Collecting Five Great Da Vinci Models

I’m still on a relentless pursuit of collecting five great models from each of IWC’s product lines. I’ve cast my lot for Ingenieur, Portuguieser, Pilot and Aquatimer models, so now I need to turn to the Da Vinci models.

 

There is an inherent contrast between model lines that have only a few seminal models and those with a multitude of prime watches to collect. I found a dizzying array of great Pilot’s watches, and it was difficult to choose. For the Da Vinci models, not as many different models have been produced over the years and the model line’s history, while equally important, is relatively more recent.

The first Da Vinci was introduced in 1969 as a revolutionary watch for its era. It had the first Swiss Beta 21 quartz movement and an equally bold case: a hexagonal shaped tonneau. This watch, reference 3501, was also relatively expensive for its time. The movement was a game-changer, but proved to be somewhat finicky.

Still, for any serious Da Vinci collection, this 3501 model is a “must-have”. It represents the launch of what evolved into a great product line, and represents a turning point, both for the Swiss watch industry and for IWC. For a company that previously produced classic, indeed conservative, automatic watches, developing a watch with a bold new case design and a licensed new movement was a major step. Like Da Vinci and the Italian renaissance, IWC reference 3501 began an IWC watch renaissance.

Ref. 3501

In the 1970s the Da Vinci name was used by IWC in other references. Noteworthy is a late-70s automatic model in an almost identical hexagonal case, reference 3074. There also was another hexagonal cased model with a “regular” quartz movement, one with a smaller automatic, tonneau-shaped Da Vinci watch in the mid-70s as part of the “SL” line.  Yet neither competes, in my opinion, with the revolutionary reference 3501. It’s the one to get.

 

In 1985 at the Basel Watch Fair, IWC produced its second milestone in the Da Vinci line, reference 3750. This model took the Da Vinci name, but bore no other similarity to the Beta-21 model ---except for one characteristic. This watch, too, was revolutionary. A second renaissance, if one will call it that, with an incredibly special movement and unique case.

Ref. 3750

The super-star status of the Da Vinci 3750 cannot be overstated. It contained the ingenious integrated perpetual calendar module by Kurt Klaus on a chronograph base. The case, too, was special, with articulated bar lugs, a double tier to the basic case design and unique pushers. At a time when the Swiss watch industry could barely survive due to increased quartz competition, this automatic, uber-complicated Swiss watch changed the culture.

 

For a perpetual calendar-chronograph, the Da Vinci was surprisingly affordable, and IWC is believed to have produced more perpetual calendar watches in the 1980s and 90s than the entire rest of the Swiss watch industry combined. This reference represents a true turning point, the apogee of a new renaissance in mechanical watches. It put IWC squarely at the forefront of fine watchmaking. And, of course, this model must be included in any Da Vinci collection.

The success of reference 3750 spawned additional models, all again revolutionary in their own way. These include IWC’s first model in ceramic, the high-tech zirconium oxide perpetual calendar reference 3755, as well as a tourbillon model (with the tourbillon discretely shown only on the backside) and a rattrapante perpetual calendar, reference 3751.  But to me the second watch to get in the 375x “series” should be reference 3754 –a larger Da Vinci perpetual rattrapante with an updated dial with Arabic numerals.  They’re all special, but the reference 3754 Da Vinci especially sings to me –updated from the original but still with every distinctive Da Vinci characteristic. It’s now the third model in my hypothetical Da Vinci collection.

Despite the avant-garde design of the perpetual-chronograph Da Vinci, some fifteen-plus years after its introduction the style became somewhat dated. Those lugs were atypical and most buyers preferred horn lugs. The case design was intended for a plastic crystal, and that impeded sales, even though a sapphire crystal could be retrofitted at a somewhat high cost. By the mid-2000s, the Da Vinci called for redesigning. 

The first major redesign was introduced around 2007, with a chronograph-only reference 3764. It had a complex tonneau shaped case, with negative curves as part of the design, and was relatively large at 44 by 51 mm. Most importantly, it also debuted IWC’s first in-house chronograph, calibre 89360. This was a major development for IWC –a striking new case with a major new movement. It was intended to be as avant-garde for its era as was the 1985 Da Vinci. The radical case design was used, in several variations, over the next 10 years.  With a redesign to be more hexagonal, a time/date-only version was introduced a year later for IWC’s 140th anniversary in 2008, paying homage to reference 3501 as part of the “Vintage Collection”.

 

With the “original” case from reference 2007, IWC also produced a special perpetual calendar model.  This edition, limited to 3000 examples, honored Kurt Klaus, with his image laser-etched on the case back. It used calibre 79261, based on a Valjoux 7750 like the original perpetual Da Vinci rather than IWC’s new in-house movement. IWC subsequently used its new in-house chronograph movement in a special perpetual calendar Da Vinci.  This model, reference 3761, contained a very special digital date-month indication. Again, it was a revolutionary design –a bold new movement in a bold case.

Ref. 3754

Given all these cutting edge Da Vinci models from the late 2000s, it is not altogether simple to choose one or more examples for “dream team” collection. Given that I already have chosen three predecessor Da Vincis, if two are now chosen then any of the newest models are precluded. But if I have to choose one and only one, my vote is for reference 3764. Historically, this model is the first of the 2000-era redesigned Da Vinci models. Significantly, it is the first watch in IWC’s long and illustrious history with an in-house chronograph. To my thinking, the value of a chronograph cannot be underestimated: not just for utility, but a well-designed one represents the entire art of watchmaking.

 

With four Da Vincis having been selected, I finally can turn to new, redesigned-again Da Vinci collection introduced in 2017.  The watch turned back to its 1995 emblematic model, and especially back to a round case. The original bar lugs were replaced now with articulated lugs, with an extension of metal partially between them –a way to cleverly evoke the original reference 3750 but to retain both a more classic and yet contemporary design.

 

 

The 2017 Da Vincis reflected an elegance, with applied Arabic numbers. There is an alluring perpetual calendar chronograph (reference IW3921xx), a classic 40mm automatic (reference IWC3921xx), a chronograph with an in-house movement (reference IW3934xx, including a Laureus model) and even a chronograph tourbillon retrograde (reference IWC 3931xx).  There are also new 36mm Da Vinci models, some with diamonds and some with moon phase indication. Finally, in 2018 as part of its 150th anniversary celebration, IWC introduced five of these models with special lacquered dials, creating a distinguished enamel look without the brittleness of true enamel.

Ref. IW392103

With this plethora of models, it’s difficult once again to choose. If money were not an object, then I’d vote for the chronograph-tourbillon retrograde model. But if I have “only” a 100,000 USD or CHF budget, and that watch would break the bank, at least without me rationalizing that I’ve ‘saved” with my prior selections of pilot’s watches and diving watches. In that case, I will “settle” on a mere steel example –reference IW392103, a perpetual calendar chronograph steel watch.

 

Yes, my collection of five now includes three perpetual calendar chronographs. And the perpetual calendar was not the first Da Vinci model. But to me, Da Vinci is more than an elegant watch and more than an avant-garde one. Because of what Kurt Klaus invented, and what changed the course of history for not only IWC but also the mechanical watch industry in the mid-1980s, Da Vinci to me is more than a chronograph and more than a unique perpetual calendar. It is both combined. It was and is a great achievement, and it has to be the primary theme of my hypothetical Da Vinci collection, my dream team.

 

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