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Experiences

Ingenieur: the story of a legend

by Alexander Linz

Text — Alexander Linz Date — 14 January, 2013

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With the advent of electricity, magnetic fields increasingly affected the lives of ordinary people. It wasn’t long before IWC’s watchmakers started thinking of ways to protect their timepieces against them.

Back in 1888, under the management of Johannes Vogel Muster, IWC had been making 16- and 19-ligne antimagnetic movements for the Non-Magnetic Watch Company. The balance, balance spring, escape wheel and pallet lever were made of a palladium alloy, the pallet fork of bronze and the arms of gold. Later, the topic of protection against magnetism assumed special importance for the armed forces. The ongoing modernization of aircraft cockpits likewise led to an ever-greater accumulation of magnetic field sources. For this reason, in the mid-1940s, IWC developed a professional pilot’s watch for the British Royal Air Force.

Its 12½-ligne 89-calibre movement with central seconds was encased in a dial, casing ring and inner back plate of soft iron. From then on, the inner case created by completely enshrouding the legendary Mark 11’s movement in soft-iron components became the standard for Pilot’s Watches from IWC. “Back then, it was a totally new idea,” confirms David Seyffer, the Director of IWC’s museum.

IWC’s Pilot’s Watches, then, were the direct predecessors of the Ingenieur, which was finally launched in 1955. Once again, the focus was on protection against magnetic fields. Rapid progress made during the 1950s in areas as wide ranging as electrical technology, mechanical engineering, communications and transport dramatically increased the presence of magnetic fields. The first-generation Ingenieur was a man’s watch, pure and simple. IWC had created the Ingenieur line with a specific clientele in mind: engineers, technicians, chemists, pilots and doctors. In keeping with the social status of its target public, the Ingenieur had a certain discreet elegance, even if housing the technical functions called for a case that was unusually large and thick by the standards of the day. For over 12 years, the original Ingenieur in its virtually unmodified state chalked up very impressive sales figures. The advertising and PR were all geared specifically to the above-mentioned professions. Themes and associations linked to the professional fields in question were a popular way of advertising the Ingenieur. It was also at this time that IWC designed the stylized lightning logo that was to become the hallmark of the Ingenieur.

From this point on, IWC’s Ingenieur was equipped exclusively with automatic movements made entirely in-house. In 1944, Albert Pellaton took up his post as Technical Director with IWC. He immediately set out to develop IWC’s own automatic wristwatch movement. He patented his first design, in which rotor movement was still restricted, as early as 1946. For a perfectionist like Pellaton this fell short of the mark: he wanted the rotor to make a complete revolution. He was also looking for a perfect shock-absorption system. In 1950, the first of the 85-series calibres with a central seconds hit the market. They were simply above all criticism and rapidly established themselves as best-sellers. The various successors of the 85 calibre were used in subsequent Ingenieur models from IWC. Among them was the 8521 calibre with Pellaton winding and a self-compensating Breguet balance spring, a precision adjustment index and an increased frequency of 19,800 beats per hour. The movement was produced until 1958. Only in the late 1970s did IWC fit a number of Ingenieur SL watches with quartz movements by Jaeger-LeCoultre. In the 1980s, the company also started using ETA movements. And in 2005 IWC’s in-house 80111-calibre movement had its debut in the new-generation Ingenieur, the Reference 3227. The Big Ingenieur, Reference 5005, had its market launch with the 5005 calibre in 2007. Since the relaunch and redesign of the Ingenieur in 2005, the Schaffhausen company has also unveiled its first chronographs. These were initially powered by the IWC 79350 calibre, the basic ETA/Valjoux 7750, and later by the IWC 89360 calibre.

The icons of the collection

The men who fathered and named the Ingenieur were Ernst Grieshaber jun. and Albert Pellaton, who were IWC’s Head of Finance and Technical Director, respectively. It is to them that IWC in Schaffhausen owes the existence of the icons we shall now consider in turn To start, we have the first generation of the Ingenieur, the Reference 666. It was, as they might have said at the time, a “devilish” good watch – and not only because the “666” of the insignia is commonly associated with Satan. The original Ingenieur was manufactured in its almost unchanged form for over 12 years. The 852x calibre mentioned above, the second, massively improved version of the IWC automatic calibre, was the reliable force that powered the Reference 666. Depending on the movement, the Ingenieur was available without a date window as Reference 666 A (852 calibre) or with a date display as the 666 AD (8521 calibre). The three-part case screwed together and was of superior quality. Customers could choose between versions in stainless steel, 18-carat gold or a 14-carat gold model with a steel back, the Reference 766. All models were water-resistant to 100 metres and a soft-iron inner case protected them against electromagnetic fields to 80,000 A/m. In the course of 1967, the new Reference 866 replaced the 666 Ingenieur. It was the second generation of the watchmaking icon from Schaffhausen. Although this was a “new” Ingenieur, it retained the basic concept of a rugged, water-resistant and absolutely antimagnetic watch in a round case, but gave it a fresher, sportier and more contemporary touch. From 1975 onwards, these versions of the Ingenieur disappeared from the catalogues.

