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IWC Oils
Time That Runs Like Clockwork

Depending on the stresses and strains to which they are exposed, around 50 points in the movement are treated with oils and greases developed especially for use in wristwatches.

Test Lab

At IWC Schaffhausen, new watch models are put through a gruelling test program involving up to 50 separate stages that include long-term immersion in warm salt water and being locked away in an environmental chamber. All this guarantees that they will be equipped for everyday use – and much more – when they finally reach their future owners.

Sound_check_engine_AMG_972x426
Sound Check

How the engineers at Mercedes AMG in Affalterbach, southern Germany, create the right engine sound.

HALF_WAY_TO_THE_MOON_Trucks_972x426
HALF WAY TO THE MOON

For the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team, following the Grand Prix circus means transporting 30 tons of material in 10,000 individual parts and at least 60 employees to venues on five continents. Of course, they have to ensure that everything arrives there on time what calls for a system and improvisation in equal measure.

Grande Complication Dial Explained
Small World

Time moves the world. The IWC Portuguese Grande Complication is an understated, beautifully designed way of summarizing time as the motor of all change: a time machine that shows a tilted globe on the dial.

89800 Calibre Movement
Eternity in Digits

The IWC-manufactured 89800 caliber, which made its debut in 2009, redefined the digital date display. The triple-disc mechanism in the perpetual calendar features large-format displays for the date and month and, slightly more discreetly, the leap year cycle. All are ingeniously synchronized.

Top Secret

In a small town in central England, over 500 specialists spend their time developing and building silver arrows for the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team. Almost every one of the 3,200 parts in each car is custom-made.

Ingenieur: the story of a legend

When the Ingenieur from Schaffhausen was launched in 1955 it created a storm. But its actual history goes back much further: to 1888.

Experiences

Charlie-Echo-Romeo-Alfa-Mike-India-Charlie

Ceramic is a material that is used wherever demands are high and top performance is required

Text — Alexander Linz Date — 28 February, 2012

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Spelled using the international radio alphabet, the word “ceramic” looks and sounds rather impressive. The story behind the production of ceramic cases at IWC, which began some 26 years ago, is no less interesting than it is impressive. It was back then that the Schaffhausen-based company unveiled its first high-tech case in zirconium dioxide (ZrO2). Zirconium dioxide, often referred to as zirconium oxide or, more simply, zirconia, is a special high-performance ceramic: in other words, a non-metallic, inorganic material that was originally developed for space travel. Back in those days, IWC was in search of the perfect black case as the next stage in the development of its “Da Vinci”, and discovered ceramic.

At that time, there were still all kinds of downsides to using steel that had been colored black. The main problem was ensuring that the surface had the necessary hardness: as a result, a case made of steel that had been colored black would quickly end up with permanent scratches. For the case makers at IWC, expecting customers to tolerate that kind of defect would have been unthinkable. Their search finally led them to the ideal partner in Metoxit, a company specializing in ceramics and located in Thayngen, close to Schaffhausen. Together, they developed a formula for pitch-black ceramic. In IWC’s Annual Edition of the time, we read the following: “The fact we chose black-–the color that absorbs all others-–for our first wristwatch in zirconium oxide was in no way a reflection of the way we see the future. On the contrary: it was a veiled allusion to the potentially timeless quality of watches.”

A five-part “introduction” to alchemy in the same Annual Edition also describes the steps involved in the production of a ceramic case. Not only that, but IWC even issued a special brochure entitled “The Da Vinci in ceramic”. If we consider the fact that it had only been possible to use zirconium oxide in this form for commercial and industrial purposes since 1983, it seems no exaggeration to claim here that IWC was not only ahead of its time but also a pioneer in the use of ceramics. If the Da Vinci, Reference 3755, was the cornerstone laid in Schaffhausen, the follow-up came eight years later: the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph, Reference 3705, in ceramic.

Time, once again, for us to refer to IWC’s Annual Edition. “This Pilot’s Chronograph seems destined to cause quite a stir among lovers of unusual timepieces: it is the first one made of zirconium oxide, the high-tech ceramic which, from an aviation point of view, is reminiscent of state-of-the-art stealth technology and has long established itself in space travel. Its claims to exclusivity are uncompromisingly underscored in the matt black surrounds of the watch, the precision of which can be seen in the luminescent white hands and numerals.” The 3705 Pilot’s Chronograph certainly did not go unnoticed: it rapidly established cult status for itself and had countless imitators.

