sculpts the future
The brand of course represents much more than illustrious pilot´s watches dedicated to children's books and Euro 650,000 watches with constant force tourbillons – as the brand museum certainly proves. The IWC production history comprises a wealth of quintessential and benchmark models for both connoisseurs and lovers of horological design: from the early 19th century pocket watches, to the pilot´s watches made for both RAF and German pilots in the 1930-40s, as well as the 1955 Ingenieur that could withstand magnetic fields. The impressive museum that was opened to the public in 2007 also exhibits the first ever titanium watches made with Ferdinand A. Porsche during the 1980-90s along with perpetual calendars featuring the innovative movement developed by celebrated watchmaker Kurt Klaus in the midst of the 1980s quartz crisis.
The female touch
An eminently masculine brand
The contemporary collection as well as the museum showcases all reflect the fact that IWC is an eminently masculine brand: from the big pocket watches made by F.A. Jones in 1868 to the current Ingenieur collection that adorns the wrists of the engineers of the AMG Mercedes Petronas Formula 1 Team and the 46.2-millimetre Big Pilot as worn by Lewis Hamilton.
Nonetheless, IWC is not a male-dominated brand in terms of the assembly and decoration personnel at work in IWC’s Schaffhausen and Neuhausen production facilities. The need for a delicate feminine touch is quite clearly apparent here, since ladies are ideally suited to working with the delicate parts of a micromechanical movement. So instead of spelling out the company name according to the classic pilot’s alphabet as Indigo Whisky Charlie, I suggest changing it to Indigo Whisky Charline. Or better yet, rewording the brand slogan to read Engineered for men – Assembled by women.
With a clear emphasis on technology and development, IWC Schaffhausen has been manufacturing timepieces of lasting value since 1868. Its philosophy, based on a passion for watchmaking, aims to maintain a spirit of indefatigable initiative and impeccable craftsmanship.Find out more >
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