Date — 2010-04-01T00:00:00
In this enormous tome from IWC, “IWC Schaffhausen. Engineering Time since 1868”, the story of the watchmaking company from Schaffhausen is told in greater detail than ever before. At the same time, it combines the fine craft of precision watchmaking with the narrative craft of best-selling author Paulo Coelho and the imagination of artist Enki Bilal. The book’s author, Manfred Fritz, provides us with an insight into this “Gesamtkunstwerk”. We also showcase ten of the most important watches in the history of IWC.
In the beginning was the Word. Or, to be more precise, the sentence penned by Paulo Coelho that brings the first of his seven stories for the new IWC book to a close. This tale, born in the author’s imagination, tells us of the arrival of the company’s founder, F. A. Jones, in Schaffhausen in 1868, together with the difficulties he encountered recruiting employees among the town’s conservatively-minded craftsmen and making them understand his bold idea for the more rational production of pocket watches. It is my own personal favourite because it uses the boundless scope of the writer’s imagination to provide an insight into a period of IWC’s history which, for lack of reliable documentation, is the one we know least about.
The sentence in question runs: “Dreams we dream alone are only dreams. But the dreams we dream together change reality.” It is true, and Paulo Coelho, great storyteller and connoisseur of the human psyche that he is, immediately hits the nail on the head with it. Not only as it applies to the young American trying to gain a foothold in Schaffhausen and find workers, but also to the entire undertaking known as IWC that has continued, with all its successes and failures, for 142 years. Because the factor that has always stood behind – or preceded – it has been its ability to galvanize individuals to achieve an objective, even if it appears totally impossible.
In the beginning, then, was this sentence. That was three years ago. Paulo Coelho was already a little ahead of the project and working independently of the team assembled for the book project. But his wording served as a motto the team and its future work. And – yes, this can also be said openly – the professionalism and punctuality with which he wrote and delivered his stories were a constant spur to the rest of the team when the complex project threatened to stall.
The history of watchmaking has echoed the history of human culture for several hundreds of years and reflects the aesthetic or artistic sensitivities of any given age
The entire process was intensive and occasionally controversial, as is to be expected when the aim is to compress an objective as ambitious as this one to the confines of two covers: a book about watches and time, the like of which had never been seen before. Firstly, because the history of IWC, from its remarkable beginnings until today, is one of the most interesting and unusual in the Swiss watch industry. And, secondly, because the objective, which was clear from the start to everyone involved, was to dare to do something completely different.
Perhaps it is also the close affiliation that exists between culture and craftsmanship, although the level of craftsmanship practised at IWC in the form of Haute Horlogerie represents a cultural achievement in itself. We need this kind of culture, of course, as little as we need a Bach cantata or a picture by Picasso. Except that life without them would be that little bit poorer. We could take this a step further and maintain that an individual’s attitude towards time, whether cultivated or indifferent, is reflected in his choice of timepiece. The history of watchmaking has echoed the history of human culture for several hundreds of years and reflects the aesthetic or artistic sensitivities of any given age.
This is the real reason why, despite the cool rationale of electronic timekeeping, the art of precision watchmaking – in itself an offshoot of the art of engineering – has continued to exist and develop over the centuries. It was against this background that a decision was taken to amalgamate several different art forms in an interdisciplinary work that would be equal to its subject: the literary expertise of Paulo Coelho, the visual powers of Enki Bilal, outstanding book design, impressive photography and the narration of a real story in modern, journalistic terms.
Sweeping in scope and weighing in at 4.4 kilograms, the new magnum opus of IWC – this time about the company and not from it – was conceived in this spirit. Or as CEO Georges Kern expressed it at the advance premiere: “We didn’t want to publish just another book about watches with a classic company history. By adopting an unusual, artistic approach, we wanted to give a wide public the possibility to discover the uniqueness and fascination of the IWC brand for themselves.”
—IWC founder F. A. Jones made the eponymous pocket watch calibre with its three-quarter plate and elongated index for precision adjustment
Never before has the history of IWC Schaffhausen been so comprehensively researched and told with so much background information
—The Mark 11 Pilot’s Watch with its hand-wound 89-calibre movement, protected against magnetic fields
The date of the presentation in mid-March was well chosen and attracted journalists from all over the world to Schaffhausen on their way to the Basel Watch Fair. They had an opportunity to talk to Paulo Coelho, the French artist and illustrator Enki Bilal, me, the project team and the specialists from the IWC Museum. The opportunity to explore and discuss this unusual publication about watches was one of which our guests made avid use.
