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Andrea Borraccino
Watch Advisor
June 2022

History of IWC, one of the most iconic watchmakers in Switzerland

IWC encompasses much more than just an acronym as, since its origins, it has been accompanied by a unique style that converges in a combination of history, technique and avant-garde.
It was founded in 1868 by the American engineer Florentine Ariosto Jones, with the initial intention to produce movements for pocket watches to supply the American market.
Jones’ pioneering instinct led him to want to make calibres of the highest quality and fine workmanship, drawing on the experience of Swiss master watchmakers.
Some time later, he met Johann Heinrich Moser, an industrialist who had recently built a hydraulic plant on the banks of the Rhine River in the north-eastern part of Switzerland, capable of supplying the surrounding factories. From this acquaintance arose a collaboration that made it possible to automate the now obsolete manual processing system with industrialised production using the most modern technology of the time.
Within a few years, the company was moved to a new location, which still houses its manufacture: Schaffhausen.

In 1868, the ‘Jones’ calibre was born, which had a production of 10,000 units per year exported to the United States. However, Jones failed to meet the expectations of his shareholders and was thus forced to return to America in 1875. At this point, the company’s legacy was transferred into the hands of manager Frederick Francis Seeland.
In 1880, a local family from Schaffhausen, the Rauschenbachs, took over IWC in its entirety: thus it was that for the next four generations International Watch Company was entrusted to their control. During these years, the first sales of a major innovation of the time were made:
wristwatches.
In 1905, Ernst Jakob Homberger, after marrying Rauschenbach’s youngest daughter and following the death of his father-in-law, became the sole owner of the factory.
With this latest succession, International Watch Company will give birth to watches destined to make history.

PILOT'S WATCHES: IWC AND THE RELATIONSHIP WITH AVIATION

1936 saw the birth of the first family of IWC PILOT’S WATCHES, inspired by the world of aviation: it featured a dial that echoed the cockpits of aircraft of the time, together with features necessary for the extreme precision vital to a pilot’s survival, such as the shatterproof front glass with the ability to withstand temperature variations inside the cabin, and the iconic triangular-shaped pointer for setting the take-off time.
Subsequently, the Big Pilot was developed with a diameter of 55 millimetres, an essential dial with reference to on-board instrumentation and a larger conical crown, which was easy to use as it was operated by pilots wearing thick gloves.

In 1948, what is considered the most famous of the IWC Pilot’s Watches was created, the Mark 11, a tribute to the British Royal Air Force. Its main feature was that it had a case made of soft iron, to provide protection against electromagnetic fields that could compromise precision and correct functioning during flight. Also very important was the attachment of the front glass, fixed in such a way that it would not break in the event of a loss of pressure. Inside the dial were luminescent elements, which ensured correct visibility in all light conditions.

Then, around the 1990s, IWC Pilot’s Watches took further important steps into the world of modern watch complications: it developed a chronograph that could simultaneously measure two short periods of time, establishing IWC as the reference manufacturer for solid and extremely precise chronographs.
The production of this iconic model brings us up to the present day, where IWC developed Ceratanium, a special patented alloy that is as light and unbreakable as titanium and at the same time as scratch-resistant as ceramic.
In 2019, the Pilot Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun Ceratanium is unveiled, consolidating IWC’s partnership with the legendary US Navy Fighter Weapons School, remaining the only Swiss watchmaker to hold the licence to produce aviator watches for the US Navy.

PORTUGIESER: A WATCHMAKING ICON

In the 1930s, IWC produced a pocket watch with a special mechanism that was considered the most accurate watch in the world at the time.
A case with a ‘softer’ metal than classical steel, which allowed the watch to have a smoother mechanics and an excellent level of precision.
Initially, the dimensions of wristwatches were small, whereas this particular mechanism was born as a pocket watch, and therefore of a large size.
Subsequently, a shipping company in Lisbon asked IWC to produce a series of wristwatches with this mechanism, proposing a reduced size, which could not be realised, however, as it would have altered the precision characteristics.

Nevertheless, the company decided to buy these movements and the Portugieser was born, a watch with a voluminous round case measuring 41.5 millimetres, which went against the style of the time (small rectangular case). This watch had excellent legibility, was fitted with an extremely precise pocket watch movement and a winding crown positioned on the right side.
Some sixty years had to pass before this model was appreciated by the international public and became an icon of world watchmaking.
In 1993, the Portugieser Rattrappante was presented, a hand-wound model with a second hand, used to measure the split times of chronographs.
This grand complication brought a real breakthrough to the world of men’s watches, with timeless style and elegance, a steel case, sapphire crystal and crocodile leather strap.
There were many other Portugieser IWC collections, the most famous being the
Yatch Club Chronograph, the single-pusher chronograph, the annual calendar and later the perpetual calendar, also made in various precious materials such as red gold.

AQUATIMER: THE COLLECTION FOR DIVERS

In the 1960s, IWC decided to launch a watch on the market that would immediately set a benchmark for those who practised underwater sports, and so the Aquatimer was born.
Case water-resistant to 20bar (200m) and rotating bezel positioned inside the dial under the sapphire crystal to prevent unintentional movement while diving.
Aquatimer is therefore an object destined to become a must-have for anyone practising diving.

PORTOFINO: STYLE ICON

At the end of the 1980s, following what is known as the “quartz crisis”, Gunter Blumlein, the leader of IWC, took up a sketch made by Kurt Klaus, a young watchmaker at the time, which depicted a highly refined pocket watch transformed into a wristwatch. And so the Portofino was born, with a round case, straight lugs and a simple, easy-to-read dial with classic hour markers, essential hands and that elegance defined by the concept of “less is more”.
The name was chosen because of the emotions emanating from the town on the Ligurian Riviera, which became a popular destination for celebrities in the 1950s, recognised as an icon of the ‘dolce vita’.

Over the years, many variants joined the Portofino family, the most famous of which were the chronograph, the ultra-thin version with a case diameter of 32 millimetres, and the perpetual calendar. Later, a ladies’ version was also created, with a smaller case size, while maintaining a refined style without losing its essence. The Portofino family is, therefore, the IWC watch line with the most variations, capable of satisfying the needs and tastes of more than one customer.

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