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IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN PAYS TRIBUTE TO SAINT-EXUPÉRY’S LAST FLIGHT

70 years ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took off on a reconnaissance flight over France and never returned. Now, IWC Schaffhausen commemorates the last flight of the celebrated pilot and author with three special limited editions, thereby strengthening its long-standing partnership with Saint-Exupéry’s descendants.

Kurt Klaus
The Art of Creating Stories and Dreams

Every watch tells a story – about its origin and age, personality and character, tradition and culture, and not least about its owner.

Aquatimer video Screenshot
IT'S AQUA TIME - The new aquatimer video

The evolution of the diver’s watches from IWC continues.

The Next Generation of IWC Engineers

For over 60 years, IWC has been training generations of watchmakers in its own workshops. Candidates need to be deft with their hands and have a flair for technology. After completing their training, most of them remain loyal to the company in northeastern Switzerland for many years.

Swiss National Day
Swiss National Day

Experience the secret talents of the IWC watchmakers.

The Time is Right

The parallels are endless: technology, innovation and cutting-edge design dominate both businesses, and they’re both defined by time. The MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team tries to beat the clock in FORMULA 1 motor racing; at IWC Schaffhausen, we are the clock.

Ingenieur Automatic
The Sculptor-Designer

The sculptor-designer is a phenomenon. Even if you are not at all design literate you will know him by reputation. His name has become a synonym for severity.

INGENIEUR - TAKING POLE POSITION

We are pleased to welcome you on IWC’s qualifying lap. View the video, and join us as we are about to start the race.

Experiences

The Art of Being an Engineer

By Rolf Dobelli

Text — Rolf Dobelli Date — 18 February, 2013

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The engine faltered and cut out. Hunched over his metal baby, Benz wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. He twisted a screw here, a bolt there, topped up the fuel and made sure both cylinders were nicely greased. For the hundredth time, he cranked the starting handle. The engine spluttered into life, chugged longer than it ever had before, kept on chugging – yes, it was actually running! In 1879, Karl Benz was granted the patent for it. A few years later, he expanded the two-stroke engine into a four-stroke and, in 1886, harnessed it to the world’s first automobile for public sale. Benz the boffin, the practitioner, the doer, had set a milestone.

There was no corpus of theory from which he could borrow. There were no experts to consult, no faculties of automotive engineering, not even any books. He labored on his inventions for countless hours. He improved them as he went, and honed them to a hitherto unimagined level of excellence. An academic discipline dealing with engine design was not to emerge for several decades.

After a construction lead time of four years, the Wright brothers achieved the first-ever powered flight on December 17, 1903. It was a dream come true, for themselves and the human race. They had studied no scientific literature for, in this case again, none existed on their chosen subject. The rudiments of aviation engineering theory took another three decades to develop.

At the age of 23, Hans von Ohain built a jet engine at his own expense. The mechanics at the garage where he used to have his car repaired provided the technical support. After years of backroom experimentation, he patented his invention in 1937. In 1939, a jet aircraft took off: another world first.

Who invented the automatic loom, the steam engine, the electric light bulb, the wristwatch? They were not theorists, not official research laboratories. All were do-it-yourself freaks, self-made men. Ideas, products and skills come about mainly empirically rather than by reading up and thinking through. We did not learn to swim by reading books on the subject. We do not have an economy because of economists. It is not professorships of political science that keep democracy going. In short, universities do not make a prosperous society; rather, prosperous societies maintain universities because they can afford to do so. In this regard, universities are like opera houses.

Which brings us to the nub of what makes an engineer. The engineer takes up where theory peters out. Stretching the boundaries of known territory, he feels his way, step by step, into the unknown. There are no maps to follow, nor is he a cartographer. No skipper steers him to port, for he skippers himself. No pilot guides him past reefs and shoals. His method is based on trial and error. Much must go wrong before anything comes right.

