IWC - in the fast lane for inspiration

LUXOS talks to IWC designer Thomas Gaumann about the new Ingenieur collection

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14 May 2013

I couldn't help envying the guy. At the IWC stand in the Geneva show SIHH (January 2013), there was a sense of relaxed, cool optimism. From people who know that they have worked hard and have created something worthwhile. The Mercedes AMG Petronas racing team were on hand, with racing cars and components, and above the stand were two gigantic wind tunnel fans.

"Yes, perhaps it's the best job in the world. How did I get here? I trained as a watchmaker, and I took a degree in engineering. Now, every day, you arrive in the office, you don't know what will happen. It's really interesting."

The partnership with Mercedes, it looks like a marriage made in heaven?

"I have to say that I wasn't all that interested in motor sports, but then the guys from Mercedes started to explain the details, how they do research, and how they guarantee the quality of all those parts. It's just the same as we do. Those parallels, those similarities made the project fascinating right from the start."

If you had to single out one watch, which would you choose?

"Maybe the Carbon, I really like the design, it's an interesting product, with all those design elements. I really like it."

The Ingenieur Automatic Carbon Performance has a case made in the same material as used in racing cars, fibre matting soaked in epoxy resin and then cured at high temperature and pressure. This creates a tough, Formula One look, enhanced by the five screws used to hold the case together, and the rubber strap with yellow or red stitching. But it's not just about looks: the in-house 80110-calibre movement has a shock-absorption system that enables it to withstand extreme acceleration. It is a perfect watch for racing drivers. The rotor, visible through the sapphire caseback, recalls pistons in its shape.

Is it a difficult design issue to reconcile the brand tradition with new elements, such as the motor sports content in this year's Ingenieur collection?

"We always look back to what we have done in the past, so that we can keep the heritage and the DNA. Our product remains a mechanical watch, and we've been working on this technology for a hundred years. On the other hand, we try to look to the future."

How does the design process actually work?

"At the beginning there is a small team that develops the initial idea, and then it expands through production and marketing, until almost the whole of IWC is involved. I personally work on movements. That process takes from two to four years from concept to development and production. If the new model uses an existing movement, creating the case takes from six to twelve months. If we start a new movement, we go to the design department and we try to find the best dial layout to express the movement. The two things, dial aesthetics and movement, go hand in hand, lots of discussions over a cup of coffee."

Are patents an important part of development?

"It is not our goal to create a huge number of patents. Everyone can take a look inside, and in five years everyone can use the new idea. We are just interested in creating great solutions. For example, in this collection, the most complex movement is the Constant Force Tourbillon, with a Breguet overcoil. It has a constant amplitude over two days."

The constant-force mechanism increases precision, but needs extra torque. This is offered by the two barrels. The power reserve display indicates how much of the remarkable 96-hour reserve is left. It also has a phases of the moon display, which is so beautifully detailed that the moon's characteristic craters and areas of darker grey can be distinguished. A countdown scale shows the number of days remaining until the next full moon. It is one of the larger watches in the collection, at 46 millimetres.

How is the market developing in terms of the size of watches?

"There is a move away from outsize watches. We have reduced the Ingenieur by 2 millimetres. There is still a lot of interest in big watches, but these are less accessible to certain sections of the market, such as women."

Will you be making watches specifically for women?

"No, they can wear our men's watches! They look really great on a female wrist!"

How have things changed at IWC over the years that you have been there?

"I've been at IWC since 2005. Seven years ago, we were not so well-known worldwide. By means of our products and marketing success, we became larger and larger. Processes changed, and partnerships changed. Today with AMG and Formula 1, it's at a different level. We're moving forwards, getting better all the time, accumulating experience."

Is there another watch in the collection that you particularly like?

"I love the Ingenieur Chronograph Racer, particularly the one with the rubber strap. And the Silver Arrow, the Silberpfeil, which has the same movement."

Gaumann's enthusiasm for the Chrono Racer watch (shown in the photo above) is understandable. It has one of he most efficient movements manufactured by IWC, the 89361 calibre, and a beautiful dial, in which the chronograph hours and minutes are combined in a subdial at 12 o'clock. People who own this watch often use the stopwatch as a second time zone, because the chronograph doesn't absorb more energy when it is running. It also features the flyback function (good for timing pitstops and then the next lap) and small hacking seconds. It looks fantastic, with its unique design, and the sporty styling of case, pushers and strap.

We stepped out of the interview room, and I took a photo of Thomas in front of a vintage Mercedes Silver Arrow. A car whose deceptively simple design has made it a classic. Just like the brilliant 2013 Ingenieur watches.

Read more:
Interview with Christian Knoop, IWC
Interview with Carlo Ceppi, IWC