IWC Schaffhausen has unveiled five of its 27-piece Jubilee collection, a few months short of the much-anticipated SIHH watch fair next year

SINGAPORE (Dec 11): Next year is going to be a very busy one for IWC Schaffhausen as it will celebrate its 150th anniversary and the completion of a new manufacture in Schaffhausen as well as announce a new friend of the brand.

The celebrations, however, started last month with the unveiling of the Jubilee collection in Shanghai to a small group of media representatives. The final collection will be displayed in its full glory at the 2018 installation of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). In total, there will be 27 limited-edition models from the Portugieser, Portofino, Pilot’s Watches and Da Vinci families. The media was given a sneak preview of five of them.

One design element of the collection is the white or blue dial — watches with a white dial have blue hands, while those with a blue dial have rhodium-plated hands. The idea for the imprinted dials and blue hands came from the first Portugieser model, Reference IW325, in 1939. All the watches in the collection are fitted with black alligator leather straps. Each model also bears the Jubilee insignia “150 Years”, either as a medallion or an engraving.

At the exclusive media event, the presentation was done by three top executives from IWC — Christoph J Grainger-Herr, the newly minted CEO, who gave an overview of the collection; David Seyffer, museum curator, department manager and executive manager, who provided a brief history of IWC; and Christian Knoop, creative director and a well-known figure among watch writers, who explained the tech aspects of the Jubilee collection.

IWC and The Waterhouse at South Bund, Shanghai, the location of the press event, share a synergy. For starters, IWC timepieces have often been described as industrial while the 19-room boutique hotel that was converted from an old warehouse has a very industrialised design. Just like the IWC watches, the building consists of form and function.

Not many people know this, but IWC, or International Watch Company, has truly lived up to its name as an international company. The days in the early pieces were written in German, Russian and even Chinese. If you do find one lying in your drawer someday, this rare piece might be of interest to ­Seyffer, who is always on the lookout for rare vintage IWC timepieces.

A look back
To understand IWC as a brand, we have to go back to where it all began. In 1868, American watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones started his manufacture in Schaffhausen and created many incredible pocket watches, along with 10,000 movements per year. Jones was able to produce the large numbers because he used the right machines and tapped the Rhine’s hydropower. Many of these watches were made for the American market. Unfortunately, by 1875, Jones was unable to meet the high expectations of shareholders and returned to the US.

From 1880, various people ran IWC. Among them was the Rauschenbachs, a Schaffhausen family of industrialists, who took over the entire company and started selling its watches worldwide.

In 1884, under Johannes Rauschen­bach-Schenk, IWC started producing the first Pallweber pocket watches with digital displays for the hours and minutes. During the first half of the 1890s, the company manufactured 20,000 of the handheld watches. And records show that the first wristwatches from Schaffhausen went on sale as early as 1899. The company’s watchmakers housed the 64-calibre ladies’ pocket watch movement in a dainty case fitted with lugs for the strap. This was perhaps the beginning of watch collections for women.

Following the death of Rauschenbach-Schenk, Ernst Jakob Homberger took over IWC in 1905. From then on, IWC changed hands a few times and along with this, many new technical firsts were born. Some examples are:

  • The Special Pilot’s Watch was launched in 1936;
  • In 1944, Homberger appointed Albert Pellaton, a recognised authority on technical and production processes, as technical director at IWC. Pellaton was the driving force behind the development of the company’s first automatic movement;
  • In 1967, Hans Ernst took over and the Aquatimer made its debut.
The 1970s proved to be the most challenging time as gold prices soared, the Swiss franc was strong, and the emergence of low-priced quartz watches put the Swiss watch industry at a great disadvantage. In the 1980s, Günter Blümlein, a qualified engineer, joined the company and it was he who recognised the potential of high-quality mechanical movements and encouraged head watchmaker Kurt Klaus to develop a mechanical perpetual calendar. In 1985, the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar premiered in Basel.

Finally in 2000, IWC started a new chapter under Richemont, with the company going from strength to strength as new watches were launched or added to the existing watch families.

10 questions for the CEO
New CEO Christoph J Grainger-Herr spoke with representatives of the Singapore media. Excerpts from the interview follow:

As the new CEO, what are some of your priorities?
There are many priorities, but first, it is a fantastic time to be at the helm of IWC because IWC is one of the few watch brands that I believe has the potential to become one of the leading brands in the world. And there are some markets that have fantastic growth potential such as the US and China, and I do think we have the right brand, the right product and the right strategy. Now, we need to really invest in those markets strategically and make them IWC markets, especially since we relaunched the Pilot’s watches in 2016.

