The IWC booth at the Geneva watch fair SIHH was nothing short of spectacular, with a deep blue backdrop, a gigantic bubble train rising up from the reception desk, and hammerhead sharks swimming through the air. A perfect frame in which to present this year’s collection of watches, the Aquatimer collection. We were speaking to Christian Knoop, who oversees all the aspects of visual design linked to the brand, from the watches to the company’s presentation material – and the stands at shows. We began by commenting on this remarkable piece of design.
“We have a brand architect, Chris Grainger, who designs the booth, and every year we think, he can’t get better. Perhaps you remember two years ago, when we presented Top Gun and the booth was like an aircraft carrier, while last year it was motorsports with the AMG Mercedes Formula One cars, the Silver Arrow from the museum in Stuttgart… the men loved it, with all those cars! Every year he surpasses himself. We want to make people dream, and after all, luxury watches is about dreaming. This is our inspiration, to build a world that is like an adventure or a dream scenery.”
This year, IWC is focusing on its Aquatimer range of diver’s watches, with one model rated as waterproof down to 2,000 metres. Differently to most brands, IWC concentrates on just one of its many collections every year.
“We have six product families, and our philosophy is to build onto them very carefully, so that we can build a careful evolution rather than revolution. This year we have a collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation, and we are inspired by Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. He stated that species adapt to their environment step by step. To me as a designer, that sounds very familiar, because that’s exactly how we work. So we never stand still, we never say that we have reached the final status. Whenever we design a product, we know that there will be a moment when we have to renew it and adapt it to change. Our work can be compared to the automotive industry, in which a design has a certain lifespan and you know that it will look old in six or eight years. When I joined IWC over five years ago, it was just a few weeks before SIHH and I had to present a collection that I had never worked on… and I was thinking, there will be a moment at which I will have to create my own interpretation of the Aquatimer. And that’s where we are today.”
One of the most important features of the new Aquatimer collection is the rotating bezel, which is very easy to operate while wearing gloves underwater, with an inner counter-bezel that is far more attractive and readable than the usual arrangement.
“The new bezel design is called Safeguard, and the outer bezel operates the inner bezel. We have taken the best of both worlds: the functionality and practicality of the outer bezel are combined with more discerning design and higher legibility, with the minute hand that is closer to the markings of the inner bezel. The system is linked to a clutch and gearbox at 9 o’clock, and it is a perfect expression of the brand’s engineering qualities. At the same time, it delivers a very different, unique aesthetic. In the world of diver’s watches, in which there are a lot of pieces out there, this was very important. With this range, we continue our tradition as a manufacturer of professional watches, but at the same time we want to attain high visual quality to meet the demands of aesthetics in a modern luxury watch. A watch that can be worn while diving, but equally in everyday use, on dry land. We have improved functionality, increasing the depth ratings for the chronograph model to 300 metres, and using two colours of SuperLuminova, with one colour for all the information relating to the dive. For the entire range, the SuperLuminova is green for the information relevant to diving – the minute hand and the 15-minute sector on the bezel, and the second hand, because one of standard regulation features of a diving watch is that at all times you have to be able to see that the watch is working. All the other information is in blue. So when you are underwater, the important information glows green.”
The Aquatimer Automatic 2000 is rated as waterproof to 2,000 metres. We asked about the technology involved in building a watch that can survive at such depths.
“Actually it’s part of our heritage. We made the first 2,000 metre watch in 1982 in collaboration with Porsche Design (Ferdinand and Alexander Porsche), which also introduced titanium to IWC: we were the first manufacture to use this metal at that time. Since then, we have always had a 2,000-metre piece in our collection. We gave it a very special design.”
Another very distinctive piece in the collection is the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition ‘Expedition Charles Darwin,’ a piece in IWC have used bronze for the case.
“We wanted to have bronze in the Aquatimer range, because on one hand we follow our tradition as innovators in materials. It’s not the first bronze watch in the world, but the type of bronze is unique because it is much harder than most other bronze watches. Bronze is a relatively soft material, so it can scratch easily. Ours is harder, and certified for the food industry, which means that is has a higher biocompatibility. Bronze has traditions in all sorts of marine environment, whether it is shipbuilding or marine instruments. It is water-resistant and anti-magnetic, but what fascinates me most is that bronze is alive, it changes over time. It ages differently according to the owner’s activities, and so each piece becomes personal and individual.”
Another fascinating piece is the Aquatimer Deep Three, in a titanium case, and with a mechanical depth gauge. We asked about the development of this particular model.
“This is a central piece in the Aquatimer collection. After our first watch with a depth gauge, launched in 1998, this is the third generation of the Deep Three. It operates by means of an opening at 9 o’clock, with a membrane that operates on a pusher system driving a sequence of levers placed behind the movement. The depth is displayed on the dial between 6 and 12 o’clock. It operates down to 60 metres, but the scale is limited to 50 metres, with two markers, a blue one showing the actual depth, and a red one showing the maximum depth attained during a dive. The system represents a very reliable back-up system to your dive computer.”
We asked Christian about the origins of the design innovations in each collection.
“I work with our CEO Georges Kern, who is closely involved with product design. When we start thinking about a new collection, he shares his vision from a strategic, brand-oriented point of view, and our challenge as designers is to translate this into a collection. We ask ourselves questions such as, what is the benchmark for this particular product, what is the market environment? It’s important to remember that it’s always a team operation, involving designers, industrialization specialists, engineers, purchasing departments, case engineers, movement engineers and so forth. We look at our own archive material in the IWC design museum, to see what the brand has done before.”