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In Touch with the times

Time is precious. And fleeting. The International Watch Company (IWC) in Schaffhausen expresses the passing of time in a particularly elegant way: For more than 150 years, the Swiss watch manufacturer has been committed to producing high-precision timepieces of lasting value.

By Ruth Eberhardt
Photos: IWC Schaffhausen and
Adrian Bretscher/Getty Images for IWC

The history of IWC begins at the time of the Industrial Revolution, which was associated with profound changes in economic, technical and social conditions. The American watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones recognized the signs of his time and had a clear goal in mind: He wanted to produce pocket watches of the highest quality for the American market. With a pioneering spirit, he founded the International Watch Company in 1868 in the northernmost city of Switzerland: Schaffhausen on the High Rhine. Jones had chosen this location near Lake Constance prudently: In Schaffhausen he was able to use both the hydroelectric power of the Rhine and the potential of skilled workers. Here he was able to combine Swiss craftsmanship and centuries-old watchmaking tradition with modern American production technology.

Historical insights: Right from the beginning, IWC Schaffhausen combined traditional craftsmanship with state-of-the-art production technology.

From the High Rhine to all over the world
Within a short period of time, Jones created a highly industrialized production infrastructure in Schaffhausen for the manufacture of more than 10,000 movements per year. At first, he rented workshop space. Later, in the years 1874/75, a new IWC plant was built on the Rhine in which the company’s head office is still located today. However, in 1875 Jones felt compelled to return to America because he could not meet the high expectations of his shareholders. His legacy was initially continued by the American watch manager Frederick Francis Seeland. In 1880, the Rauschenbach family of industrialists from Schaffhausen bought the entire company, which was managed by family members for decades. In 1978, IWC was taken over by the German company VDO Adolf Schindling AG.

Representative: The new manufacturing centre on the outskirts of Schaffhausen reflects IWC’s high standards.

Part of a large corporation
A new era began at the turn of the millennium: the Richemont Group took over IWC. “Being part of one of the most successful luxury goods groups in the world has made it possible for IWC to be as successful and global as it is now,” says Henrik Ekdahl, Managing Director Northern & Eastern Europe. “The Group supports and provides IWC with the financial and human resources to focus on what we do best: developing and marketing fascinating watches.”

Welcome to the reception area of the IWC Manufacturing Centre

Six watch families
The fascination of these watches is based on technical precision, a clear design and a strong brand awareness. The watches in the “Portugieser” collection reflect classic elegance. The “Pilot’s Watches”, with their cockpit-instrument look, have become the model for classic pilot’s watches. The “Portofino” watches, on the other hand, stand for understatement and for the lightness of the Mediterranean way of life. The “Da Vinci” collection is characterised by its extravagant design. Robustness, sportiness and technical fascination characterize the “Ingenieur” family. The “Aquatimer” collection includes professional diving watches. And finally, last year the company celebrated its 150th anniversary with an anniversary edition of 29 models.

Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen

Manufacturing centre as a milestone
In IWC’s anniversary year, a new manufacturing centre with an area of 13,500 square metres opened its doors. “Not only does the building offer optimum conditions for production and excellent working conditions for our employees – it also embodies the spirit of the IWC brand and enables visitors from all over the world to experience the production of our movements and cases up close,” stated Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen since spring 2017, at the time of the centre’s opening. Of course, time does not stand still, even after a 150th birthday. In 2019, IWC will dedicate itself to its pilot watches. According to the company, the new products include a new Spitfire line, a new Top Gun line and “Le Petit Prince” special editions.

Watches especially for men
Within the six collections, such as in the Da Vinci and Portofino lines, ladies’ watches are now also available. Nevertheless, IWC mainly addresses a male clientele. “The close relationship with the male customer dates back to the history of the IWC Schaffhausen brand,” explains Henrik Ekdahl, Managing Director Northern and Eastern Europe. For example, IWC had already produced special watches for pilots in 1936. In 1939, wristwatches with the accuracy of ship chronometers were in demand, which marked the creation of the “Portuguese”. “Not only has the technology and the art  of engineering been constantly refined over the years, but the clientele has also been further strengthened.

Dynamism and continuity
Thus, IWC cultivates the tradition of its watch families and, at the same time, continues to further develop them. Today, the Schaffhausen-based watch manufacturer confidently describes itself as “one of the world’s leading brands in the luxury watch segment”. IWC’s marketing experts do not publish key data on the company, but are happy to describe IWC’s success on the IWC website as a “passion for innovative solutions and technical inventiveness”. Henrik Ekdahl also mentions other success factors, “IWC draws a lot of inspiration from the past: the brand positioning, the inner and outer values of our watches as well as the brand worlds with which we surround our product lines. We have a strong and distinct brand identity to which we always remain true. At the same time, we are dynamic and progressive, for example in communication or the research and use of new materials and movements. We succeed in maintaining continuity and recognition, although both we and the world in which we operate are constantly changing. We never lose sight of our overriding goal – to produce timepieces of the highest quality for lovers of mechanical watches. “

Further information: www.iwc.com