— Why They Are Something Special
Schaffhausen is an island in Switzerland’s watchmaking industry, because the vast majority of the country’s manufacturers are based in the French-speaking part of the country. Since 1868, this unusual geographical location has fostered IWC’s philosophy. The manufacturer on the bank of the Rhine makes precision timepieces of lasting value, with a clear focus on technology and development. The company has made its name internationally through a passion for innovative solutions and technical inventiveness. As one of the world’s leading premium brands in the luxury watch segment, IWC creates masterpieces of haute horlogerie, which combine engineering and precision with exclusive design. The reputation of the brand from Schaffhausen is founded not least on the fact that its highly qualified employees master every step of the production process behind in-house movements and complications such as the minute repeater, the tourbillon and the perpetual calendar. For the designers and construction specialists at IWC, the claim to excellence, “Probus Scafusia” – “Craftsmanship made in Schaffhausen”, which was first formulated in 1903, is not only an enormous challenge; it is also their great passion.
IWC’s Philosophy is based on a passion for watchmaking, untiring enterprise and perfect craftsmanship
Every IWC watch is professionally finished by masters of their trade. For they are the individuals whose trained eyes, nimble fingers and precision instruments put together IWC watches from a collection of single parts: each a fascinating showpiece of meticulous workmanship, functionality and design; each an outstanding example of the art of watchmaking at its very best.
Whenever IWC starts developing a new model, one question needs to be asked. What, exactly, do the designers and construction specialists wish to achieve? Should the watch set new standards in complexity? Will its main strength be the power reserve, or perhaps its water-resistance? In an initial step, the first components are “modelled” using computeraided design. Here, IWC attaches enormous importance to integrating the work of construction and design with modern production technology. Working closely with the construction engineers, the watch designers play a crucial role in determining how best to harmonise form and function. The dial and the strap or bracelet, the positioning of the displays, the choice of materials and colours or the surface finish are always the logical outcome of constructive teamwork. Apart from the technological achievement and an attractive design, other, more emotional, aspects – such as the way the watch actually feels in the hand – also play an important role. Thus, the feel of the edge of the case, the way a push-button is activated or the sound of the crown as it engages are not left to chance. Often, the construction engineers and designers will take their inspiration from old drawings. Ultimately, it is respect for the watchmaking pioneers of the past that guarantees continuity at the Schaffhausenbased company.
It is respect for the watchmaking pioneers of the past that guarantees continuity
Thanks to a sophisticated development and quality management system backed by an exacting inspection and testing programme, IWC is able to guarantee quality of the highest order. The advanced scientific methods used include computer simulations
drawing on three-dimensional models, X-ray-based material analyses or tests designed to show how the watches behave under extreme practical, everyday conditions. The use of high-speed cameras and laser measuring instruments makes even the tiniest movements visible, while sophisticated software calculates exactly what stresses a part will tolerate.
Details such as wheels, shafts, tooth profiles or the dimensions of springs are examined for potential sources of error from the earliest phases of development. IWC calls this process failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA). The developers draw on experience from earlier projects, feedback from the market and suggestions about ways of making the watches more servicefriendly. The result is an IWC watch that will continue to run and can be repaired for many, many years.
Qualification is a term used to describe a programme of around 30 gruelling tests lasting several months which are designed for new watches at the prototype phase or later as part of the approval process for the pilot series. These tests simulate, in condensed form, just about everything that can happen to a watch, under normal and extreme conditions, during the course of its long life. Only when several prototypes have passed stringent testing and a pilot run has revealed no more problems is the company ready to go into series manufacture, thereby adding another fascinating chapter to the legend that is IWC.
During impact testing, the watch is exposed to various rates of acceleration. Normal acceleration, due to gravity, is 1 g = 9.81 m/s². If a force of 100 g is exerted on a watch with a case weighing 100 grammes, the watch’s components are subjected for a short time to forces equivalent to 10 kilogrammes. The Pilot’s Watches from IWC have even withstood forces of 30g for periods of several minutes in a centrifugal accelerator. In a pendulum impact tester, the watch is accelerated to 5,000g in split seconds, which simulates the effect of a free fall onto a hard wooden floor from a height of 1 metre. One of the most demanding tests of them all is the “chapuis extrême”: here, the watch is shaken around inside a small container for hours on end, subject to knocks and impacts from all sides – 140,000 at a simulated acceleration of 25g, 94,000 at an acceleration of 100g and 960 at an acceleration of 500 g.
