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IWC 52000 Calibre Movement
Aesthetic appeal with a longer service life

In haute horlogerie, various components in the watch movement such as bridges, cocks, plates and cogs are painstakingly hand decorated special or given special surface treatments that add a touch more luxury.

IWC Big Pilot
Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar London Edition

Manufactured exclusively for the IWC London boutique, this Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar in stainless steel, limited to 38 pieces, is the star of the New Bond Street store.

Minute_Repeater_zoom.jpg
Turning time into chimes

The minute repeater also has its place in the Portugieser family

The Man’s Guide to
Haute Horlogerie

The development and continuous improvement of movements, functional displays and cases has been part of IWC’s philosophy since 1868. Complications such as the perpetual calendar, constant-force tourbillon and minute repeater are not only historically significant achievements in the art of watchmaking but also the fruit of the company’s in-house design and development efforts. With the video series “The Man’s Guide to Haute Horlogerie”, which consists of 7 episodes dedicated to iconic complications, IWC gives you an insight into the world of Haute Horlogerie made in Schaffhausen.

An Atelier on the Rhine

Haute Horologerie, or High Horology in English, literally means “high watchmaking”. In a sense, all fine watchmaking is “high” – producing a fine watch at IWC Schaffhausen requires finesse, skill and meticulous craft.

Pad Printing

Open the grey painted door with its tiny peephole in the industrial estate of Neuhausen near Schaffhausen and your ears immediately pick up on a measured, almost technostyle beat.* It hisses and clicks and rasps.

When a Complication is Grande

George Mallory, the famous British mountaineer who lost his life ascending Mt. Everest, was asked in 1924 why he would attempt that climb. His reply is among the most famous about mountaineering: “Because it's there”

Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium

The new IWC Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium is a top-quality time machine and a masterpiece of engineering at its finest built to appeal to men

Experiences

A beautiful way to show the passage of time

Text — Boris Schneider Date2015-02-12T11:06:06

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IWC Portofino Midsize Moon Phase
—Portofino Midsize Automatic Moon Phase - Ref. 4590

The dial is the star act in any mechanical watch, so it is vital that the design and finish satisfy the most exacting aesthetic demands. Its manufacture calls for all-round expertise in various techniques, such as embossing, polishing, decorating, electroplating and printing. At present, the IWC collection comprises over 100 dials, some of them extremely complex, all vying for the attention of watch devotees.

A cursory glance at the dial is all it takes to find out the time. Time displays are omnipresent today and go back all the way to the appearance of the first clocks with a gear train in around 1300. In a fine-quality wristwatch, however, the dial is much more than a background against which to display the time. It is also the face the watch shows to the world and needs to satisfy demanding aesthetic criteria. Its manufacture is complex and time-consuming: “Making a dial can involve over 100 separate steps and calls for a wide range of techniques from embossing, polishing and decorating to electroplating and printing,” explains Max Werdermann, the man in charge of dials and hands at IWC.

For most of IWC’s watch families, the dial starts out as a brass disc. One of the main advantages of this copper-based alloy is the relative ease with which it can be worked. For the Pilot’s Watches and the Ingenieur family, the metal chosen is iron. Here, the dial is also the upper part of the soft-iron cage that protects the movement from magnetic influences. During the first stage of the process, special forming tools exerting a force of several dozen tonnes stamp the discs with the subdials for the chronograph, calendar, power reserve display and small seconds. Decorative patterns may also be stamped into the dial.

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The materials are heat-treated to optimize their properties

Finally, the discs are tempered in an oven at around 800 degrees Celsius. After cooling, they are reheated to a temperature just below their melting point. The hardening/tempering cycle can be repeated up to 15 times in succession. “The reason for the thermal treatment is to find an ideal balance between hardness and ductility. We need to optimize the material’s properties for subsequent processing, so as to avoid cracks and fractures,” says Werdermann, summing up the procedure. When the process is complete, the disc is punched out its final diameter. At the same time, the hole in the centre and the date window are added. The blank can now be ground to its final thickness of around 0.5 millimetres and polished. This treatment leaves it with a reflective, mirror-like surface.