In 2006, with the presentation of the Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph in a ceramic case, Reference 3786, limited to 1000 pieces, IWC unveiled the next legendary addition to the series. The ceramic Double Chronograph, which is much sought after by collectors today, the Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph Edition Top Gun, Reference 3799, launched in 2007, and the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Automatic Edition Top Gun rolled out a year later, complete the ceramic Pilot’s Watch line-up to date.

Top Gun – the reference
If we look back over the historical development of the Pilot’s Watches, this was a logical development on the high-tech ceramic theme at IWC, which had its crowning glory in the partnership with the Top Gun Fighter Weapons School, the US Navy’s breeding ground for elite pilots. If ever there was a place where expectations are high and top performance is required, it is here. Nowhere else, we believe, could IWC’s ceramic timepieces express their virtually perfect blend of high technology, tradition and cockpit design.

With its incredible hardness, resistance to heat and scratching, and exemplary skin-friendliness, zirconium oxide as a material leaves nothing to be desired. It may also be no coincidence that the U.S. Navy’s aircraft are also equipped with a wealth of high-tech ceramic elements and components. The range of potential applications is enormous. In modern aircraft construction (whether military or civilian), whenever there is a need for light, heat-resistant, highly resilient and non-corrosive materials, the first choice is high-tech ceramic. More recently, ceramic components have even been used in jet engines and the resulting weight savings have had a positive and lasting effect on fuel economy.

Ceramic can even be found in one of the last places you would expect: on the inside of aircraft fuel tanks. These are not made of ceramic themselves, but they do contain many different types of sensors and receivers. The sensors receive a precisely measured pulse of electrical energy that causes them to oscillate. The sonic waves generated are reflected one after another from the surface of the kerosene in the tank and picked up by the receivers in the form of piezoelectric transducers, made of ceramic. Using the precisely defined size of the tank in question, the on-board computer analyses the duration of the sonic waves and is able to calculate the precise amount of fuel remaining in the various tanks under any conditions and in any position. Other parameters crucial to the flight, such as the remaining fuel range, can then be calculated accurately. As can be seen, this is another application where expectations are high and performance has to be absolutely spot-on.

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Complex production process
Making a ceramic case is enormously demanding and calls for expertise of the very highest order. It is absolutely crucial for any manufacturer who wishes to be certain that his stringent quality requirements are met to the letter to work with the right partner. The first stage in the process back then was to use isostatic pressing and sintering to form the blank to the approximate desired shape, but getting the case into its final shape still required a substantial amount of finishing.

In recent years, enormous progress has been made with what is known as ceramic injection moulding (CIM). This process is less susceptible to errors and cheaper than conventional sintering technology. In addition, like plastic injection moulding, it opens the doorway to a virtually unlimited variety of shapes. Only since the advent of this process has efficient series production of delicate structures and complex geometries in ceramic been possible. Very few specialists have mastered this high-tech process to the level of perfection found at a company known as Format in the Netherlands. IWC case makers and engineers have thus entrusted the Dutch company with the manufacture of its ceramic cases.

In practice, the process of transforming zirconium oxide powder into a finished ceramic case is enormously complex. Plastics turn into liquid as soon as they are heated, but in the case of a ceramic, the raw material in powder form must first be converted into a homogeneous mass. To achieve this, a thermoplastic binder is mixed with the zirconium oxide. As a bonded granulate, it can be injected into the mould at a temperature of 170°C. The result of the moulding process is a green compact. The surface structure of each compact is subject to a thorough examination before it is milled and the first precise drill holes are made. Once the binder has been removed using sulphuric acid, the compact is fired at a temperature of 1500°C for about two days. During the sintering process, it shrinks to its final size and takes on its characteristic, deep black appearance.

