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Experiences

A seedbed of innovation

Text — Boris Schneider Date2017-01-02T08:18:44

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For almost 50 years now, the Da Vinci has stood for innovation in fine watchmaking and, more than any other watch family, embodies the inventiveness and ingenuity of IWC’s engineers. Milestones include the first wristwatch with a quartz movement made in Switzerland, the legendary perpetual calendar designed by Kurt Klaus, the world’s first watchcase in black ceramic and Schaffhausen’s first in-house chronograph.

Like so many other stories at IWC, that of the Da Vinci begins with a premiere. The first wristwatch to feature the Swiss “Beta 21” quartz movement, Reference 3501, was launched in 1969, and the Schaffhausen-based manufacturer played a significant role in its development. The new model was housed in an eye-catching, hexagonal gold case. “This pioneering achievement marked the birth of a watch family that combines the resourcefulness and inventive spirit of IWC’s engineers with a finely developed aesthetic sensibility like no other,” is how David Seyffer, curator of the IWC Museum, neatly summarizes it.

The inspiration for the name of the new watch family was supplied by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. No other single individual embodies the symbiosis of beauty and technology quite so perfectly as the man who was probably the greatest painter, sculptor, architect and engineer of the Renaissance.

IW3501_thumbnail_972x426
—The first Da Vinci was manufactured in 1969 and unveiled at the Basel Watch Show in 1970.

Half an eternity designed for the wrist

Indeed, the quest for invention and improvisation runs like a thread through the story of the Da Vinci. Perhaps the most significant event was the launch of the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar (Ref. 3750) in 1985: “At the height of the quartz crisis, IWC’s then head watchmaker, Kurt Klaus hit on the bold idea of developing a mechanical perpetual calendar,” explains Seyffer. In the course of long walks with his dogs, he mentally sketched out a new kind of calendar module that would comprise just 81 individual parts and function autonomously, with virtually no correction, until 2499.

In terms of user-friendliness, Kurt Klaus’s design set a genuinely new benchmark. The displays for the date, day, month, moon phase and year are perfectly synchronized with each other, which means that even if the watch has not been worn for some time, they can all be advanced together via the crown. A four-digit year display and a moon phase display requiring only a one-day adjustment after 122 years had never before been seen in this form. The launch of the perpetual calendar at the 1985 Watch Show in Basel did not go off entirely without a hitch. Kurt Klaus finished a functioning prototype at literally the very last minute and managed to get it to Basel just in time for the presentation.

IWC da vinci White Ceramic IW375505 stylish watches
—The perpetual calendar by Kurt Klaus paved the way for the Schaffhausen-based manufacturer to the pinnacle of haute horlogerie.

The perpetual calendar by Kurt Klaus set new standards in terms of simplicity and efficiency. It also ensured IWC's place at the pinnacle of haute horlogerie.

IWC Da Vinci Black Ceramic IW375501 vintage watches
—The world's first wristwatch case made of black ceramic was also launched as part of the Da Vinci family.

A light, scratch-resistant ceramic case

Only a year later, with the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar (Ref. 3755), IWC presented the world’s first wristwatch in a case made of a scratch-resistant and non-wearing ceramic, black zirconium oxide. The production of a watchcase made of this high-tech material, which is also used in space travel, represented a master stroke of technology and engineering. “Ceramic shrinks by around a third during the sintering process. For the movement to fit precisely into the case and to maintain tolerances of thousandths of a millimetre, this loss in volume has to be factored into the design phase,” is how Seyffer describes one of the many challenges.

The first IWC-manufactured chronograph premiered in the Da Vinci

In 2007, IWC unveiled a new, completely overhauled collection of the watch family. The Da Vinci Chronograph (Ref. 3764), for instance, featured the first chronograph movement ever developed totally in-house in Schaffhausen. “The 89630 calibre was the first ever that made it possible to display the elapsed minutes and hours like the time of day on a single subdial,” recalls Seyffer. This innovation was housed in a tonneau-shaped case. It may not have been to everyone’s taste, but it represented a milestone in production technology. With around 50 individual parts, it has remained the most complicated case ever built in Schaffhausen. For the Reference 376601, it was produced in a particularly demanding combination of ceramic and titanium.

IWC Da Vinci Chronograph IW3764 classic timepiece
—The first in-house chronograph movement, the 89630 calibre, displayed elapsed hours and minutes like a regular analogue timepiece.

In 2009, IWC added yet another highlight to the collection in the form of the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Digital Date (Ref. 3761). The display, showing the date and month in large numerals like a digital clock, was not only modern but also symbolized a return to the company’s fine watchmaking heritage: “As early as 1884, pocket watches with a digital display for the hours and minutes based on the Pallweber system were being manufactured in Schaffhausen,” explains Seyffer.

IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Digital Date IW376101 elegant watches
—This version of the perpetual calendar displayed the date and month like a digital watch in large Arabic numerals.

Like no other watch family, the Da Vinci combines the resourcefulness and inventive spirit of IWC's engineers with a finely developed aesthetic sensibility.

True to form, IWC is never content to sit back on its laurels. And for 2017, the company once again presents a series of trailblazing new products. One thing is clear: if the legacy left by Leonardo da Vinci is any indication, the latest stroke of technical genius will certainly not be the last to distinguish this most remarkable of watch families from Schaffhausen.

Explore More Articles
IWC Da Vinci Automatic 36 IW458310 female watch
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