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Sound_check_engine_AMG_972x426
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Experiences

The Test of Time

by Michael Friedberg

Text — Michael Friedberg Date — 14 March, 2012

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A finely-made watch must excel in both everyday and adverse environments. To be assured of this, IWC has devoted a state-of-the-art laboratory in Schaffhausen so that its watches meet rigorous standards.

Inside, a skilled materials engineer, Dominic Forster, heads a team of seven who devise and then implement all sorts of challenging tests.

The idea is to ascertain that every part of each watch will work perfectly even when subjected to abuse. The components undergo intentional torture. They are heated, jarred, pushed and pulled. To accomplish this systematic stress, IWC’s extensive testing laboratory has ingenious equipment that stretches watch components to their limits. The lab is not simply a place where watches are measured to ensure that exacting tolerances are met. Instead, it is where every part is used, abused, inspected and then evaluated to extraordinary standards.

The watches here in many ways seem like dummies in simulated car accidents. Some survive, and some don’t. When they don’t survive, re-engineering occurs so that on the next collision, they will.

Upon entering the lab, there’s first a disarming array of lamps on stands. Dials and straps are placed under these lights, to ascertain that they can withstand sunlight and UV light. On the other side of this room, there are machines that simultaneously roast watch components with extreme heat or subject them to excess humidity.

Other machines, looking suspiciously like science fair contraptions, constantly move the watch components. For example, they test the wear of automatic rotors for sometimes as long as 3,000 hours at accelerated testing conditions. Still other devices produce impact tests, intended to simulate seven years of life. Since light, heat, impact and motion aren’t deemed sufficient, another machine subjects components to magnetic forces up to 600,000 A/m.

Every new watch model is tested to its limits. If it can survive Herr Forster’s planned threats, it should thrive well in the real world. All tests are “in the raw”, where whole movements are exposed and dismantled and then the myriad parts, after being subjected to abuse, are checked for corrosion, wear, oiling and precision timekeeping. To accomplish this, there are also four highly-experienced watchmakers on the staff of the testing laboratory.

Most watch companies check their cases for water resistance. But few, if any, check individual case parts beyond measurement. However, IWC checks repeatedly for tolerances in simulated use. There is even an elaborate machine which pushes in the pushers on chronographs, done 10,000 times for the reset pusher and 20,000 times for the start/stop pusher. If the pushers can withstand that abuse, they might easily survive on the wrist of the discerning watch collector. Even the screws for the crowns are subjected to tests.

Among the more interesting machines is a pendulum, which does look a bit like its ominous namesake in an Edgar Allan Poe short story. It tests the equivalent of a one meter drop of a watch on a wooden floor. Sports watches like Pilots, Aquatimers and Ingenieurs get tested up to 100,000 impacts which simulate sporty activities like playing tennis, golf or downhill biking. Watches as sophisticated as tourbillons are taken apart after testing to inspect the damage.

This laboratory develops and implements testing protocols for IWC’s cases and movements to a degree that is certainly unique within the industry. Herr Forster has essentially built his own science experiment laboratory. To document test results, a high-speed camera is utilized together with several microscopes, plus a digital light box. The budget for testing machinery can be large: the high-speed camera itself costs in excess of 100,000 CHF. Other machines need to be constructed by Herr Forster and his staff, because there are no industry methodologies for testing the vast array of necessary tests. However, all tests check that everything occurs within specified standards. To the extent that the industry standards are available, ISO, DIN or NIHS is used; if not, IWC develops its own standards or works within Richemont guidelines.

Producing a watch is not simply designing and making a movement, and placing it into a case. A company like IWC, which strives to attain the highest possible quality standards, relies on people like Herr Forster and his highly-mechanized testing laboratory. The machinery, tests and standards – in fact, the lab in and of itself – may well lead the industry.

This special laboratory is hidden away from the public, but it is reassuring that every watch has been exhaustively tested under tight controls and by gifted engineers. In fact, an IWC watch hasn’t simply been tested: it’s been well-cooked, boiled and kicked around. And that’s good news.

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
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.

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.