IWC Schaffhausen is ready to enter a new era in the women’s watch segment, with its latest Da Vinci collection leading the way.

Most luxury watch maisons have produced watches for women, as evident in the many fine timepieces kept in the museums of the respective manufacturers. Over the years, however, women’s watches have either been put on the backburner or launched only because women wanted timepieces that matched the men’s.

In 2014, IWC Schaffhausen turned the spotlight back on women’s watches when it unveiled the Portofino Midsize watches at Watches&Wonders — a four-day event organised by the Fine Watchmaking Foundation exhibiting committee of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva.

The history of women’s watches by IWC can be traced back to the 1870s — it is clearly a long-standing tradition for this Swiss watch manufacturer, which crafts masterpieces by combining precision with design. Fine examples are the Portofino Midsize timepieces, which are loved by watch connoisseurs who prefer a slightly smaller and more luxurious timepiece.

Recently, a group of journalists were invited to Hong Kong to witness another milestone in the history of IWC. At the Ritz-Carlton hotel, we were given a preview of what IWC would be launching ahead of next year’s SIHH in Geneva, to be held from Jan 16 to 20. IWC unveiled the 2017 Da Vinci collection for women, presented in the classic round case. The Da Vinci Automatic 36 and the Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36 are for women whereas the Da Vinci Automatic is for both men and women.

The new Da Vinci line has all the makings of timepieces that will appeal to women. Aesthetically, the new Da Vinci references have a case diameter of 36mm. Engraved on the case back is a symbol known as the “Codex Atlanticus”, which comprises overlapping circles with an identical radius, with the centre of each circle located at the point where two other circles intersect. The design was created by Leonardo Da Vinci, hence the name of the collection.

Since the 1970s, the version of the geometrical figure consisting of 19 circles has been referred to as the “Flower of Life”. As far as IWC is concerned, the Flower of Life is a metaphor for the marriage of creativity, technology and beauty and the inspiration for IWC’s designers who worked on selected Da Vinci models.

The Da Vinci women
Speaking about the evolution of its women’s watches, Georges Kern, CEO of IWC, recalls that IWC was “ready” when the Porto fino Midsize was launched. “Everything is a question of maturity: when you feel you’re ready to make the next strategic step. We now feel that we are ready to enter a new [female] segment, which makes up 60% of the market,” he said at a roundtable interview with journalists from Asia.

After the successful launch of the Portofino in 2014, Kern decided to develop the female segment further. Choosing the Da Vinci collection was natural because he wanted a dress watch; the Portofino Midsize was considered an everyday watch.

He adds, “Now, we have a dressier offer with the Da Vinci and it complements the Portofino and Pilot lines. There will be a fourth female line in the future so that we will cover all elements — elegance, dressy, sporty. That is a major step towards having a full offer in ladies watches.” To Kern, coming up with a new women’s collection involves more than slapping colourful straps onto the men’s collection and passing them off as a women’s line. For starters, the Da Vinci is a very recognisable watch.

“We had a very good base to start with. [IWC creative director] Christian Knoop did a brilliant job in modernising and bringing it up-to-date. The design is great because it is recognisable — it’s typical of a Da Vinci; it’s typical of an IWC watch. When you can see it from far and immediately know that’s an IWC watch, then I think we had a very good base to start with.”

Who, then, is the IWC woman? “She is a confident, strong, independent woman who does not want to be stereotyped,” replies Kern. As he sees it, a person buys a brand first before a product. “People need to identify with a brand and its image and values before buying a product, and these are the values we want to convey to attract these types of women.

“One line is not enough; you don’t have a big enough impact to be relevant in the women’s market. So, you need to add an offer to make an impact. This is an offer of a very male-oriented female brand — this is the emotion we want to create for an independent strong woman. I’d like a woman to think, ‘I have a brand I like, and now I have the product that fits to that brand and that fits me.’” If things go as successfully as it did for IWC in its launch of women’s watches, we certainly hope to have a wider range for women to choose from.

DESIGNING FOR WOMEN

IWC’s Da Vinci collection is successful today because of the brand’s rich past of crafting watches for women. Here are fine examples from the Swiss watchmaker’s archives.

Savonnette Lady’s pocket watch (1909)
Calibre 64 · No official reference — historical timepiece, 18 ct rosé gold with diamonds. Hand-wound.

When the Rauschenbach family took over the International Watch Co in 1880, small ladies’ movements immediately became firm favourites in the production line-up. From around 1900, women were wearing their watches as brooches or pendants hung around the neck. IWC’s catalogues offer a variety of cases, designed to delight its clientele. The cases were lavishly embellished: Some featured painstakingly executed patterns or Art Nouveau ornaments, often studded with diamonds or other precious gems.

