IWC (aka International Watch Company)
IWC (aka International Watch Company) (Est. 1868 – ) The genesis for the establishment of IWC aka IWC Schaffhausen began in the United States. It was born of the need for a reliable clock to use in the rapidly growing railroad industry.
In 1868, American engineer and watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones (1841–1916) was a former director of Boston’s E. Howard & Co. at the time, America’s leading watchmaking company. Jones founded the International Watch Company with the intent of combining Swiss watchmaking craftsmanship with modern, US engineering technology to make movements and watch parts for the American market.
In 1850, the town of Schaffhausen was losing ground to the advances of the Industrial Age. Watch manufacturer and industrialist Johann Heinrich Moser sought to remedy this situation for the town and the region. As a pioneer of hydropower, he built Schaffhausen’s first hydroelectric plant and laid the foundation for future industrialization.
Historians suggest that Moser probably met Florentine Jones in Le Locle, Switzerland and showed great interest in Jones’ ideas. Together, they set in motion the creation of the only watch manufacturing plant in north-eastern Switzerland.
Jones established the IWC factory on the Rhine – situated far from the watchmaking centers of West Switzerland – and was able to utilize Moser’s newly built hydroelectric power station to help construct perfect mechanical movements for an international market.
Jones also found watchmakers who were part of Schaffhausen’s long-standing horological tradition. The watchmaker’s trade already existed in Schaffhausen as the town’s watchmaking expertise dated to 1409 when a monk from a neighboring monastery in Rheinau built the clock of St. Johann’s Church.
In 1869, Jones rented his first factory location in an industrial building owned by Moser at the Rheinstrasse. Soon thereafter, Jones rented additional rooms in the Oberhaus, one of the oldest buildings in Schaffhausen. By 1874 plans were already in place for a new and upgraded factory.
The new site was purchased from Moser’s hydroelectric company which was directly adjacent to the banks of the Rhine and called the Baumgarten. Schaffhausen architect G. Meyer won the right to design and build the factory. A year later, in the spring of 1875, construction work was completed. At first, 196 people worked in the factory which could accommodate up to 300 workplaces.
Many of the unmistakable originals of chronometry are the specialty of the watch factory in Schaffhausen. The famous Da Vinci with its perpetual calendar is an example.
Creations produced in the factory also include the first Grande Complication for the wrist, diver’s watches capable of withstanding water pressure to a depth of 2000 meters, and the only diver watches with a mechanical depth gauge.
Also from IWC came professional Pilot’s watches as well as exquisite pocket watches that have been built at IWC since 1868, the year of the company’s founding.
Chronometry originals appeared soon after IWC was established. For example in 1885 the Pallweber system pocket watch with its digital display was produced. IWC manufactured this first digital display watch based on a patent granted to the watch’s, namesake, an Austrian named Pallweber. It was a simple design, but despite being unique at the time, it was unable to replace the traditional analog displays. Today, the first models are sought-after items by collectors.
At the end of the 19th century, IWC was one of the first watch manufacturers to recognize the potential of the wristwatch and developed entirely new movements for it. It also continued to build original pocket watch movements into wristwatches. In the 1930’s, the market demanded large, extremely accurate wristwatches. This began IWC’s Portuguese line that became a trendsetting wristwatch with its king-size format.
IWC watch styles are uniquely individual and very different from other Swiss watches. From the outset, an IWC watch was, unashamedly, a watch designed for men.
There are no models with bright dial plates and gems in an IWC collections. The main features of an IWC watch are the large case size and the unpretentious color of its dial. Of course, the main attraction of Swiss watches is the movement and so the design comes second in order to accentuate the functions of the movements to make using the watch more convenient.
Technician Johann Vogel, whose roots were in Wangen an der Aare in Solothurn also played an important role as the company’s technical director. He designed and developed IWC calibers until 1919.
Johann Rauschenbach-Vogel, a machine manufacturer from Schaffhausen, took over the IWC factory in 1880. From that point, four generations of the Rauschenbach family owned IWC and given it revised names. Only a year after the sale, Johannes Rauschenbach died. His son, Johannes Rauschenbach-Schenk, who was 25 years old at the time, took over and ran the company successfully until his own death in 1905.
Another significant contributor to the company’s success was Urs Haenggi who was from Nunningen in the Swiss canton of Solothurn. He learned the watch business in France and French-speaking Switzerland.
In 1883, he joined IWC and stayed with the company for 52 years. He was responsible for getting factory operations up and running smoothly and acquiring new customers. He was also responsible for preventing off outside interests seeking to acquire IWC.
