Date — 19 December, 2012
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. But the finest of the finest of these mechanical watches are the great and intricate complications, which are considered the masterpieces of watchmaking. At IWC, this means Tourbillons, Perpetual Calendars, Minute Repeaters and Grande Complications, which bring together all the highest horological complications in one watch.
These complications require not only hours but also days or even weeks to carefully assemble. Tourbillons counter the effects of gravity by mounting the central movement components, the escapement and balance wheel, in a rotating cage. Getting the movement to essentially revolve around itself is no mean feat; there are minuscule parts that need to be perfectly assembled and adjusted.
The same is true for Minute Repeaters, which are watches that chime the hours and minutes. Tuning the parts so the hammers chime melodiously, and exactly on time, requires skill and artistry. Grande Complications, as their very name indicates, are especially complicated. At IWC, they not only have Perpetual Calendars, plus a Chronograph telling elapsed time, but also a Minute Repeater.
But even these watches are exceeded in complexity by the Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia. It is the most complex timepiece ever created by IWC Schaffhausen, and tells traditional or solar time, plus sidereal or – star time. Beyond having a patented constant-force tourbillion revealed on its dial side, the Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia shows on its reverse side the night sky with hundreds of stars, visible from a precise location on Earth, together with the apparent orbit of the Sun in the course of the year, and the celestial equator. These are joined by a perpetual calendar showing the absolute day of the year, plus the times of sunrise and sunset.
All these complicated watches are at the apogee of fine watchmaking. They are more than complicated instruments, but also they are works of great art. And the watchmakers who make them are not just technicians, but also artists. Their contributions help define the meaning of Haute Horology today.
At IWC Schaffhausen, there is a special department, essentially an atelier-within-an-atelier overlooking the Rhine, that exclusively produces these masterpieces. At the helm is Hansjörg Kittlas, a technical expert, a fine watchmaker, but also a true artist who is refreshingly down-to-earth. Mister Kittlas is an especially approachable person, and perhaps younger than you’d imagine given the sophisticated engineering embedded in these watch movements.
—Hansjörg Kittlas about the love of this life - the minute repeater
Kittlas was born to be a watchmaker. From his early childhood in then East Germany, he aspired to watchmaking. When he was a teenager he was taught by a private watchmaker in Saxony. He attended State school, alternately attending school one week and working the next. On the last day of class in 1994, his teacher wrote on the board “Lange is searching for young people to do more”.
But back then, Lange & Söhne apprentices were first taught at IWC, and the young Hansjörg Kittlas didn’t wish to spend a year in Switzerland. So he worked for another company in Dresden, until he was invited to apply again at Lange in 1995. He was interviewed in Schaffhausen by Ronald Jäger, Executive Director of Production at IWC Schaffhausen. The test was simple: take apart and reassemble a relatively basic 30110-calibre movement.
The rest is, as they say, history. Hansjörg Kittlas started immediately, and soon became a member of IWC’s perpetual calendar department. Apparently Ronald Jäger really knows talent, and Hansjörg Kittlas, in his own self-effacing, quiet way, made an impressive career in Schaffhausen. Today, he heads up the small group of watchmakers who constitute the high complications atelier, producing Grand Complications, Minute Repeaters, Tourbillons and the especially rare Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia.
The small department assembles these technically rich and complex movements. The skill and patience of each watchmaker here, as he or she configures and reconfigures the minuscule parts is extraordinary. The ultimate goal is that every watchmaker in this special department should be able to work on all these movements. But the different watchmakers understandably have their own specialties, and for Mister Kittlas, it’s the minute repeater.
Talking to him, you can tell that Hansjörg Kittlas loves these watches. He understands all their intricacies and he’s always excited each time that a repeater first chimes as it comes to life. So does he, as a true artist, wear a repeater that he painstakingly created?
Actually, Mister Kittlas wears a simple IWC Porsche Design model from the 1980s –for one outstanding reason. It was the engagement present from his fiancée, now wife, when he was a junior watchmaker. As he so engagingly says “there’s no need for champagne for breakfast”.
Hansjörg Kittlas is a totally unaffected watchmaker, a charming and forthright guy, who simply makes incredibly complicated and great watches. For the connoisseur, for the haute horologist, these works of art are far better than champagne. Herr Kittlas and his talented team make the best of the best.