Da Vinci Ceramic - Circle
—High-tech ceramic and grade 5 titanium are combined to make the extraordinary case of the Da Vinci Chronograph Ceramic

We should also bear in mind that-–unlike bread, for example, which rises in the oven-–ceramic workpieces shrink by about a third when they are fired. This is also the greatest difference between ceramics and metals. After smelting-–the process of extracting metal from ore-–metals already possess the physical properties that will remain with them, whereas the behaviour, shape and size of ceramic items are inseparably linked with the individual steps in the production process. The artistic component and the engineering expertise come into play with the selective influencing of the material’s structure during the firing process. The most important thing here is to factor the loss in size into the dimensions of the blank. In a final stage, the case is sandblasted to give the material its matte finish. It then goes to another company, likewise domiciled in the Netherlands, for the necessary polishing and finishing. Here, diamond-tipped tools are used to widen the pre-drilled holes and remaining geometrical characteristics to precisely the correct tolerances. This is a very labour-intensive process and means that the production of an IWC ceramic case takes several weeks in all.

Da Vinci Chronograph Ceramic

—Ref. 3766

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New features of the ceramic cases in 2012
As you would expect, the production process is continuously being improved. After all: when you rest, you rust. Even if rust never has been-–and never will be–-an issue with ceramic. In the three new references, the spring bars will no longer be mounted directly in the ceramic itself but in steel and Teflon bushes. This drastically reduces the coefficient of friction and consequently wear and tear on the spring bars. In addition to this, the danger of snapping off the lugs during the assembly and dismantling of the bars will be a thing of the past.

Two striking details single out the cases on the new Pilot’s Watches: Reference 3880, the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph, features a so-called one-piece case ring. Here, the ceramic outer case ring is secured to the titanium inner ring using adhesive foils, which need to withstand only their own weight during the hardening process in the oven. In this case, the dial, casing ring and inner back plate are made of soft iron, which effectively protects the movement against the disruptive effects of magnetic fields.

Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar

—Ref. 3880

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In Reference 5019 and 5029, the Big Pilot’s Watch and the Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar, two-piece case rings are used: the upper parts of the case are screwed into the middle piece. The ceramic outer case ring is press-fitted with the titanium inner case ring and not cemented. The pressure applied during the press-fitting process is very precisely gauged. Case components can be press-fitted with one another only if they lie within a permissible minimum and maximum pressure range. If the pressure rises and threatens to become excessive, a calibrated display indicates that assembly should be discontinued immediately. Applying too much pressure to ceramic can create tensions that lead to cracks. Neither of the two ceramic cases has a three-part soft-iron inner case and thus no additional protection against magnetic fields. The reasons for IWC’s decision not to include an inner case were aesthetic rather than technical: in relation to its outer diameter, the case would simply have been too high.

Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun

—Ref. 5029

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Explore More Articles
IWC Oils
Time That Runs Like Clockwork

Depending on the stresses and strains to which they are exposed, around 50 points in the movement are treated with oils and greases developed especially for use in wristwatches.

Test Lab

At IWC Schaffhausen, new watch models are put through a gruelling test program involving up to 50 separate stages that include long-term immersion in warm salt water and being locked away in an environmental chamber. All this guarantees that they will be equipped for everyday use – and much more – when they finally reach their future owners.

Sound_check_engine_AMG_972x426
Sound Check

How the engineers at Mercedes AMG in Affalterbach, southern Germany, create the right engine sound.

HALF_WAY_TO_THE_MOON_Trucks_972x426
HALF WAY TO THE MOON

For the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team, following the Grand Prix circus means transporting 30 tons of material in 10,000 individual parts and at least 60 employees to venues on five continents. Of course, they have to ensure that everything arrives there on time what calls for a system and improvisation in equal measure.

Grande Complication Dial Explained
Small World

Time moves the world. The IWC Portuguese Grande Complication is an understated, beautifully designed way of summarizing time as the motor of all change: a time machine that shows a tilted globe on the dial.

89800 Calibre Movement
Eternity in Digits

The IWC-manufactured 89800 caliber, which made its debut in 2009, redefined the digital date display. The triple-disc mechanism in the perpetual calendar features large-format displays for the date and month and, slightly more discreetly, the leap year cycle. All are ingeniously synchronized.

Top Secret

In a small town in central England, over 500 specialists spend their time developing and building silver arrows for the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team. Almost every one of the 3,200 parts in each car is custom-made.

Ingenieur: the story of a legend

When the Ingenieur from Schaffhausen was launched in 1955 it created a storm. But its actual history goes back much further: to 1888.