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Experiences

Reinventing timeless beauty

Text — Boris Schneider Date2017-01-08T07:59:07

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For the new Da Vinci collection, IWC reinterpreted the iconic round design of this watch family from the 1980s and gave it a more contemporary style. In doing so, the Swiss watch manufacturer created some of the most beautiful ladies’ watches in its history.

Admittedly, the Da Vinci is not as easy to describe as a Pilot´s Watch or Aquatimer. And yet therein lies the unique charm of this watch family, which has been defying all the usual conventions for almost 50 years. Christian Knoop, Creative Director at IWC Schaffhausen, sums it up: “The Da Vinci was not only an opportunity to experiment with technical innovations such as the perpetual calendar; it was also a playground for what was often an avant-garde design.”

It is no coincidence that this watch bears the name of the Renaissance’s greatest scientist and artist. What is beauty? Is there a link between science and aesthetics? Throughout his life, Leonardo da Vinci worked to pin down the universal principle of beauty using numbers or geometric shapes. The history of the Da Vinci reflects this tireless effort: “It has always adapted to the spirit of the times while managing to appear fresh and modern”, Knoop explains.

IWC Da Vinci Automatic 36 IW458310 female watch
—In keeping with the tradition of ladies’ watches from the 1980s, IWC also developed several models in the new collection especially for ladies.

Always state of the art

The first Da Vinci (Ref. 3501) featured a breathtakingly futuristic hexagonal case. Its technical design perfectly captured the spirit of the seventies. Then, in 1985, the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar (Ref. 3750) appeared in a round case with a striking double-framed bezel. IWC’s former Creative Director Hanno Burtscher drew his inspiration from one of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches showing fortifications in the port of Piombino. In 2007, the company went on to present a fully redesigned Da Vinci collection in a tonneau case made from up to 50 individual parts.

IWC has been confidently setting aesthetic trends with the Da Vinci for many years now. “But, in this day and age, people are also increasingly looking to the past when it comes to design”, Knoop explains. Vintage is not just a trend for watches, which is why the company decided to revive the iconic round design of the 1980s Da Vinci models.

IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar IW3750 classic timepiece
—In 1985, the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar was not only a technical milestone, but also highly regarded for its iconic style.

The Da Vinci has always adapted to the spirit of the times, appearing fresh and modern in every decade.

Knoop and his team spent eight years developing a contemporary design for the new collection. He describes one of the main challenges that the designer faced: “The Da Vinci family can look back on decades of tradition and a rich heritage. That means we have to ask ourselves time and time again how much of the old aspects we want to keep, and how many new aspects we should add.”

To make matters more difficult, no watch can just stand alone. Each family also has to fit into IWC’s overall portfolio. “As a designer, you’re not just caught between a watch family’s past and future. You also have to find a balance between a product’s identity and the DNA of our brand”, Knoop emphasises.

IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar IW3750 exclusive watches
—Examining the historic watches enabled the designers to identify the Da Vinci’s essential design codes (painting by Hano Burtscher May 1984).

Everything begins with history

The design process began with countless visits to the IWC museum. It was looking back over almost two decades of historical models that enabled Knoop to identify the specific design codes. Perhaps the most striking aesthetic feature from the 1980s Da Vinci is the circular motif found, for example, in the double-framed bezel or the round elements on the crown and push-buttons. “For the new design, we took inspiration from these circular elements, but simplified them in keeping with the times”, Knoop recalls. The bezel is now narrower and flatter.

The watches now also feature a more striking dial design. Older Da Vinci watches originally had indices, and it was the Da Vinci Rattrapante (Ref. 3754) that was the first to use Arabic numerals for the hours. “We adopted this typography and used it to create appliqués”, Knoop explains. The dramatic lancet-shaped hands originally come from this era.

IWC DA VINCI AUTOMATIC 36 IW4583 elegant ladies watches
—The round case, Arabic numerals and lancet-shaped hands are design codes that appear in every model of the new Da Vinci collection.

A homage to the ladies

Ladies’ models have always been an integral part of the Da Vinci line. Launched in 1988 and produced in various versions into the nineties, the Da Vinci Lady Chronograph (Ref. 3735) became the most successful ladies’ watch in the history of IWC. “That’s why it was clear to us from the very beginning that watches designed especially for ladies had to be a key part of the new collection”, Knoop explains.

Fortunately, the round style of the 1980s provided the perfect basis for developing designs for both men and ladies. The Da Vinci Automatic 36 (Ref. 4583) and Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36 (Ref. 4593) were created especially for ladies, whereas the Da Vinci Automatic (Ref. 3566) is aimed at both men and women. Continuing the tradition of glamorous watches from the 1990s, the most exclusive ladies’ model in the new collection features a case and bracelet made from 18-carat red gold and a bezel set with 54 pure white diamonds.

The articulated strap horns with curved lugs ensure a very comfortable fit on slimmer wrists, making these watches particularly attractive for ladies. This is another feature from the 1980s that the designers used for the new models. Alligator leather straps from Santoni in the newly developed colours raspberry, brown, bronze and blue provide further fashionable highlights.

Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36
—Thanks to the articulated lugs, the new Da Vinci models also fit perfectly on slimmer wrists.

The Da Vinci reflects Leonardo Da Vinci’s tireless search for a universal, geometrically measurable principle of beauty.

Good design takes time

How does the designer know when their work is done? “That’s hard to say, especially for a watch as sophisticated as the Da Vinci. But a new design is not developed in isolation. The designer constantly consults and exchanges ideas with colleagues, experts and collectors. But one thing is clear: good design takes time”, concludes Knoop.

IWC’s Creative Director is convinced that the company has mastered the balancing act between old and new and found the perfect blend of technology and aesthetic appeal. The engraving on the back of the new ladies’ models is symbolic of this achievement. It shows the Flower of Life that Leonardo Da Vinci drew in his “Codex Atlanticus”. The pattern inside this figure made up of 19 circles is reminiscent of a flower. Beauty really can be found hidden in geometry after all.

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