Every new in-house movement created by IWC in Schaffhausen involves around 20 specialists from various departments, sometimes working together intensively for years. With the help of state-of-the-art computer technology, the design engineers generate solutions whose elegance can be quite simply breathtaking.
Before a mechanical watch movement can start moving, it needs an energy source to drive it. That energy source is the mainspring. And while there are some who enjoy engaging with the machine, lovingly winding it by hand, others take pleasure in the automatic mechanism, which will keep the watch running indefinitely, simply from the movements of the wearer's arm.
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.
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.
Photos — Paul Ripke and Martin Timmermann Date — 1 January, 2010
Every ship sailing the seas should be able to find its way without reference to a satellite. A magnetic compass and sextant are therefore essential equipment on board
A sextant is an optical measuring device used to determine the angle between a celestial body – preferably the sun – and the horizon, and from this to determine the position of a ship.
The basic principle, construction and function of the sextant have remained unchanged since its invention in the 18th century. Forerunners of the sextant – the astrolabe, quadrant and Jacob’s staff – had served seafarers since the 15th century to gauge the sun’s position. But it was only the use of mirrors, and double reflection, that made it possible to establish the sun’s exact angle from the horizon. It later emerged that the idea had been the brainchild of Isaac Newton. But his ideas, put on paper in sketches, were ignored and only published posthumously in 1742.
Working independently of one another, around 1730, John Hadley, an English astronomer, and Thomas Godfrey, an optician in the British colonies in America, both developed designs for an octant with a smaller graduated arc. The sextant later evolved from their work.
The main reason why sextants are still in such demand is the rules that govern international navigation. These prescribe that every ship sailing the seas should be able to find its way without reference to a satellite. A magnetic compass and sextant are therefore essential equipment on board. For yachting enthusiasts worth their salt, a sextant from the house of Cassens & Plaths probably the instrument of choice. With them in mind, Cassens & Plath used to exhibit at all the main yachting fairs, though most sales nowadays take place over the Internet. The manufacturer has clear evidence that the instruments are in frequent personal use: sextants bearing the marks of wind and salt water regularly come in for repair.
Obtaining accurate bearings with a sextant is largely an acquired knack, the fruit of practice, but all this would be in vain if the instrument itself were not absolutely precise. This can only be achieved through fine mechanical craftsmanship. At Cassens & Plath, metallic whirring, squeaking and banging noises emerge from the work- shop all day long. For security reasons, the factory is sealed off from the outside world, almost like hallowed ground. Even the inspectors from Germanische Lloyd and other certifying bodies are only permitted to see the finished instruments. The body of a Cassens & Plath sextant consists of a brass casting. The apertures in its structure are emblematic of the company’s work and instantly identify it to specialists as a quality product from Bremerhaven. But a sextant’s quality does not depend on optics alone. Material has its part to play, too. Aluminium would be cheaper, but less durable, because it has to be coated and is therefore more prone to wear. Thus it would not meet the high standard, which the traditional company has set itself.
The blank casting first needs to rest. It is then deburred, polished and hollowed out. Cassens & Plath assemble an average of two sextants daily. Once the impressive instrument, with such a distinguished history, is finally housed snugly in its veneered mahogany box, complete with its certificate, the future owner can rest assured that everything has been completed to the greatest possible perfection. Cassens & Plath prides itself on holding all the certifications for its instruments worldwide, and the international licensing bodies regularly check standards. If the tiniest detail of a sextant or a manufacturing process is modified, a fresh application for the quality seals must be submitted.
But that is not the only reason why traditionalist Cassens & Plath has not changed its product for decades. Long experience is the sextant maker’s trump card. This instrument, dating back to an earlier century, cannot easily be imitated or copied.
Today’s skippers can still benefit from a few handy innovations. Polarization filters or shaded glass, for example, regulate brightness and protect the eye. In the past, when no such protection was possible, many sea captains became blind in one eye.
For yachting enthusiasts worth their salt, a sextant from the house of Cassens & Plaths is probably the instrument of choice