Kurt Klaus and Stefan Ihnen at our IWC Interview Featured

How IWC overcame the quartz movement crisis to become a major Swiss mechanical watches producer
by 03 February 2011

Luxos interviews Kurt Klaus and Stefan Ihnen from IWC Research & Development Department

Can you tell us about how the Portofino collection?
Kurt:
I should begin with my story, which started before the Portofino collection's. Many years ago, I was the Head of Research and Development at IWC. The most important product we made 26 years ago – was the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar, which was a milestone in IWC's production.

It was the first complicated watch after the advent of the quartz movement. The idea was to make mechanical watches more attractive, so we produced complications first on pocket watches, and developed them with moon phase, zodiac display and so forth. Then, pocket watches went out of popularity suddenly in the mid Seventies. So in the Eighties, I took on the challenge of developing complications in wristwatches.

In 1985, we combined a chronograph movement with a perpetual calendar for the first time. It was user-friendly, with no push buttons around the case, using only the crown to adjust settings. I remember the day before we presented this watch, I worked the whole night to finish it!

This Da Vinci was a great success, and since then, 30-40000 pieces were produced. In the past, perpetual calendars were so crazy that you could only make one at a time, but the Da Vinci changed everything. After that, the Portuguese Automatic was developed. We added a perpetual calendar on it, and so forth, following the success of the Da Vinci.

I theoretically retired 11 years ago, but I never stopped working. I am sharing my knowledge and experience with IWC's young engineers nowadays. My job now is public relations – to travel around the world and tell people that IWC is the best!

Stefan:
He has a workspace in the research & development department in Schaffhausen. In recent years, he has been an important mentor to the whole team, which has 25 people now. Back then, he often worked by himself, perhaps with two or three people at most on his team. Today, he is the expert that we often turn to.

Portofino is IWC's entrance-level collection. Though we never aggressively promoted it, this collection was always popular.

Kurt:
It was launched almost 30 years ago. IWC's sales director at that time wanted to launch a collection for the Italian market, so the Portofino became our Italian line.

Stefan:
This year we'd like to put the spotlight back on the Portofino, with new watches such as the Eight-day Hand Wound with our in-house movement; the Dual Time, and so on, in order to complete the Portofino family.

Do you have a certain kind of customers in mind when developing new products?

Kurt:
Not anymore today, perhaps 30 years ago when we used to have to target specific groups of customers.

Stefan:
Today, the Portofino is for everyone who wants an elegant watch.

For someone who is new to IWC, would you recommend the Portofino?
Stefan:
Yes definitely, you can't go wrong with its elegance and timelessness.

Is it IWC's reality today to be as diverse possible?
Stefan:
Well, IWC has always been diverse. Our Big Pilot watches are popular among collectors. Our Portuguese collection directly reflects our history. Our Aquatimer is beloved by divers. The Ingenieur is our popular collection for men… So we never depended on just one product. It's been 10 years since we have gone really global, and we have something for everyone today.

Kurt:
When you talk about Aquatimer, a big percentage of Aquatimer watches actually never go more than two metres deep underwater. It is, but not only, a professional diving watch. Lots of people like it just to wear it.

For the world travellers, for business or leisure, what are your recommendations?
Stefan:
The Dual Time is perfect, with home time and local time display that you can adjust. Traditionally, dual time functions are found in sportier watches made for pilots, for example, but with this Portofino, you have both function and elegance that you can wear anytime, anywhere, for any occasion.

Read more:
The Spirit of Portofino
IWC's New Romance
iWC, the Extraorindary Story of a Luxury Watches Brand
Breaking the Waves with IWC
IWC's Shanghai Opening
IWC worldwide boutique listings