Ben Johnson is a passionate IWC collector from Colorado. In this interview we learn more about Ben and his avid interest in IWC watches.
BJ: Ben Johnson
MF: Michael Friedberg, IWC Forum Editor
MF: Thanks, Ben, for joining us today. By way of introduction, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
BJ: Yes, absolutely. I’ve moved around a bit, starting in Brooklyn and then to London for seven years when I was young. I was living in Connecticut when I met my wife who was visiting from Colorado. It only took one trip to Colorado and I was hooked.
My wife started a business with her sisters that I helped with, and since then I haven’t looked back. We produce frozen and shelf-stable Asian-style foods.
MF: When did you get interested in watches?
BJ: Since I was a toddler. My first “watch” was actually a compass that was set inside a little tractor tire that my grandmother, a farmer from Iowa, gave me when I was very young.
MF: You should get an IWC compass watch! But what was your first fine watch?
BF: That was in 1988 - my first Swiss watch was a small quartz Tag Heuer Formula 1 which I still have, although my wife wears it now. In the late 90s I graduated to an automatic mechanical Tag Heuer, which eventually led to a Rolex Explorer II.
MF: When did you first learn about IWC?
BJ: I had never heard of IWC until my sister-in-law, who lived in Hong Kong, brought one back around 2006 or 7. The problem was that this was counterfeit and really didn’t replicate any current model well!
I then searched to find out what this watch was supposed to be and learned a little about IWC. We didn’t have any IWC dealers near us here in Colorado then, so it wasn’t until during a trip to Las Vegas in 2008 that I finally saw a real one. I was introduced to the Big Pilot, a 500401, and it was love at first sight. Another customer asked a saleswoman if they had a Big Pilot, and she said it was in the safe, but she would only get it if he was serious. He passed but that had piqued my curiosity. I still have that Big Pilot and wear it frequently.
MF: I guess that meant you caught the IWC virus.
BJ: I was really impressed with my Big Pilot, so much so that I realized that I needed another IWC, maybe a dive watch for scuba diving. I pre-ordered the Aquatimer Tribute to Calypso. That was the first watch I bought sight-unseen and things quickly got dangerous.
MF: I love these stories about more IWCs.
BJ: One watch escaped me. In 2011 I was offered a Las Vegas Boutique exclusive, a Big Pilot edition of 50, ref. 500429. I couldn’t justify owning two Big Pilots so I let it go. Years later I was blown away by the Big Pilot edition Le Petit Prince ref. 500908. Our Collectors’ Forum friend, Nad, posted some amazing photos of the watch and I couldn’t resist. I now had two Big Pilots in my collection and just recently — a week or so ago — I came across a ref. 500429 for sale and pulled the trigger.
MF: Have you been to SIHH or Schaffhausen?
BJ: Thank you, Michael, for your encouragement to attend. I’ve been to SIHH several times and it is such an amazing experience. To get to meet the people who make IWC what it is, from the executives and watchmakers to the production specialists, it’s truly an incredible honor. And to do it in the company of fellow forum members who share the passion — simply priceless. It speaks volumes that a company like IWC attracts such great people.
I also made the pilgrimage to Schaffhausen in 2017. It was a day trip and I visited the town, manufacture and museum. It gave me goose bumps to get off the train and read the station name “Schaffhausen,” as if I had been transported into some fairytale realm. It was magical to visit the hallowed grounds that have been producing these magnificent timepieces and to see how the production facility has grown.
Now that the new IWC Manufakturzentrum is complete, I would love to visit again.
MF: I hope you do, and soon!
Michael Friedberg has been collecting watches, especially IWCs, for more than three decades. From 2001 through 2015 he was moderator of the IWC Collectors’ Forum and has written extensively about IWC’s history and technical features.
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