As IWC celebrates its 150th anniversary, the watchmaker inaugurates its impressive new Manufakturzentrum. Xavier Markl of Monochrome Watches magazine takes us inside for a preview and explains how the state-of-the-art building reflects IWC’s innovation and growth.
If you want to get a good understanding of a watch company, visiting its manufacture is an eye-opening experience. It is where you discover exactly how the company builds its timepieces and also how it defines of quality. It is also where you see what is made in-house and the scale of activity. I had a preview tour of IWC’s new Manufakturzentrum and it is a pleasure to share with you what I saw.
IWC was born from an industrial vision. In 1868, Florentine Ariosto Jones traveled from Boston to Switzerland to found the International Watch Company in Schaffhausen. His idea was to combine modern American production methods with Swiss watchmaking expertise. Jones saw an opportunity in electrification and the use of machinery. Next to the Rhine, he set up a manufacture capable of producing 10,000 watches per year.
Past, present and future...all in one place
The Manufakturzentrum, the latest milestone in the industrial tradition started by Jones, opens as IWC celebrates its 150th anniversary.
Completed in just 21 months, the new site is located on the outskirts of Schaffhausen. With it, the production of movement components, movements and cases is brought under one high-tech roof. Casing up and final testing are still performed in the historic building. Interestingly, Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC - and an architect - personally helped design the manufacture, ensuring it perfectly encapsulates what you expect from IWC; a blend of luxury and precision engineering.
Upon arrival to the Manufakturzentrum, the 139-meter-long, 62-meter-wide building makes a strong first impression. It feels modern and aesthetically pleasing with its monumental 2,200-square-meter glass façade. The feeling is the same in the 9-meter-high entrance lobby with a giant perpetual calendar mechanism over the reception. As a nod to the company’s history, the portraits of the key characters who helped IWC take shape hang on one of the walls.
State-of-the-art technology and meticulous workmanship
Inside, once dressed for the tour (visitors are offered watchmaker lab coats for the full experience), the first thing you notice is intense activity. Detail-obsessed watchmakers and craftsmen are bent over their benches, each wearing a magnifying glass and surrounded by the most advanced technology, including futuristic CNC machines.
While strolling through the manufacture you see that the natural light illuminating the space is integral to its design, providing optimal conditions for production. As you would expect, everything feels highly functional, the production flow appears logical and efficient.
Movement production, all on one floor
The imposing entrance affords direct access to the area where movements are produced: from raw material to components to finished movements, all on one floor and progressing in a seamless flow. The first step consists of crafting the parts; milling, turning and cutting with utmost precision. Once they have been shaped by digitally controlled machines, the parts are decorated and their surfaces electroplated. Jewels are set into plates and bridges.
The movements are then patiently brought to life in the hands of watchmakers. The meticulous assembly of tiny components is performed in an impressively large area, a clean room atmosphere that is totally dust and humidity free. To maximize efficiency, the process is organized into different lines for each caliber and the watchmakers’ workstations benefit from state-of-the-art assistance.
A unique expertise in case production
The basement is dedicated to case manufacturing. IWC has acquired unique expertise in working with different materials. Stainless steel, titanium, platinum, 5N gold, white gold and bronze watch cases are produced in-house. So is Ceratanium, a revolutionary new case material as robust and light as titanium, and as hard and scratch resistant as ceramic.
Being a watch journalist, I visit watch manufactures on a regular basis, and I have rarely seen case production departments at this level. Incorporating the latest technology, the milling, turning and engraving centers are truly impressive. The expertise and attention dedicated to the hand finishing of the cases are remarkable: Each surface and angle is patiently finished with a polishing wheel.
Being a watch journalist, I visit watch manufactures on a regular basis, and I have rarely seen case production departments at this level.
Preparing for the future
The new IWC Manufakturzentrum is an important step for the development of the brand, a logical evolution to create a highly-efficient, purpose-built infrastructure for IWC’s production activities. The company’s strong expansion necessitated a move.
And it is also a clear signal on how IWC invests in quality and how it sees its development: The Manufakturzentrum currently has 230 craftsmen working there, but has space for 400. But the strongest impression may be the great pride every employee has for the company and his or her work. An IWC is a watch, but it is much more than a device for telling time.
A watch industry expert and Swiss editor of Monochrome Watches, Xavier Markl became hooked on mechanical watches while working for Cartier and Girard-Perregaux. He has an over 20-year career the luxury industry.
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