In terms of what we are doing, the movement development is key on the product side. So, we have started to introduce the 69-calibre chronograph movement, which is going to be the backbone of all our chronographs in the future.

Next, we plan to invest in global ­markets to build our position further.

Tell us more about the new manufacture.
It is exciting to see a concept coming alive and a special moment as the new manufacture becomes a home for the brand. It is going to show our clients very clearly who we are and what we are about. I think it sets the tone now for the next 100 years going forward.

Does having a new manufacture mean an increase in production?
Potentially, yes. The capacity is there and that’s why we did it. We have ambitious plans and if all goes according to plan, this will increase capacity quite a bit, more so on the movement manufacturing side. When you think about the Ingenieur, more and more chronographs will have the 69 calibre; that is quite a steep curve for in-house movement production and the new building is an essential part of that.

Do you plan to keep IWC’s in-house movements exclusive to the brand or share it with other brands in the group?
Leveraging on the R&D potential between the brands always makes sense. If you have a number of brands and good technical innovations invented by one brand, it does not make sense to keep them apart.

We have to make sure that the character of each brand stays individual to that brand, but we can leverage the power we have as a group in R&D to make sure that we have the best possible components in our movements. We are constantly exploring what can be shared and what makes sense.

Founder Florentine Ariosto Jones gave IWC this industrious spirit. How relevant is it today?
It is highly relevant because there is ­always fusion with the best in technology and the best craftsmanship. There are things in watchmaking that cannot be done better than by humans such as regulating a watch’s movement — this is a job for the master watchmaker — but there are other things that we can do such as developing technological solutions in-house.

When I think about the oiling of movements, we have actually developed machines that do that much more precisely than any human ever could. Our engineers are working out technological solutions to a problem, which give a superior quality to a product. This is not necessarily about scaling up manufacturing, but about making sure that you have craftsmen using their best skills and machines doing what they do best; that together has always been the spirit of IWC. Again, it is something we are very proud to show because many of these solutions were developed in-house and at the end of the day, the clients benefit from a better product.

What are some of the plans for the 150th anniversary next year?
In January, we will be introducing a major new campaign as well as a new ambassador. It is very exciting; we just shot the movie and I am very happy with it. We will also have a roadshow where we will bring the 150 years exhibition plus the Jubilee collection to selected locations around the world.

Can you comment on IWC’s success?
We enjoy doing the things that we do because, essentially, we are all boys with big dreams. We do the things we love and our clients love them too. It is a constant exchange on that front. When we go to our events and meet our customers, we understand what they are into. This is where the introductions come from. For example, at a racing event, someone said “Have you met the guys at Megatronic? Because they are really good at...”, and that’s how you meet other people. And then, these people are fascinated by watches, and we often find that people who like these sort of machines also like watches.

Also, very often, we have meetings to discuss a collaboration and after a few minutes, it becomes clear that we share the same design spirit. We have just entered a new design collaboration for 2019 and after meeting these guys for 10 minutes, it was clear that it was going to work. It was clear that we understood each other and the designers spoke the same language, shared the same values.

What is your vision for IWC?
My vision for this brand is to stay focused around the idea of “engineered for men” — values such as “timeless design meets functional watches” have a unique story around them. That has the potential to be relevant to a much wider section of the market than we have today.

I hope that this will be a big watch brand in the US and that all the key markets will continue to grow in Asia to make it into the top five.

Is the term ‘international’ still relevant today?
It always has been. We’ve always tried not to be focused on one thing or one region. There were times when brands were running after particular markets but we said we wanted to grow evenly across all regions, because if one region runs into trouble, you have other regions to rely on. I think the only way to become a relevant luxury brand globally is to have global versions of your brand.

It doesn’t mean that you have the same concept everywhere. It means that you have a recognisable brand DNA that you transport globally and that’s why, yes, international has always been important and will always be important for us.

Did you oversee the development of this collection?
When I took over, the Jubilee collection was well-advanced. We were at that stage of defining the details... sort of the last stretch.

Next year’s collection that you will see in 2019 is the first one that I developed from scratch with the design team.