IWC Schaffhausen Visit Day

17 Feb. 2017

A group of us visited IWC Schaffhausen on Friday afternoon 17 February and were met on arrival by Jutta Häller of Guest Relations and Hannes Pantli, an IWC Board Member well-known in the industry, who has been with the company for some 45 years.

Herr Pantli gave an overview of IWC’s history from its founding by the Boston watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones in 1868 to sell pocket watches to the US. Notable early events included the first digital watch (hours and minutes) in 1885 and the first wrist watch in 1899 which used the movement from a ladies’ pocket watch. The first Pilot’s Watch, still IWC’s best-known range, was produced in 1936, and later adopted by the Luftwaffe and the British Royal Air Force. The first Portugieser, also a mainstay today, was produced in 1939. Although IWC co-developed a quartz movement in the 1960s (the Beta-21 was large but accurate to 5 sec/month), this was a difficult time and IWC finally chose to continue making only mechanical watches and this remains the case today.

IWC ceased to be family-owned in 1977 when it was bought by the German VDO. A remarkable period of innovation followed with the development of various ‘complications’: watches with added features such as perpetual calendars and compasses. IWC also pioneered titanium and ceramic cases. IWC withdrew from making ladies’ watches at this time, something that has only changed in the last few months with the launch of new Da Vinci watches.

After the purchase by Richemont in 2000, IWC introduced 8-day mechanical and other new movements. Eventually all movements will be made in-house with additional manufacturing facilities in Nerishausen, north of Schaffhausen, opening later this year. At the same time, IWC has continuously introduced new models in each of its watch families, typically announcing new additions at the SIHH Show in Geneva each January.

Frau Häller then guided us through the IWC Museum. We saw examples of the early Jones calibers from the company’s founding, early examples of the Pilot’s and Portugieser watches from before WWII, tiny ladies’ watches from the 1970s and early Portofino watches from the 1980s which established the trend to wearing larger watches. We also saw two of the ledgers that record complete information on every watch made since the company’s founding.

We then visited the watch ateliers to view movement and complete watch assembly. Most are assembled in batches of 10 with each watchmaker performing around three operations. The most expensive watches, including the complications, are assembled by one watchmaker and can take up to one year to complete. Each purchaser of such a watch is invited by IWC to visit Schaffhausen to see their watch being assembled. The impression was given of people working with an exceptionally high level of physical dexterity and mental concentration.

Herr Pantli then rejoined us to answer our questions and to present the complete IWC product range, giving us the opportunity, however fleeting, to put an IWC watch on our wrist. The afternoon had been a fascinating insight into a very specialized technology and a culture of typically understated Swiss excellence. We had gained a special affinity with a very unusual company and a prestigious brand – and perhaps an aspiration – one day – to own an IWC watch!


Duane Hudgins