Watches + Jewellery

IWC: The High Flyer

How over 100 years of history has made IWC one of the world's most desired watch brands

Laura Mccreddie-Doak | 15.10.2019

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A decade or so ago, you probably wouldn’t be reading about IWC on Buro. Come to think of it, plastering ‘Engineered for men’ across every print ad in monochrome Impact Bold probably excluded the Swiss watchmaker from plenty of female-focused publications actually operating back then.

But credit where it’s due: true to IWC’s marketing nous, the boysiness was toned down long before #MeToo, its ‘midsize’ newbies sit comfortably in an inherently masculine catalogue (without a whiff of Bic For Her), and no one thinks twice of Karolina Kurkova or Cate Blanchett rocking up to the brand’s annual star-studded gala in Geneva.

PORTOFINO AUTOMATIC 34 £17,290 | PHOTO: CRISTA LEONARD

Ultimately, IWC has the sort of cachet most brands would splurge a lifetime’s marketing budget for. It is beloved of vintage aficionados because it created what collectors considered the finest military watch ever made: the Mark 11, issued to RAF pilots from 1948 through 1981 (as well as the Luftwaffe’s Big Pilot’s – Switzerland being neutral, remember). Thanks to IWC’s partnership with five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton and his F1 team, it has come to the attention of the young, thrusting and flash, without alienating the discerning modern gent. The diving watches are genuinely relied-on by marine conservationists with Cousteau DNA in their blood, but if you’d rather remain quayside, the his’n’hers Portofino has got your suntanned back, with effortless Riviera élan.

Right from when founder Florentine Ariosto Jones pitched up in Switzerland’s horological heartland, IWC has made a name for itself by tapping the zeitgeist. Aiming to combine progressive US production techniques (learnt during his tenure as factory superintendent at Boston’s E Howard & Co) with the renowned local skillset, Jones found everything he needed in Schaffhausen: a modern premises, torrents of hydropower from the Rhine and horological pedigree. Thus, just over 150 years ago, International Watch Company Schaffhausen was born, and after a few false starts, the horological icons were flowing.

The ensemble ‘Jubilee’ collection of 2018 wasn’t the only way the brand celebrated its century-and-a-half anniversary. Ribbon was cut on the fantastically named ‘Manufakturzentrum’ on the outskirts of Schaffhausen, £33 million in the making and 145,000 square feet’s worth of future intent.

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"IWC has made ITS name for tapping the zeitgeist. Aiming to combine progressive US production techniques with the renowned local skillset"

Florentine Ariosto Jones (1841-1916), a watchmaker from Boston, Massachusetts, founds the International Watch Company in Schaffhausen I COURTESY OF IWC

But it’s not all progress for the sake it. Still attending corporate events is IWC’s honourary, octogenarian genius at large, Kurt Klaus. Nowadays bearing closer resemblance to a kindly Gringotts cashier, back in Eighties he was responsible for several stoically traditional inventions during quartz technology’s devastating war on Switzerland in the Eighties.

Klaus’s most famous? A perpetual calendar module of 1985, mechanically programmed for 500 years, set via the winding crown only, rather than pushers, and the first to boast a four-digit year display.

It remains unbettered to this day and IWC in a nutshell: not so much engineered for men, as engineered for the future. A future with women, mind. Futuristic women! Who will get better at slogans. Hopefully.


Which watch to buy?

You can’t beat the sleek, pared-back Portofino, either in the classic design or this year’s new addition with its gorgeously glittering silver plate dial and diamond-set bezel.

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