A brush with metal fibre bristles gives the dial its final polish.

Many dials have special decorations. After polishing, they are, therefore, treated, among other things, with a metal fibre brush. “Brossage”, as the process is known in French, is used to produce different types of finish. Sun pattern guilloche work, for instance, is recognized by the lines emanating from the centre point like rays of sunlight. It is found, among others, on the slate-grey dials in the Portofino family. And IWC tried its hand at circular graining on a dial for the first time with the Ingenieur Chronograph Silver Arrow. This scale-like form of polishing is otherwise used mainly as a decorative element on parts of the movement.

Ing_Chronograph_Silver_Arrow
—Ingenieur Chronograph Silberpfeil

Ref. 3785

"Brossage", as the process is known in French, is used to produce different types of finish.

—Portugieser Chronograph Classic Edition "Laureus Sport for Good Foundation"

Ref. 3904

The dial’s colour is the result of a dip in an electrolytic bath

Colouring the dial is probably the most complicated stage of the entire manufacturing process. The method used is mostly electroplating. In an electrolytic bath, the dials are coated with the metallic ion of a more precious metal. The disc is subject to several consecutive treatments. For example, a dial is first nickel-plated to protect it against corrosion before it receives its colour in a series of subsequent stages. The process has proved its worth primarily for silver- or gold-plating. Nickel-plating, however, is useful for creating a wide range of black or grey tones. “The final colour depends on many different factors, such as the temperature or age of the bath as well as the voltage,” explains Werdermann. Achieving consistent results calls for all-round expertise and many years of experience.

Some dials put in a stop in the vacuum chamber

But the suitability of electroplating for blue or brown tones is limited. For this reason, IWC decided to make use of physical vapour deposition (PVD). PVD is the ideal way to create extremely dense layers only fractions of a micrometre thick. To prepare the dials for the process, they are first electrolytically nickel- and gold-plated. After plating comes the PVD coating itself, during which the dials are placed in a vacuum chamber and bombarded with gaseous metal ions. The final colour depends, among other things, on the specific conditions of the process and the thickness of the coating. In the Portugieser Chronograph Classic Edition “Laureus Sport for Good Foundation”, the deep blue dial produced in this way provides a wonderful contrast to the gleaming stainless-steel case.

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IWC Portugieser Chronograph
—Portugieser Chronograph

Ref. 3714

Printed motifs are applied using an elastic pad.

The colour of the dial, of course, must not change as a result of contact with the air enclosed within the case. A transparent lacquer film is, therefore, applied to protect the surface against oxidation. This part of the process takes place in a clean room under conditions of constant temperature, humidity and pressure. Only then are the dials printed using the pad-printing process. With an elastic, silicon rubber pad – or tampon – the ink is transferred from the engraved recesses in the printing plate to the dial. Up to ten such plates – or clichés – are transferred to the dial one after the other. These include the IWC logo, the chapter ring and the numerals in the subdials, or the lettering reading “Automatic”.

Appliqués provide a third dimension

The final stage in the manufacturing processing comes with the positioning of the appliqués. The tiny markers or numerals give the dials an unmistakable sense of spatial depth. The appliqués are produced using a variety of complicated techniques, given their final shape using a diamond-tipped tool and finally polished to a mirror finish. Depending on the model, they may also receive a luminescent coating. They are positioned using tweezers in pre-drilled holes and riveted to the dial. Some watches also have a flange. This collar-like rim is either press-fitted to the case or riveted directly to the dial. In the Portugieser Chronograph, it has quarter-second markings and thus enables highly accurate readings of elapsed time.

Colouring the dial is probably the most complicated stage of the entire manufacturing process.