Da Vinci Lady Chronograph (2000)
Calibre Q 630.1. Ref 3736. Steelcase

In 1988, IWC launched the Da Vinci — Lady Chronograph, Ref 3735. A semi-mechanical Cal 630 chronograph movement and a date and moon-phase display had accompanied the Da Vinci collection since its inception. It was available in gold and stainless steel versions, with or without diamonds. The Da Vinci Lady Chronograph became one of IWC’s most successful watches for women.

Da Vinci Line SL (1977)
Calibre 412. Ref 4184. First manufactured in 1977. Steelcase. Hand-wound.

In 1976, IWC launched the SL collection. The objective was to create a collection of luxury timepieces in stainless steel. Inspired by the first “tonneau”-shaped Da Vinci, IWC also launched two watches in this series, called the “Da Vinci Line”. With its 25.5mm x 20.8mm diameter case, the Ref 4184 from the Da Vinci Line SL was made for women and launched in 1977.

Lady’s Wristwatch (1958)
Calibre 431. Ref 9753. First manufactured in 1958. 18ct yellow gold with diamonds. Handwound.

The company’s smallest-ever ladies’ watch movement, the 431 calibre, was unveiled in 1954. The oval movement measured precisely 11.3mm by 15.25mm. About 48,000 were produced between 1954 and 1971.

Lady’s wristwatch (1976)
Calibre 185. Ref 7400. First manufactured in 1976. 18ct white gold with 36 diamonds. Handwound.

In the 1970s, IWC had a wide jewellery watch range and at least a third of its watches were sold to women. From 1970 to 1977, only 69 pieces of the Ref 7400 were made.

INSPIRED AND DESIRED
Christian Knoop, creative director of IWC Schaffhausen, says the design for the new Da Vinci collection is a modern interpretation of the round shape established in the 1980s and is in keeping with IWC’s overall portfolio. “For example, we took our cue from the twin-frame bezel with its peripheral groove, but made it slightly narrower and a little less pronounced. We also adopted the large Arabic numerals from the round Da Vinci, together with the slim, lancet-shaped hands,” he says.

Here is a look at the preview pieces:

The Da Vinci Automatic 36
The Da Vinci Automatic 36 (Ref IW458307/IW458308/ IW458310/IW458312) and the Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36 (Ref IW459306/IW459307/ IW459308) are not only smaller and slimmer, but also have a more feminine design. They have rounded crowns and a recessed inner circle on the dial, as previously found in the Portofino 37mm collection.

Gold cases, diamond-set bezels and alligator leather straps by Santoni in raspberry, bronze, dark brown and dark blue —specially developed for IWC — underscore the watches’ aesthetic appeal. To achieve the nuanced gradations of colour on the strap, the surface of the leather is polished with a variety of pastes until it has the desired shading and a perfect sheen. As a result, every strap has an exclusive patina-like shimmer with its own nuances of colour.

The moon phase display, which has been part of the Da Vinci family since 1985, is now the visual centre of the silver-plated dial in the Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36. The gold- or silver-coloured moon moves clockwise against the dark-blue night sky.

The so-called “Flower of Life” is engraved on the case backs of all Da Vinci Automatic 36 and Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36 models. This geometrical figure features several regularly overlapping circles and was the object of intensive study and numerous drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. It represents his unflagging search for mathematical rules for beauty and proportion, and symbolises the new design approach of the watch collection.

The Da Vinci Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph
The name of the Da Vinci Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph (Ref IW393101) in 18-carat red gold reflects its unique status: an unusual combination of a classic tour billon with a retrograde date and a sporty chronograph on a single dial. The further-developed 89360 chronograph calibre, the new IWC-manufactured 89900 calibre, permits a down-to-the-second setting of what is known as the “hacking tourbillon” via a newly designed system of levers. The result is a technically sophisticated and optically balanced complication with a clear, uncluttered design.

The wearer reads stopped hours and minutes from a totaliser at the top of the dial while a central seconds hand shows elapsed seconds. The flying tourbillon is positioned below at six o’clock and on the left-hand side; the gently curved arc of the retrograde date display almost visually connects one complication with the other. Apart from this, the pallet lever and escape wheel were manufactured with the use of diamond shell technology, where vapour deposition reduces frictional.

This article appeared in the Options of Issue 758 (Dec 12) of The Edge Singapore.