Watch brand spotlight: IWC

8 February 2021

IWC, also known as International Watch Company or IWC Schaffhausen is a luxury Swiss watchmaker. IWC is the only major Swiss watchmaker located in eastern Switzerland, the rest are all in western Switzerland. IWC was founded in 1868 and has been a subsidiary of Switzerland’s Richemont Group since 2000. In the early days, the brand was known as International Watch Chronology.

IWC was founded by the American engineer and watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones with the intention of combining Swiss craftsmanship with modern technology from the United States. At that time, wages in Switzerland were relatively low and there was an ample supply of skilled watchmakers. Most watchmakers worked from home to supplement their income.

IWC pocket watch from the 1930s.

On 1 April 1944 the IWC factory in Schaffenhausen was accidentally bombed by the United States Army Air Forces. Fortunately, the bomb did not explode and only the factory was damaged by the fall. After the Second World War (during which IWC was unfortunately also a supplier to the German Air Force, although they also supplied the Allied Forces), IWC changed its focus. IWC started to look abroad again to sell its watches. In the middle of the century IWC released its famous Caliber 89 movement, which can be seen in the watch at the top of this page. This mechanically wound movement powered IWC models from the 1940s to the 1990s. It is an extremely precise movement that is known to last for decades. If you’re in the market for a vintage IWC, check out watches with the Cal 89 movement, such as the reference 521 pictured above. In 1948 IWC also began production of the Pilot’s Watch Mark 11 with the Cal 89 movement, an iconic pilot’s watch with design aspects that we still see in pilot’s watches today.

-Vintage IWC Aquatimer

In 1967 IWC began production of the Aquatimer. This is the beginning of a successful series of diver’s watches. This watch was water resistant to an unprecedented 20 bar and featured a rotating bezel inside the watch as opposed to an outside bezel like the Rolex Submariner. During the Quartz Crisis a few years later, IWC was forced to change its strategy again. Like other watchmakers, it began with innovative designs and also experimented with materials such as titanium.

-First titanium chronograph of 1980.

IWC also changed the Ingenieur from a classically designed watch with some modern features (protection against magnetic fields) into a typical sports watch. Like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, they chose the best man for the job: Gerald Genta. Genta clearly used some of the same features of the Royal Oak, but he also changed the design enough to create a new unique design. The new engineer had a tonneau case design with a round bezel with 5 holes to open the watch. It also had an integrated bracelet and a large case size of 40 mm.

IWC Ingenieur Jumbo SL 1976
-IWC Engineer Jumbo 1976.

IWC Schaffhausen is also praised for a particular model now known as the Portugieser (also called the Portuguese or Portugaise). This watch has had a similar design since its inception in the late 1930s. It was an exceptionally large watch for the time with a diameter of over 40 millimetres. The design was innovative at the time, but has since become a classic.

-IWC Portugieser ref. 325, This is the original reference which dates back to the 1930s, this one is from the 1950s.

The style and size of the watch were chosen with legibility in mind. From 1939 to 1993 the IWC Portugieser was produced in extremely low numbers. It is estimated that only 700 units were produced during this period. This changed in 1993 when the Portugieser made its comeback for the 125th anniversary of the brand with the Jubilee Edition Ref. 5441 in 42 millimeter. In 1995 the watch became a staple of the IWC collection with the introduction of other models, such as a chronograph model that is still the most popular variant of the Portugieser today.

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