In a cutthroat market, exquisite watchmaking does not make it alone. Neither do putting loads of money into Google Ads and Facebook marketing. A creative mindset is what sets you apart from your colleagues. And IWC has for many years already proven that they master both.
I once said that I see IWC as a creative company that happens to do great watches. And with that in mind, I turned to their CEO, Chris Grainger-Herr, who took the helm in 2017.
Chris is a trained architect and designer and no stranger to creative thinking. “My background is in interior and architectural design”, Chris Grainger-Herr says, adding that he was very fond of boat designs and tiny houses as young. “I spent a lot of time designing a rescue station in a 2 sqm. beach house, when I was young. And there is an obvious connection between the inside of tiny rescue stations and the complexity of fitting hundreds of small movement components into a watch case. That is why I am drawn to this business.”
The great ideas do, however not come from Grainger-Herr’s head alone. He is surrounded by creative talents. “We have an in-house creative department, but we also work with external partners and PR agencies,” Grainger-Herr admits. “And we often work with young creatives in Lausanne and a creative academy in Milan. I am amazed at how these 18-year-olds work.”
“At one assignment, two of our own IWC watchmaking students came back with a crazy idea about an interstellar carbon watch with a full carbon movement. But they also presented the watch with the right music, a film and the supporting campaign,” says an impressed Grainger-Herr.
WATCH PRESENTATION VIA HOLOGRAM
The watches are not all that IWC is known for. For many years already, IWC has also shown a unique way of communicating their watches. i.e. printing the Big Pilot on the gloves of Formula 1 pilots, Formula 1 drivers biking around in Amsterdam in full F1 attire – complete with helmets of course – sharing a video of watchmaking legend Kurt Klaus not understanding anything smart about smart watches and having their CEO attend the Watches & Wonders 2021 watch fair via hologram as Covid prevented all CEOs to travel to Shanghai. Which meant that Chris Grainger-Herr, was the only CEO “attending” the fair.
Besides “attending” the fair in Shanghai, the presentation of this year’s new models was shown online from a shipping container. Not only inspired by the containers used by Formula 1 teams when on the constant travels, but also a result of again to fit as much as possible into tiny spaces yet make a big impact.
Hologram of IWC-CEO Chris Grainger-Herr during Watches and Wonders 2021 Shanghai
Grainger-Herr speaks with clients in Shanghai via hologram
The Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 (Ref. IW3881-01 and -04)
Taking a closer look at the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 in The Hague
The BIG PILOT Roadshow in The Hague
#IWCONTOUR in The Netherlands
The BIG PILOT Roadshow visits Rotterdam
Hologram of watchmaker Kurt Klaus
THE WATCH AS THE HERO
Showing the watches from a container and not from a very ambitious stand at SIHH in Palexpo with red carpet and A-listers flown in, IWC instead had to make their new watches the heroes and heroines of this year’s watch shows. And that, mind you, went very well, with the concept replicated in multiple cities around the world for the Big Pilot exhibition #IWCONTOUR.
IWC, however, also enjoys online support from the student-driven Instagram profile @9byiwc, which pairs the watches with everyday things and attire. As Grainger-Herr says: “It is all about what we wear every day. And any advice is always welcome.”
PROTECTING THE AESTHETICS OF THE BRAND
As already mentioned Chris Grainger-Herr is not the only creative at IWC. Christian Knoop, who joined IWC in 2008, is the manufacturers Creative Director. See, you may think he is responsible for all the watches designed coming out from the Schaffhausen company. Knoop is of course overseeing every single watch created. But he does so much more.
“We are of course a creative company that does great watches,” Knoop says, replying on my statement made several years ago. “But we are so much more. First and foremost we are a watch company. We make watches and have done so for more than 150 years.”
“We have a very industrial approach to our watchmaking inspired by Florentine Ariosto Jones, who founded IWC in 1868. But we are also surrounded by creative minds that help us sell our watches. Today, we safeguard our brand 360 degrees. We can only do this as we are 15-16 designers, five architects, watchmakers and engineers, and an in-house creative agency and social media experts at the table when new watches are discussed. This is far from what it looked like at IWC ten or fifteen years ago,” Knoop says.
“Of course, each department wants their own ways. The social media team wants images of new watches every day. The designers wish they had more budget to create assets, and the engineers want a watch design that lasts another 50-100 years. Yet we all agree on protecting the aesthetics of the brand, but also proving the agility of the manufacture.”
Knoop adds that creative marketing is needed. That marketing gives better visibility on a hot market. “But we are good at telling great stories. We always tell great stories,” Knoop smiles and emphasises the need for creativity in a modern-day watch company.
We are surrounded by creative minds that help us sell our watches. Today, we safeguard our brand 360 degrees.
DRIVEN BY CREATIVITY
As Knoop already underlined, watchmaking is what IWC is famous for. And that statement is, of course, supported by Stefan Ihnen, who joined IWC in 2002. Ihnen is the manufacturer’s technical director and when asked if his position is driven by creativity, he agrees.
“When I joined IWC in 2002, I was asked to stay with the company after finishing my diploma with the brand. The then director lured me to stay by promising that IWC had many exciting ideas ahead of them. Calibre 89 for instance,” Ihnen says.
Undoubtedly Ihnen is a creative guy himself as he created the GST Aquatimer Split Minute Chronograph. This complication was never seen in a wristwatch before, proving the agility of the brand and that the management was looking for something fresh and creative after Richemont took over the company in 2000.
However, when in charge of doing the very heart of the watch, Ihnen is not a man who works only with creative solutions. “It takes us up to four years to make a new movement. And as it takes us so long, we cannot afford to make any cancellations,” Ihnen says.
The good thing about the movements is that no matter the material of the watch being Ceratanium®, ceramic or bronze, the movements will fit whatever, not challenging the creative thoughts that came up with the watch. After all, at IWC watches is what they do. But creative thinking is what sells them.
#IWCONTOUR mural in London
All #IWCONTOUR murals are painted by hand
Making of the BIG PILOT mural in London
IWC ad on tram in Melbourne
The Big Pilot has landed at Piccadilly Circus...
... and in Miami
Painting the #IWCONTOUR ad in Miami
THE BIG PILOT ad on Sydney’s tram
#IWCONTOUR BIG PILOT Roadshow in Edinburgh
IWC’s new Big Pilot’s Watches Collection 2021
Trying on watches in augmented reality
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