After the death of Rauschenbach-Schenk in 1905, his wife, two daughters and their husbands, Ernst Jakob Homberger and Dr. Carl Jung, the noted psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, took over the watch factory as an open trading company.
Homberger had considerable influence on the Schaffhausen watchmaking company’s affairs and guided it through a turbulent time in European history. Just before the world economic crisis in 1929, he took over as sole proprietor and renamed the company Uhrenfabrik von Ernst Homberger-Rauschenbach, instead of International Watch Co. He died in 1955, at age 85.
Hans Ernst Homberger was the third and last of the Rauschenbach heirs to run the factory as a sole proprietor. He had joined the company in 1934 and took control after his fathers’ death in 1955.
In 1957, he added a new wing to the factory and in the same year set up a modern pension fund for the staff. He bought updated machines to meet new demands and continuously brought his production technology up to what were considered the very latest standards. He died in 1986 at the age of 77.
For a long time the company concealed the fact that, before and during World War II, the factory produced IWC watches for German pilots. IWC was one of the first to create special watches for pilots. The first aviator watch appeared in 1936 and was named, Mark 9.
In 1940, IWC made the famous Big Pilots Watch. In 2006, IWC introduced a new issue of this watch collection with a modern design for the dial.
On April 1, 1944, in an Allied mistake, Schaffhausen was bombed by the United States Army Air Force. The watch factory was hit by a bomb which failed to detonate after crashing through the roof. However, the flames from incendiaries exploding nearby penetrated the building through the broken windows. Fortunately, they were extinguished by the company’s fire brigade.
After World War II, IWC was forced to change focus. All of Eastern Europe had fallen under Russian control and Germany’s economy was in shambles. Yet, old contacts and connections with other European countries, the Americas as well as Australia and the Far East were revived, intensified and/or established and iWC re-grouped.
As the 20th Century reached its mid-point, IWC introduced the famed, Caliber 89 movement. This mechanically wound movement powered IWC models from the 1940s until the early 1990s. It gained a reputation for exceptional accuracy and longevity. Many of the early models are still fully functional.
During the turbulent 1970s and 80s, the Swiss watchmaking industry went through a phase of far-reaching technological change. Following in the wake of the use of miniaturized electric batteries as a source of energy for wristwatches and – contrary to the electronic spirit of the time – the company emphasized mechanical watches, innovation, and technically exacting men’s watches.
This emphasis on craft perfection, training its specialists, and renouncing mass-market production were all in keeping with old-established principles of IWC: To make watches for small numbers of people, but of the highest quality.
The extraordinary rise in gold prices in 1974 had serious consequences for the Swiss watch exporting industry. Between 1970 and 1974 the price of gold rose from 4850 Swiss Francs to 18,000 and the value of the dollar against the Swiss currency plummeted by up to 40%. As a result, the price of watch exports rose by as much as 250%. At the same time Japan was flooding the market with cheap quartz watches.
A change of direction led to measures that insured IWC’s survival. IWC, now under the leadership of Director and CEO Otto Heller, built up a line of high-quality pocket watches, and, apart from setting up its own modern wristwatch and case manufacturing facilities, began working closely with Ferdinand A. Porsche as an external designer. In addition, IWC pioneered new watchmaking technologies, notably the first titanium bracelets, developed in 1978.
Around the same time, the company expanded its collection of jeweler watches to include ladies watches with mechanical movements. The year 1973 was IWC’s most successful of the post-war period.
In 2000, the Richemont Group purchased IWC and the Caliber 5000 was released and used in the Portuguese Chronograph Automatic. The caliber was supplied by the winding up movement made by the Pellaton plant and provided 204 hours of running time.
The IWC Da Vinci was also updated and re-branded. The case was enlarged and made of rose gold with Arabic numbers placed on the dial.
In 2005, a partnership with automobile maker Mercedes AMG led to the creation of a new IWC model, the Ingenieur Automatic AMG. A new automatic caliber 80110 with Pellaton winding movement was created especially for it. The case, made of titanium was released and became popular at the beginning of 1980s. The watch’s introduction marked the return of the Ingenieur watch collection to the market of high-class sport watches.
Notable IWC watch models have included the IWC Aquatimer, IWC Ingenieur, IWC Portuguese, IWC Da Vinci, IWC Portofino, and IWC Pilot’s Watches. The IWC Portuguese watch, IWC Pilot watch, IWC Big Pilot watch, and IWC Aquatimer Watch, are also sometimes available as IWC watch replicas or vintage IWC watches.
