In this interview, we sat down with Hannes Pantli to discuss the impact of Genta’s famous steel sports watch, particularly the Ingenieur SL, on the watch industry in the 1970s. We delve into the challenges IWC faced during this exciting but turbulent time, the constant struggle for survival, and how the former Sales and Marketing Director helped IWC stay afloat despite financial limitations. Join us for this fascinating discussion on the design evolution of the iconic Ingenieur SL.
Hannes Pantli & the Decade of Change (Part 2)
Shipping and delivery conditions
HOW DID IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN TEAM UP WITH RENOWNED WATCH DESIGNER Gérald GENTA TO COME UP WITH THE INGENIEUR SL? HANNES PANTLI REVEALS EXCLUSIVE INSIGHTS
RADICALLY DIFFERENT AND NEW
How did the idea of a new Ingenieur take shape?
The “new Ingenieur” project already got underway in the late 1960s. As far as I can remember, it started in the summer of 1969. Some years before, IWC had launched the second generation Ingenieur, Reference 866. It was a beautiful timepiece, but we wanted to create something radically different and new.
To better underscore the technical character of the Ingenieur, we needed a new case design. We had some ideas and manufactured some prototypes, but they didn’t satisfy us. So, we started looking around for different concepts and fresh ideas.
And how did IWC get in contact with Gérald Genta?
The first contact happened via Alexander Ott, our Marketing Director at the time. Ott was a very open-minded manager, capable of thinking outside the box. His thoughts never revolved around some abstract concepts but were always directed at improving our situation in the European market.
And his advertising was very much ahead of its time. Many IWC collectors might recall his claim from the early 1970s: “This man is dangerous – he winds his watch by hand.” Maybe this bold and forward-looking mindset made him reach out to Gérald Geta, a freelance watch designer who had set entirely new standards in sports watches.
— The Ingenieur SL Catalogue from 1979
What briefing did Genta receive from IWC?
For the redesign of the Ingenieur, we gave Genta what you would call a “Carte Blanche.” His only brief was to design a round steel watch with an integrated bracelet. And, of course, the case should provide enough space for the typical soft-iron inner case for magnetic field protection and a movement bearing with rubber buffers. The Ingenieur was, by all means, a tool watch. But we were also looking for an avant-garde design.
— Designer of the IWC Ingenieur SL, Gerald Genta
AHEAD OF ITS TIME
How did the collaboration continue?
Genta started working on the Ingenieur and presented his final design in 1974. His sketches showed a watch with a screw-on bezel with five recesses, a dial with a unique structure and an integrated h-link bracelet. After a development phase of around four years, we unveiled the new Ingenieur SL at the 1976 Basel Watch Fair. It became the leading model of the SL Collection, which also included other steel sports watches like the Polo Club and the Golf Club.
What did the initials “SL” stand for?
They did not have any specific meaning. For the Italians, it meant “Super Lusso”, for the French “Super Luxe”. But you could also have interpreted it as “steel” and “luxury”. To be honest, we never actually committed ourselves, and that is why there’s never been an official answer to the question. The truth is that we were inspired by a well-known model produced by a German car manufacturer.
Was the Ingenieur SL the success you’d hoped for?
From a design point of view, the Ingenieur SL was a totally new departure. But it was never a commercial success. The fact we’d used our 8541-calibre movement made the watch too bulky for the time. That is the reason why it was also nicknamed “Jumbo”. Another factor was the relatively high price of 2000 Francs. We later produced a bicolored version of the Ingenieur SL in stainless steel and gold, as well as a model with a quartz movement. Altogether, we made just under 1000 of them. The Ingenieur SL was unquestionably ahead of its time.
He was an inspiring, cultured and very agreeable personality. But my most prominent memory of him is as an artist
A NEW ERA IN WATCH DESIGN
How would you assess Gérald Genta’s work and the Ingenieur SL today?
The famous steel sports watches designed by Genta in the 1970s, of which the Ingenieur SL is one, represent a new era in watch design. On the one hand, he created a new and independent formal idiom. On the other, luxury sports watches made of steel were an entirely new product category for the Swiss watch industry. Never before had stainless-steel models been selling at such high prices. It took a good bit of nerve for us, as watch manufacturers, to offer something like that.
Did you ever meet Gérald Genta personally?
When Genta created the Ingenieur SL, we did not have much contact. From 1975 onwards, my position as Sales and Marketing Director involved a lot of travel. Apart from Europe and the Middle East, I had to get to know the Asian and US markets. But in the 1980s, I met Genta on several occasions at the offices of our distribution partner in Milan. I remember well the lunches we had together. He was an inspiring, cultured and very agreeable personality. But my most prominent memory of him is as an artist. By that time, his own watch brand was already up and running.
— Hannes Pantli presenting an IWC to a customer
Although we were also manufacturing quartz watches back then, it gradually became clear to management that IWC could only guarantee its long-term future with high-quality mechanics
— Former marketing and sales director, Hannes Pantli
FOUNDATION FOR MATERIAL COMPETENCE
How would you sum up the 1970s?
It was an exciting time, and lots of changes were taking place. But it was also a constant struggle for survival. We did everything we could and clutched at any straw to keep IWC alive. We had good ideas but often no money. And without finance, it is difficult to implement a strategy properly, especially when you need to keep a company with 150 employees afloat.
Although we were also manufacturing quartz watches back then, it gradually became clear to management that IWC could only guarantee its long-term future with high-quality mechanics.
What happened next at IWC Schaffhausen?
Following the takeover by VDO Adolf Schindling and the appointment of Günter Blümlein as CEO, IWC had an experienced man at the helm. In 1985, we launched the perpetual calendar, developed by our master watchmaker Kurt Klaus. And in 1990, with the “Grande Complication”, we had reached the pinnacle of Haute Horlogerie.
By the late 1970s already, I had also been working with our then Technical Director to pave the way for the cooperation with Ferdinand Alexander Porsche. This helped us to make better use of the company’s production capacity. The collaboration with Porsche Design finally led to the development of our first wristwatch in titanium and marked the foundation of the unique expertise in case materials that remains the hallmark of IWC Schaffhausen to this day.