There are many ways of structuring a book of this kind. But no matter which one you choose, there is no avoiding a basic introduction to the subject. Only if you understand your past can you define the way forward. For this reason, two essential aspects that are still pivotal to IWC’s existence come at the very beginning. The first of these is the story of how IWC came to be in Schaffhausen at all. But the consequence of this is likewise important: in other words, the fact that the close connection between Schaffhausen and the factory on the river has remained indissoluble to this day. On the one hand, we can reconstruct the remarkable coincidence as to how and why F. A. Jones from Boston ended up in north-eastern Switzerland of all places. But it is what followed on from all this – namely, the company’s insular position, far removed from the traditional Swiss watchmaking centres and its specific, in retrospect clearly foreseeable, consequences.
One of these – and the most important – is expressed in the book’s title: “IWC Schaffhausen. Engineering Time since 1868”. This alludes to something that is part of the company’s DNA, of the proverbial genius loci and the people who inhabit the Swiss-German border region. There is nothing they love more than tinkering around with things and combining the best tools available with an intelligent use of mechanics to generate the best possible solutions. Reality – here the quality, ingeniousness and durability of the movements – has always been more important to IWC than appearances, more important than ornamentation or exaggeratedly off-the-wall products. This has given IWC watches their unique and unmistakable character, to this day. It is a constant that can be documented over the past 142 years. Nevertheless, we should point out that it is a complete fiction to assert that the company in Schaffhausen has only ever made watches for men.
The book, which is big in every sense of the term, was an opportunity to relate the unusual story of the company’s founding in as much detail as necessary without becoming bogged down in trivial detail, and to follow it through to the present day. But never before have the protagonists who pushed the company forward during their own time been so alive. Not least, it was possible to examine the product lines that have today become so clearly defined – the Pilot’s Watches, Portuguese, Ingenieur, Aquatimer, Da Vinci and Portofino – and their authentic roots in clear and well-defined detail. Anything that cannot be assigned to this section but is relevant to the overall picture of the brand can be found in another chapter or in a – comprehensive but not exhaustive – overview of important calibres.
But no one can bluff their way through 550 pages without having something concrete to say
Its special charm, however, lies in the juxtaposition of the factual, informative part of the book with the seven fictional stories about the founding of IWC and its watch lines written by Paulo Coelho and illustrated by Enki Bilal. This “book-in-book” is essentially philosophical in nature. At the book presentation itself Coelho related how, despite his initial scepticism about the project, he had ended up being totally captivated by the subject of time and its measurement. It was a sincere compliment addressed to the watchmaking metier in general but also to IWC in particular. And, who knows, perhaps the subject will be addressed again in one of his future books.
In this respect, the IWC book is not so much a classical work for collectors as an extended business card for the company that will also appeal to people who are encountering the fascinating topic of haute horlogerie through IWC for the first time. Admittedly, walking the fine line between language that would be readily understandable to the non-specialist reader yet acceptable to the professional was not always easy.
But no one can bluff their way through 550 pages without having something concrete to say. The story behind the foundation of IWC is genuinely unusual. The craft of watchmaking was imported into the western part of Switzerland mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries by Huguenots who had been driven out of France and was gradually built up by their descendants. Compared with this, the arrival of an American watchmaker from Boston is a completely different story. In terms of both motivation and watchmaking background.
As regards industrialization and standardization – and thus precision – the American watchmaking industry centred on Boston was superior to all others of the time. And F.A. Jones, who was unfortunately not as gifted an entrepreneur as a watchmaker, was an industrial revolutionist: he was hoping to combine modern production techniques with the skills of qualified Swiss watchmakers, who were then cheaper than workers in the booming cities of North America, and in this way gain a competitive edge. However, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, where watchmaking was still largely a cottage industry, he met with staunch resistance.