Fans discuss IWC models and share feedback with thousands of others on the official IWC forum. IWC men’s and women’s watches remain popular with collectors. In the last couple of years, fans have argued about IWC’s current direction. Some applaud the new styles while traditionalists claim the company has lost its way.
That hasn’t prevented the company from staking out territory in new areas. A relatively recent model is the Pilot Watch’s Timezoner Chronograph. It made IWC the only watch manufacturer to offer a world time model that shows the new time zone, that includes the time and date, through a simple twist. At the same time, the black-and-red 24-hour hand on the inner 24-hour ring shows whether it is night or day.
To create this mechanism IWC’s engineers brought together three technologies: first, the city ring found on the Pilot’s Watch Worldtimer, on which the name of each city stands for one of the international time zones. Next, the spring-mounted rotating ring, first used in the Porsche Design Ocean 2000 from the 1980s. Third, there is the external/internal rotating bezel taken from the Aquatimer generation. It transmits the movement via a differential gear to the hour wheel, 24-hour hand and date advance wheel.
The 24 cities shown on the rotating ring also identify the countries with daylight saving time on the rotating bezel by a small “s”. The red “UTC” inscription below “London” represents the current coordinated world time.
In January 2016, at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) watch show in Geneva, IWC celebrated the launch of its new Pilot’s Watches collection. Walking the red carpet at the event were many well-known IWC brand ambassadors and celebrities including Hilary Swank and Christoph Waltz, Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire, American actor and son of Clint Eastwood, Scott Eastwood, “Captain America” actor Chris Evans, and many stars from the world of sport, among them Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton and his teammate Nico Rosberg. Also honoring IWC with their presence were two supermodels and IWC brand ambassadors, Adriana Lima and Karolína Kurková.
“Many of us have shared a fascination for aircraft and flying since our childhood years,” said Georges Kern, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen. “IWC’s Pilot’s Watches bring this passion to people’s wrists and are popular with watch devotees all over the world,”
The new Pilot’s Watch line ranges from the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch offered in both 48 and 55 mm sizes to a new Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII and the brand-new Pilot’s Watch Automatic in a 36 mm size – perfect for both the feminine wrist and for men who may like watches that eschew the latest trend in horology which does not label watches as “men’s” or “ladies,” but rather just provides the sizing specifications.
At the introduction, Kern also said, “In 2016, we’re widening our range to include smaller Pilot’s Watches in the entry-level segment without neglecting our traditional heritage [while] at the same time, we’re producing the sizeable and authentic Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch,[which is] an observer’s watch … strongly reminiscent of the Big Pilot’s Watch of 1940.”
IWC Pilot’s Watches, with their characteristic dial design and technical highlights such as a soft-iron cage to protect the movement against magnetic fields, have held a firm place in the company’s collections for more than 80 years.
Perhaps the most popular and well known series from IWC are the Portuguese watches that include the Portuguese Regulator, the Portuguese Perpetual Calendar, the Portuguese Perpetual Calendar II, the Portuguese Automatic, the Portuguese Automatic Chronograph, the Portuguese Minute Repeater, the F.A Jones Limited Edition, and the Portuguese Tourbillon Mystère, with its seven-day power reserve.
Pilot watches are also extremely popular and are led by the Big Pilot’s Watch with its oversized case and impressive seven-day power reserve. This watch is followed by the Spitfire Mark XVI, the Spitfire Automatic Chronograph, the Spitfire UTC, the Classic Mark XVI, the Classic Automatic Chronograph, and the Classic Double (sometimes referred to as Dopple) Chronograph.
IWC watches are spread across six collections: Portugieser, Aquatimer, Portofino, Ingenieur, Da Vinci, and Pilot’s. Each collection represents a different theme that reflect the best of the IWC universe including its partnerships, events, exclusive brand experiences, and other unique projects.
The company began keeping detailed records for every watch that has left the factory since 1885. Since 1885, details of the caliber, materials used and cases have been entered into the records. With the later models, the information also includes the reference number, delivery date and name of the authorized dealer. For a small fee, owners can obtain precise information about their watch, as long as the watch is at least ten years old.
When looking for IWC watches experts remind collectors of potential dangers. Fake IWC and replica IWC watches are hard to identify online. They suggest referring to reputable dealers and recognized online resources.
The special position of IWC is rooted not only in history, but also in geography. To this day, it remains the only watch factory in East Switzerland and follows a longstanding history in the manufacture of mechanical watches as both commitment and a passion.