Engineers are practical individuals. They are the makers and shakers, often risk-takers. Their material is the real world, not paper. It is time to restore these creators, experimenters and achievers to celebrity status, for we have neglected them far too long. Our celebs are managers, film stars, sports personalities, governors of central banks, hedge fund managers, chief executive officers. But when did we last have a celebrity engineer? And do they still play any role at all? The answer is striking: look around you. How many of the things you can see in your room were developed from book knowledge? And how many by trial and error? How many of the things around you are the result of grand strategic planning, and how many the fruit of passion? Which is the oeuvre of the so-called managers, and which the work of the backroom boys? Plainly, everything you can see in your room is the result of countless thousands of hours of engineering work – from your ballpoint pen to the design of your table to the light bulb above your head. The programs that run on your computer, the apps on your iPhone: all are inventive work.

So what has become of our admiration for these feats? Where is our esteem for “practical stardom”? Perhaps this lack of regard derives from the engineers’ anonymity. Thomas Edison announced a hundred years ago: “There is no organization. I am the organization.” Leonardo da Vinci would have put it no differently: I am the genius! It is not possible to say that nowadays. Engineering work has become teamwork, and engineers as individuals have vanished off our radar.

The engineer takes up where theory peters out

Tourbillon

Take a look at a FORMULA 1 race car. There is an engine, a cockpit, a nose, axles, tires, a steering wheel, a gear change, a braking system and much more. In an ordinary car, such as you or I drive daily, the individual components are assembled rather like Lego bricks. If you are an engineer, you can modify the chassis without affecting the engine capacity. You can modify the tires without affecting the ignition. A racing car is very different. A FORMULA 1 vehicle is no Lego construct, but an organic whole. If you are its engineer, and opt for a different type of paintwork, you now have to adjust the acceleration from standstill and the tread of the tires. If you increase the engine speed, you now have to modify the fuel injector. Alter the injector, and you have to rethink clutch performance. Tinker with the clutch, and you have affected the optimum wheel slip – the ratio of speed of rotation of the drive wheel to speed of travel. Everything hangs together. Everything interacts. Or, to borrow a quotation from biology, “you can never just change one thing.”

The knack of connected thinking is what distinguishes the modern engineer from the geek. A geek is obsessed with one subject. He may know everything about cylinder head optimization, but that is the sum total of his knowledge. Everything beyond cylinder head optimization is of no interest to him. An engineer, by contrast, may be a world-beater in his discipline, but always retains a view of the whole. He knows his work must dovetail with that of engineers from different disciplines. That is the only way to achieve uncompromising perfection.

Explore More Articles
IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN PAYS TRIBUTE TO SAINT-EXUPÉRY’S LAST FLIGHT

70 years ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took off on a reconnaissance flight over France and never returned. Now, IWC Schaffhausen commemorates the last flight of the celebrated pilot and author with three special limited editions, thereby strengthening its long-standing partnership with Saint-Exupéry’s descendants.

Kurt Klaus
The Art of Creating Stories and Dreams

Every watch tells a story – about its origin and age, personality and character, tradition and culture, and not least about its owner.

Aquatimer video Screenshot
IT'S AQUA TIME - The new aquatimer video

The evolution of the diver’s watches from IWC continues.

The Next Generation of IWC Engineers

For over 60 years, IWC has been training generations of watchmakers in its own workshops. Candidates need to be deft with their hands and have a flair for technology. After completing their training, most of them remain loyal to the company in northeastern Switzerland for many years.

Swiss National Day
Swiss National Day

Experience the secret talents of the IWC watchmakers.

The Time is Right

The parallels are endless: technology, innovation and cutting-edge design dominate both businesses, and they’re both defined by time. The MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team tries to beat the clock in FORMULA 1 motor racing; at IWC Schaffhausen, we are the clock.

Ingenieur Automatic
The Sculptor-Designer

The sculptor-designer is a phenomenon. Even if you are not at all design literate you will know him by reputation. His name has become a synonym for severity.

INGENIEUR - TAKING POLE POSITION

We are pleased to welcome you on IWC’s qualifying lap. View the video, and join us as we are about to start the race.