For test purposes, some parts are manufactured as early as the design phase in order to check the minimum requirements for those components subjected to unusually high wear and tear. Take the Aquatimer’s rotating bezel, for instance, which undergoes a fatigue test equivalent to four dives per day, guaranteeing a minimum service life of 10 years. The rotating bezels in IWC’s diver’s watches also have to prove their reliability in dirty water. On the crown/push-button testing stand, chronograph push-buttons are operated 10,000 or even 20,000 times to assess their resistance to wear and tear.
In the climate test, the entire spectrum of thermal conditions a watch owner can be exposed to are systematically tested. Geographically speaking, this embraces everything from Alaska to the Sahara and the Brazilian rainforest. Watches are placed in a test chamber where, over a period of days and sometimes weeks, they have to withstand temperature changes from –20 to +70 degrees Celsius and up to 95 percent relative humidity. The next item on the agenda after this ordeal is long-term monitoring of the rate. This test makes use of an automatic multilevel microphone to check the regularity of the beat.
A two-week test in a saline bath at 37 degrees Celsius ensures that only materials that will not corrode in daily use or even aggressive salt water are selected. Dials are exposed to strong ultraviolet light for days on end and must not show any change in colour.
Scheduled tests carried out in the laboratory, of course, cannot successfully simulate every situation likely to be encountered in real life. Before IWC watches are launched, they are therefore given to individuals both inside and outside the company who wear them normally under everyday conditions. Effectively, and depending on the model in question, IWC watches are put through their paces when the wearer is chopping wood, diving, playing golf and mountain biking, or climbing at 3,000 metres.
In the course of the production of parts for movements, the various blanks are machined with the help of CNC milling machines. After surface machining, the acceptable tolerance for components, in general, is just +/–0.02 millimetres, but in certain cases this may be as low as +/–0.002 millimetres. After machining, the parts are finished by hand or proceed to an electric discharge machine. CNC wire electric discharge machines are used primarily for parts in the movement. The surface roughness can be controlled to a tolerance of 0.005 millimetres, but for precision EDM work, it is as low as 0.001 millimetres.
The assembly of a movement involves putting together the winding mechanism, train and escapement, as well as the subsequent “réglage”, or precision adjustment of the timepiece. Depending on the model in question, it can also involve the automatic winding and chronograph mechanisms as well as the calendar and hour counter. The most complex of these jobs is adjusting the escapement and aligning the balance spring so that it runs true and flat: this is a high-precision manual task that no machine could ever carry out even remotely to the same high-quality standards. Functions and precision adjustments are checked and corrected continuously at every stage of the assembly process. After this, highly skilled watchmakers in the complications department add on complications such as the perpetual calendar or split-seconds mechanism to the basic movement. In the special features department, the watch movements are fitted with tourbillons and minute repeaters from the bottom up: they pass through the preliminary assembly and assembly stages, all fine adjustments are made and they are fitted into the cases.
After the function controls, precision craftsmanship brings the surfaces up to IWC standard
In terms of the precision and effort involved, the manufacture of the case is in no way inferior to the other stages in production. For watches made of a precious metal, the case parts are manufactured from pre-formed blanks. Stainless-steel and titanium cases are made from bars, specially produced for IWC, which are machined on CNC lathe and milling machines to an accuracy of one-hundredth of a millimetre. Milling machines are used to cut the horns for the strap or bracelet and the apertures for the crown and push-buttons into the casing rings and to create the complex open surfaces, such as those on the cases of the Ingenieur watches. After the cutting process, the measurements are meticulously checked and the surfaces brought up to IWC standards with precision craftsmanship. The edges are deburred and rounded off, or faceted. All traces of lathing, milling and machining are removed, and the surfaces are finely ground and polished, satin-finished and blasted. Specialists now apply decorative surfaces such as circular graining to certain parts of the case, including places not visible from outside. Finally, a series of complex tests such as water-resistance and outward appearance completes the case production process.
In these departments, all processes are carried out by hand. Depending on the model in question, specialists mount the dials on the fully timed and regulated movement by hand or using special tools. The same applies to the hands, which need to be set at exactly the right height and grip the pivot onto which they are firmly mounted. With chronographs, the zero position of the hands must also be absolutely exact. The movement is secured in position either to a casing ring or directly to the case. If the movement is gripped by a casing ring, the latter is held in position by a wave spring in the case back. The winding stems are individually adjusted. A special adhesive secures crowns that are screwed onto the winding stem.
