08.11.2018 IWC celebrates 150-year anniversary. A perfect time to refresh our knowledge and once again realize its generous contribution to horology – from legendary pilot’s watches to arguably the most reliable perpetual calendar on the market.
Not so much is known about the founder of the IWC Florentine Ariosto Jones, but the main milestones of his biography define the history of his brand. Jones fought for the Union in the American Civil war and adored watches: even on the sole remained photo of those times, he stands in a soldier's uniform, holding a pocket watch close to his heart. Immediately after demobilization Florentine settled in one of the best factories of the United States – E. Howard & Co, where he was promised the position of superintendent. But soon the craftsman decided to start his own business.
While traveling across Europe, Jones calculated that the production of watches in a small town in Northern Switzerland would be cheaper than in the United States, and decided to mix his technology with the experience of European masters. To make an interconnection between a progress and a tradition, as he put it. The location was very convenient: on the one side, Schaffhausen featured large hydroelectric power station generating electricity from the rapid flow of the Rhine. On the other – there was not so much competition nearby, comparing to Geneva. The final name was not invented immediately: after the laconic FA Jones & co, the founder stopped at IWC – International Watch Company, which reflected the plans to conquer the American watch market.
After opening the sales-office in New York and leaving behind the simple name Jones & Co. for more cosmopolitan International Watch Company, the manufacture rushed for its prime target – conquering the overseas market. One of the first great victories was the so-called Jones caliber, a watch mechanism that played a crucial part in the formation of IWC’s DNA. Among other things, he was distinguished by the trademark part unofficially called the Jones Arrow – a thin long piece of metal going from the balance bridge to the middle of a three-quarter plate and making it easier to adjust the accuracy of the regulating mechanism.
It is not known for certain what exactly led Florentine Ariosto Jones and other shareholders to conflict. But in 1876 he left IWC returning to United States, where he continued to work on watch mechanisms until his death in 1916.
The company, however, continued its existence and in 1885 released the first pocket watch with three-disk jumping hour and minute indication via special windows designed by engineer Josef Pallweber. Actually, it was this design that the company repeated in the current anniversary year in Tribute to Pallweber Edition 150 Years.
A star is born
The dawn of XX century brought some serious changes. Emma Rauschenbach, the daughter of industrialist Johannes Reichenbach, married psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, who was co-owner of IWC. After his father's death, Jung's brother-in-law Ernst Jakob Homberger redeemed Jung's share and became the sole owner of the company. Under his leadership the first wristwatch mechanisms were developed – calibers 75 without second hand and 76 with small second.
During the 1930's IWC seemed to recall its founder's military past. Homberger’s sons were interested in aviation and managed to obtain the pilot's licenses. Why not ask your father to create special watches for your hobby, right? Reliable case, impact-resistant glass, flight time and fuel volume indicators, – every detail was tailored to the adventurous purpose. The watches were even made resistant to electromagnetic radiation so pilots could use them inside the plane.
Step-by-step pilots had become one of essential IWC’ collections and till this day hold a truly iconic status on the aviation-watches market.
One legend followed the other. Two Portuguese industrialists made an order for a watch with the most precise caliber. And in 1939 IWC released Portugieser by taking the chronometer-precision mechanism from a pocket watch and placing it in what was then considered a huge wrist-ready case. It was obviously not an instant hit, but in time it has gained a cult following and now is widely considered among the horological classics of the XX century.
The age of heroes
Of course, the history of such an important brand is linked with the names of outstanding watchmakers and engineers. For example, after World War II, Albert Pellaton became the director of manufacture, developing among other things, the famous caliber 85 with a patented automatic winding system. At the end of 1970s the godfather of the whole modern luxury sports-watch segment Gerald Genta created designs for the Ingenieur collection, thereby placing it on a par with Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus.
Waves of history had succeeded one another, but IWC has remained afloat. The company occupied the niche of aviation watches while its masters came up with numerous patents and created a unique winding system.
1985 was marked with the birth of the first ever wristwatch chronograph with perpetual calendar. The latter function of Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Ref. 3750 deserves a separate conversation. Its creator Kurt Klaus managed to do almost impossible – transform one of the most fragile complications into a reliable and simple to use device, adjusted with just the crown. Moreover, the readings could be corrected in both directions without the slightest risk of breakage. The correct sequence of leap years was programmed for centuries ahead, and the four-digit year indicator was located in a separate window similar to the traditional date.
At the turn of the millennium, IWC has joined the Richemont Group, received an additional financial base, and over the next ten years significantly increased its presence on the market. This year’s anniversary is celebrated with a limited collection, which includes updated versions of all IWC’s milestones: Portugieser, Portofino, Da Vinci and, of course, Pilot's Watches. Classic is timeless: the company proves this throughout all its history of a century and a half. Who knows, maybe it is destined to survive another 150 years? How else can you be sure of correct calculations of your eternal calendar?