In 1976 the appearance of the Ingenieur changed conspicuously. Designer Gérald Genta gave the watch a completely new face and housed the large Ingenieur SL, Reference 1832, in an elegant, sporty steel case. This second major icon in the Ingenieur collection has remained one of IWC’s most outstanding and innovative designs to this day. The exterior of the Ingenieur SL, Reference 1832, measured 40 × 38 millimetres and was aimed both at technicians and an increasingly style-conscious group of watch lovers who also had exacting demands when it came to technology. The IWC-manufactured 8541 ES calibre, for instance, whose pallet lever, escape wheel and impulse roller were likewise made of antimagnetic material, featured a soft-iron inner case that was painstakingly mounted on tiny rubber pads, offering protection against magnetic fields up to 80,000 A/m and any kind of shock or impact. In itself, the watch was ingenious and perfectly in keeping with IWC’s image, but the time was not right. The company recorded a paltry 550 sales in steel. By now, this is water under the bridge and part of IWC’s colourful history. Today, the low production figures for the Ingenieur SL, Reference 1832, have made it a very much sought-after collector’s piece. And those who own an 1832 can count themselves extremely lucky.

The next Ingenieur SL, the Reference 3505, was equipped with the 375 calibre and launched in 1983. The successor to this model was the 3506, which was fitted with the 3753 calibre and produced from 1985 to 1989. These new Ingenieur models were slimmer, more elegant and the first to feature the signature “graph paper” pattern on the dial. For the first 25 years of its existence, the Ingenieur was exclusively a man’s watch. This was to change for a short period in the 1980s, when IWC management decided to overhaul and expand the SL line, and a number of ladies’ models gradually appeared on the market. But the heyday of the ladies’ Ingenieur SL was short-lived. As early as the mid-1980s, the models were successively removed from the collection. IWC, after all, had always been and always will be a genuine man’s watch.

Before we close, one particular model deserves a special mention: the Ingenieur 500,000 A/m. This model was built to withstand any magnetic field, no matter how strong. In the mid-1980s, working closely with Swiss metallurgy experts Prof Steinemann and Dr Straumann (of the Straumann Institute), IWC was involved in an ambitious project to create a completely antimagnetic wristwatch. One of the secrets of this Ingenieur’s success was a nobium-zirconium alloy, which is extremely difficult to work with but was chosen for the balance spring. The soft-iron case that had been used to protect the movement was suddenly superfluous. This high-tech Ingenieur was tested several times in magnetic resonance scanners and withstood an incredible 3.7 million A/m. Although this particular model would probably have taken even higher forces in its stride, the technology for testing it at this time simply did not exist. Modest as ever, IWC opted to call this particular achievement simply the Ingenieur 500,000 A/m. Back then, the watch set up a new world record for antimagnetic watches. Needless to say, the Ingenieur 500,000 is likewise a much-coveted collector’s item. It is worth knowing, however, that production totalled approximately 2700 finished watches. If we have managed to whet your appetite for the Ingenieur 500,000 A/m, we wish you every success should you try to track one down.

At home out on the circuit

Read more

The successful relaunch of the Ingenieur in the shape of the Reference 3227 in 2005 brought the Ingenieur legend back to new and dynamic life. Since then, IWC has launched many new models, including – as already mentioned – several chronographs. In 2013, as part of a comprehensive relaunch, the Ingenieur will appear in a new and even more impressive light. Georges Kern, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen, puts his finger on it when he says: “Three outstanding quality features set the new Ingenieur collection apart: top-quality IWC movements, sophisticated functions and innovative materials.” Which is entirely in keeping with the creative spirit that reigns at the Swiss watchmaking company.

Explore More Articles
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
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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
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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.

Movements Come to Life

All mechanical watches can be fascinating because of their intricate movements. Even simple watches, ones that only tell time, are extraordinarily complex mechanisms that have hundreds of miniscule parts that work harmoniously together. A complicated watch, one that performs additional functions, is by definition even more complicated.

From Atomic Physics
to Quality Management

A doctor with a degree in atomic and molecular physics plays a surprising and important role at IWC.

Flying high with big date and month displays

A fabulous combination of sportiness and elegance, the Spitfire Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month is the high-flyer of the IWC Pilot's Watch collection. The date and month could not be easier to read and the mechanics inside the case are an endless source of fascination.