Over a period of 10 days, the automatic movements in self-winding watches are rotated continuously, while those with manual winding are fully wound every other day. Running-in gives the wheels and pinions a chance to adapt to each other perfectly, while the lubricant penetrates into all the right places.
The quality assurance process is brought to a close with extensive final inspections. A watch’s suitability for everyday use is tested one last time by fully winding the movement, measuring its accuracy, checking the functions and appearance, and confirming its resistance to air and water. The quality of any product that leaves the company on the Rhine is beyond all doubt. This seamless quality assurance process guarantees every future owner of an IWC watch that the company rigorously upholds its legendary quality standards.
Every watch from IWC already has a personality with characteristics of its own. Nevertheless, there are often customers who want more, and ask us to give their pocket or wristwatches a touch more individuality.
Thanks to modern engraving techniques, the range of options offered by IWC in this area is virtually unlimited. Practically any request for specific changes to customize a watch can be executed to perfection. “Engraving” comes from the French word “graver” and originally meant “to plough a furrow”. The carving of drawings, patterns, ornamentation or writing on wood, stone, ivory and metal creates attractive light and shade effects and is a means of immortalizing very personal ideas. In this way, miniature works of art, such as the engravings on the back cover of the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Expedition Jacques-Yves Cousteau” or the Ingenieur Chronograph Silberpfeil, have been created for posterity. An IWC watch may also be made unique by the addition of engraved initials, a date, a family crest, a company logo or a personal dedication: the essence of individuality.
The service department in Schaffhausen employs around fifty people who specialise exclusively in maintaining and repairing watches from all over the world and from every era since IWC’s foundation back in 1868. To ensure that no single detail is lost, IWC has maintained detailed records of every watch that has left the factory since 1885. IWC occasionally receives models going back as far as the first Jones calibre, and even experienced craftsmen are amazed by the achievements of watchmakers of an earlier age. Old pocket watches accurate to less than 3 seconds a day are no rarity.
At the heart of the repair department is the spare parts store. This accommodates millions of meticulously ordered individual components. Needless to say, original replacement parts for all the company’s recent models will also be available for years to come. As a rule of thumb, a quality mechanical watch needs a full service after about 4 to 5 years. The decisive factor is the stresses and strains to which the watch is exposed.
As a rule of thumb, a quality mechanical watch needs a full service after about 4 to 5 years
The serviced watch is subjected to a series of intensive final checks lasting five days
Whenever an IWC watch returns to Schaffhausen, it is treated with the greatest possible care. As part of every service, the watch is demagnetised and the movement completely dismantled. Worn parts, such as wheels, pinions, springs or bearings, are replaced. The movement is then cleaned, reassembled, lubricated and adjusted before being secured firmly in its case. All seals and, if necessary, the crown too are replaced. Finally, the serviced watch is subjected to a series of intensive final checks lasting five days. Only by going to these lengths can IWC guarantee that the watch will run accurately and remain waterresistant for years to come.
By observing a number of simple rules, any owner can help to give his IWC watch a longer effective service life. These include avoiding impacts, not operating any moving parts underwater (with the exception of diver’s watches) and only allowing a specialist to open the case.
The story of every IWC watch begins in the workshop, where passionate watchmakers dedicate long hours to perfecting every detail. To make sure that it never loses track of a single watch, IWC began keeping records about them in 1885. All information is noted, including sale date, calibre, material and case numbers or reference numbers for newer models. Heirs and subsequent buyers have the option of obtaining precise information about their IWC watch for a fee, thus confirming its authenticity. This and further information is provided in the form of a certificate.
For a certificate to be issued, the watch must be taken to an IWC boutique or authorized retailer. In our workshop in Schaffhausen, the IWC timepiece is then subjected to careful, detailed testing by an experienced watchmaker.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide information about the collector’s value of specific models, because this depends on factors such as supply and demand as well as the condition of the movement and case.
In the event of a worst-case scenario involving loss or theft, it is advisable to report the incident in writing to the police and IWC. The case number, or the reference number for a newer model, in question is then entered in a special register, which ensures the watch is recognized if it is taken to an IWC service centre. This registration process has so far allowed many missing watches to be reunited with their rightful owners.
Heirs or subsequent buyers can obtain precise information about their watches and the authorised retailer who purchased them