One of the most important, but also most enigmatic, figures in the history of IWC, and for that matter in the history of American and Swiss watchmaking, is the man known as Florentine Ariosto Jones, who founded IWC in 1868.
Despite the long shadow IWC casts across the modern horological landscape, and in spite of his status as one of the legends responsible for helping usher in the modern age of watchmaking, we don’t actually know very much about him at all. There are birth records –we know he was born in Rumney, New Hampshire, in 1841; we know his parents were Solomon and Lavinia Craig Jones; and we know that he fought in the Civil War, having enlisted in the 13th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
There is a photograph in the Library of Congress archives that may show Jones as a soldier –it’s a hand-colored tintype made sometime between 1861 and 1865 and shows a young man (Jones would have been twenty at the onset of the Civil War) with what looks like a rather bewildered expression on his face; but in the picture, he is holding, at the level of his heart, a large pocket watch; and we know that when Jones enlisted, he gave his occupation as “watchmaker.”
Jones went on almost immediately after the cessation of hostilities to work for one of the best watchmaking firms in America: the firm of E. Howard & Co. He was eventually to rise to the rank of the superintendent of the factory, but in 1867 he applied for a passport and traveled to Europe, looking for some place to establish a watchmaking business of his own, using the so-called “American System” of watchmaking.
This system was originally derived from manufacturing methods developed for the Federal armories at Springfield and Harpers Ferry, where high precision interchangeable parts were needed for armaments –a requirement that made the system (also originally known as the “armory system”) ideal for watchmaking. F.A. Jones was one of the few American pioneers who transferred the principles of the American system of manufacturing into watchmaking.
Florentine Ariosto Jones’ business plan was laid out as follows: “Combining all the excellence of the American system of mechanism with the more skillful hand labor of the Swiss” to manufacture high quality watches exclusively for the US Market. So in 1868, after traveling extensively in Switzerland to find the best possible site for his venture, he and his traveling companion Charles Kidder (another American watchmaker) founded, in Schaffhausen, the company that would become the International Watch Company (according to one surviving document, the Schaffhausen firm’s original name was simply F. A. Jones & Co.) The Marketing and Sales Department of the “International Watch Company” was based in Maiden Lane 5, New York City.
Combining all the excellence of the American system of mechanism with the more skillful hand labor of the Swiss
A major advantage in locating the firm in Schaffhausen was the topography of the region, which provided ample water power for driving the machinery on which Jones’ manufacturing model was based. Movements that survive from the era are generally high quality, sturdily built machines –many with the long, thin index for precision regulation that is still identified with Jones-era movements today —that exemplify the best of the American watchmaking system: precision engineering combined with skilled hand work in finishing, assembling, and regulating.
Jones himself returned to the United States, in 1876, after a period of what must have been very frustrating conflict with some of his company’s board of directors. In Schaffhausen, among the watch makers of IWC and his good friends, he was still highly appreciated and his vision was highly respected. He would go on to other work in mechanics and engineering, before retiring and finally passing away in 1916.
But perhaps Jones would have taken comfort in the fact that his spirit still survives in the approach IWC takes to making watches in the 21st century. All these decades after the passing of its founder, IWC still emphasizes the values that were part of his vision from the outset: making solid, reliable, highly precise, robust watches that have both the dignity of well-made and functionally irreproachable machines, as well as being shaped by the irreplaceable work of skilled craftspeople. It’s in this combination of functional integrity, and restrained elegance in execution, that the vision of Florentine Ariosto Jones is alive today at IWC.
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