A wide range: from the simple to the highly complex

The current IWC collection comprises over 100 different dials. These run the entire gamut from the simple faces found on the Pilot’s Watches to extremely complicated displays. We frequently encounter dials on which the numerals are a different colour from the rest of the face. The blank first receives the basic colour and is then completely covered with a coat of protective varnish. The numerals are subsequently milled down to the brass, and the entire dial is electroplated once again.

“During the second electroplating process, the metal ions are deposited only on the exposed surfaces of the brass. The rest remains untouched,” explains Werdermann. The Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint Exupéry, for instance, has a brown dial, while the subdials are rhodium-plated at a later stage.

With the Portofino Midsize Collection, 2014 also saw the return of mother-of-pearl to IWC. It is obtained from the ground and polished shells of the pearl mussel. For these dials, too, the basic disc is made of brass. The surface has a 0.2-millimetre-thick coating of mother-of-pearl. Its patterns give the dials a striking, optical depth. The spectacular dial is made even more exclusive by the addition of diamonds. The precious stones are individually riveted to the dial in special settings known as “chatons”.

—Pilot's Watch Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Ref. 3878
Ingenieur Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month

Every time the date display advances, IWC’s quick-action switch siphons off a little energy and makes it available at the end of the month. At the end of the year, thanks to the three semi-transparent totalizers, the entire dial is set in motion. The perpetual calendar takes the 29th ...

For the specialists from Schaffhausen, nothing is too much trouble

IWC’s watchmakers are perfectionists. And they shun no effort to bring a gleam of pleasure to the eyes of discerning watch devotees. An example of their commitment can be found in the Ingenieur Constant-Force Tourbillon. In this timepiece, the surface of the moon is lasered into the tiny brass disc before it is PVD-coated with platinum. It is to this painstaking process that the lunar surface owes its realistically three-dimensional appearance.

The Ingenieur Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month has another sensational feature. Mineral glass discs that have been PVD-coated to give them their unusual smoky colour cover three of the subdials. They are complemented by luminescent appliqués and an unusually high number of printed details. “We often invest many months in the search for the perfect manufacturing process,” says Werdermann in summary. And it is these seemingly insuperable challenges that spur the specialists at IWC on to ever-greater achievements.

Explore More Articles
IWC 52000 Calibre Movement
Aesthetic appeal with a longer service life

In haute horlogerie, various components in the watch movement such as bridges, cocks, plates and cogs are painstakingly hand decorated special or given special surface treatments that add a touch more luxury.

IWC Big Pilot
Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar London Edition

Manufactured exclusively for the IWC London boutique, this Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar in stainless steel, limited to 38 pieces, is the star of the New Bond Street store.

Minute_Repeater_zoom.jpg
Turning time into chimes

The minute repeater also has its place in the Portugieser family

The Man’s Guide to
Haute Horlogerie

The development and continuous improvement of movements, functional displays and cases has been part of IWC’s philosophy since 1868. Complications such as the perpetual calendar, constant-force tourbillon and minute repeater are not only historically significant achievements in the art of watchmaking but also the fruit of the company’s in-house design and development efforts. With the video series “The Man’s Guide to Haute Horlogerie”, which consists of 7 episodes dedicated to iconic complications, IWC gives you an insight into the world of Haute Horlogerie made in Schaffhausen.

An Atelier on the Rhine

Haute Horologerie, or High Horology in English, literally means “high watchmaking”. In a sense, all fine watchmaking is “high” – producing a fine watch at IWC Schaffhausen requires finesse, skill and meticulous craft.

Pad Printing

Open the grey painted door with its tiny peephole in the industrial estate of Neuhausen near Schaffhausen and your ears immediately pick up on a measured, almost technostyle beat.* It hisses and clicks and rasps.

When a Complication is Grande

George Mallory, the famous British mountaineer who lost his life ascending Mt. Everest, was asked in 1924 why he would attempt that climb. His reply is among the most famous about mountaineering: “Because it's there”

Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium

The new IWC Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium is a top-quality time machine and a masterpiece of engineering at its finest built to appeal to men