It was a classic case of fear of progress. The fact that Jones ended up in Schaffhausen, a town whose industry was just beginning to wake up and which had a hydropower plant on the banks of the Rhine, was on the one hand pure coincidence. But it was also the opportunity for a new beginning that lent power to his idea of making first-class watches of consistently high quality. Even after the economic debacle of 1876, Jones’s basic demand for quality has run like a thread throughout the company’s history. Everything we know about Jones to this day is related in the book. It is the story of a rather tragic failure: Jones, unfortunately, failed to be quite so international in his thinking as the name he chose for the company suggested. Unfortunately, because he produced watches exclusively for North America, which imposed prohibitive import duties. But without this failed beginning, the company’s continuation would also have been unthinkable.
Basically, to borrow an image from the industry itself, Jones left a fully assembled watch that stopped simply for lack of power. Or to put it in economic terms: it was a completely undervalued bargain that was first secured in 1876 by a Schaffhausen bank with not the slightest idea of the metier and which consequently failed to get it up and running again. It was only four years later that the company was taken over by the Rauschenbachs, one of Schaffhausen’s best-established entrepreneurial dynasties. Now, for the first time, we see signs of a pattern being established for successful company management. For both the new man-in-command, Johannes Rauschenbach-Schenk, and his son and successor, Johannes Rauschenbach, filled the senior positions in the company – especially the technical ones – with individuals who were well qualified for the job in hand.
—This mechanical chronograph was the world’s first watch in a case made of titanium
Never before has so much material about the company been uncovered, researched and analyzed as in this volume
It was during this phase, to name but one catchword, that the company manufactured its “Pallweber” pocket watches. These had digital displays for the hours and minutes and were the subject of an enormous ballyhoo. But this era also saw the development of trailblazing movements like the 52 and 53 calibres. The company sought and found new markets. And even before the end of the 19th century, IWC had realized that the wristwatch – then favoured mainly by women – could represent an alternative to the pocket watch. Apart from this, the company’s owners secured the loyalty of its employees with an exemplary package of social benefits.
The second Schaffhausen-based family of entrepreneurs to play a significant role in IWC’s history, the Hombergers, effectively married into the company. Ernst Jakob Homberger was a director at Georg Fischer, Schaffhausen’s biggest industrial concern, and married to one of the two daughters of Johannes Rauschenbach, who had died in 1905. It was at this point that he was entrusted with the management of the watch factory. Also in 1905, Rauschenbach’s second daughter, Emma Marie, was wedded to a young man who was destined for world acclaim in his own chosen field, the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. In this way, he too became a part owner of the watch company. In his memoirs, Jung relates how, as a student, he had paid a chance visit to the Rauschenbachs’ house in Schaffhausen in 1896 where he saw a young girl standing on a stairway. He had been deeply moved by the impression she made and “knew immediately, with absolute certainty, that she would be my wife”. He was right.
Incidentally, it was on precisely this wooden staircase in March 2010 that Georges Kern proposed a vote of thanks to Daniel Homberger, youngest son of the last private owner of IWC and host of a dinner given on the occasion of the book’s presentation. IWC history as it is lived. The last old-school owner, Hans (Ernst) Homberger, had taken over sole control of the flourishing company in 1955 from his father, Ernst Jakob Homberger, and only consented to its sale to VDO Adolf Schindling AG at the end of a decade of crisis for mechanical watches, in 1978. The era of Günter Blümlein, who was CEO from 1981 until his death in 2001, ended when IWC was taken over by Richemont International SA, heralding a new era of increased internationalization and professionalism for the brand under its present CEO, Georges Kern.
So much for our abridged version of the company’s history, which can be relished at leisure, together with the watches that are the actual fruits of its endeavours, in the book. Never before has so much material about the company been uncovered, researched and analyzed as in this volume. At the presentation, Georges Kern asked whether anything particularly surprising had come to light during this period. To this question, and in light of the facts, there is a key answer: starting with F.A. Jones, IWC has resolutely clung to its central principle of outstanding quality and remained true to it for over 142 years. Throughout that time, it has attracted individuals who have dreamed a dream together and, in the process, created new realities. It is a finding of which we have every reason to be proud.
—Made to measure for the larger-than-life dimensions of the Portuguese: the 5000-calibre family with the Pellaton winding and seven-day power reserve