IWC’S AUTOMATIC WATCHES - Innovation at its finest

 

The history of automatic watches at IWC is inseparably linked with Albert Pellaton. In 1944, as the company’s technical director, he developed a self-winding mechanism that still powers many IWC movements today. To achieve this, Pellaton had to overcome several challenges. Most systems in existence at the time transmitted the movements of the rotor through an intricate system of gears, using its rotations only in one direction. As a result, there were considerable losses of power and energy. The innovative feature in Pellaton’s solution was that he converted the revolutions of the rotor into rocking movements of a bar via a cam. Two offset pawls mounted on the bar then transfer the energy to the winding wheel – while one pulls the wheel, the other glides smoothly over its teeth until the roles are reversed. The advantage of this pawl-winding system is that it makes use of any movement in the rotor of an automatic watch - no matter how small and in either direction.

IWC automatic watch calibre 52610

Energy through movement

 

Before a mechanical watch can start moving, it needs an energy source to drive it: the mainspring. It stores the energy that is needed to move the hands and wheel train. In all hand-wound watches the mainspring is manually wound by turning the crown, while in an automatic watch, it is recharged simply by the movement of the wearer’s arm. The innovative self-winding mechanism uses a centrally mounted, mostly half-moon shaped rotor for converting the wearer’s natural movements into energy for the spring. This is made possible by a combination of the rotor’s inertia and gravity: its weight constantly forces it downwards, and it starts to move as soon there is any acceleration. An automatic watch will therefore keep running indefinitely without manual winding or a battery as long as the wearer moves her arm – as if she had a miniature perpetual motion machine on her wrist. 

Premiere in IWC’s first Ingenieur watch

 

Pellaton’s innovative automatic winding system was integrated in the 85 calibre launched in 1950 - the first movement for an automatic watch developed entirely in Schaffhausen. Received with enthusiasm by customers and watch industry specialists, the calibre 85 family was later used in the first Ingenieur, Reference 666, in 1955. Although the basic way Pellaton’s mechanism functions has remained unchanged for more than 60 years, the system has been continuously improved since then. In the 89000 chronograph movements, the entire mechanism has undergone a thorough overhaul. The resulting double-pawl winding system does its job with fewer parts and, thanks to the use of two pairs of pawls, is even more efficient. 

IWC Ingenieur Gentleman's Automatic Watch Ref. 666 AD
IWC Big Pilot's Automatic Watch “Antoine De Saint Exupéry” (Ref. IW503801)

Components made of wear-free ceramic

 

To fully wind the mainspring, the rotor of an automatic watch needs to complete more than 2000 revolutions. Although it weighs only a few grams, the forces exerted on different components of the automatic winding system during rapid movements may be as much as 1000 times that of gravity. Apart from a sophisticated design, the material chosen is also crucial to protect the parts against wear and tear. In the 52000-calibre family, components of the automatic winding system that are subject to pronounced stress, such as the pawls, the automatic wheel, or the cam, are made of virtually wear-free ceramic. Thanks to the use of this high-tech material, which can also be found in areas like medical technology or in space exploration, they are virtually wear-free and have a much longer lifespan.

 

Find your favourite IWC timepiece in this complete assortment of automatic, self-winding watches.