Up until this trip to visit IWC, the famous maison making mens luxury watches , I had never been to Schaffhausen in Switzerland. I was curious about this town, because it has been the home of IWC Schaffhausen for more than 140 years. Whether you are an enthusiast of mechanical chronograph watches or not, IWC is widely recognised as one of the most prominent luxury brands. I was invited to participate in the launch of a book called IWC Schaffhausen. Engineering Time Since 1868. And as I learnt from this journey, it was much more than just a book. It was IWC’s legacy to the world of watchmaking.
On 16th March, 2010, the world press and IWC staff from around the globe arrived at the Schaffhausen headquarters in the morning. Excitement was in the air as everyone settled down in the press room. With about 550 parts, weighing in at 4.4 kilograms, the latest IWC creation was not a mechanical watch, but a documentation of its past and present. In line with its spirit of innovation, IWC did not just write a history book. Project-managed by Manfred Fritz, this is also a fascinating book within a book. Written by Paulo Coelho and illustrated by Enki Bilal, it contains imaginative stories that depict IWC’s six watch families. Three years in the making, IWC Schaffhausen. Engineering Time Since 1868 presents IWC’s rich archive of information, photos, drawings, letters and much more in a single volume for the very first time.
Georges Kern, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen, went on stage to introduce the long-anticipated book. He described the book as “a journey of discovery through our company’s history,” which began ever since the young American Florentine Ariosto Jones founded IWC in 1868. He added, “The book’s aimed to enhance the knowledge and understanding of the brand – our heritage, our tradition, our history – and does it in-depth and on a grand scale. Most importantly, it pays tribute to the company watch makers and engineers. It also considers the vision of what IWC stands for today.”
The ambitious project of putting together this book required an authoritative scholar. Manfred Fritz – journalist, editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper in Germany, and watch connoisseur – has worked with IWC in the past. Joking about how heavy the book was, Mr. Fritz explained why he wanted to work on this project. “IWC has always been true to itself, despite the challenges and change of ownership over the years,” he said. “IWC is like an island in the sea of watchmaking.”
It was obvious that IWC has carved out quite a haven of its own in Schauffhausen. The town is situated in Switzerland’s northern-most canton, which shares a long border with Germany. Having survived destructions from both World Wars, IWC Schauffhausen today boasts a state-of-the-art factory, its own museum, a dynamic team of watchmakers and engineers, and its own watchmaking school on site.
I was standing in the very land where Ariosto Jones envisioned a watch manufacture way back in the 1860s. Information about this mysterious American remains incomplete, despite painstaking research by IWC historians. But one thing is certain: his determination and pioneering spirit set the ground work for IWC Schaffhausen. I wonder if he ever imagined that IWC would go on to become one of the world’s most important watchmaking companies. Throughout the day, many IWC staff members told me that they felt the same nostalgia thinking about the founder.
Indeed it was emotions behind IWC’s history that motivated the famous author Paulo Coelho to write this “book within a book”. He said that he wanted to use “feeling” as a simple way to guide readers through the fiction of Ariosto Jones’ life and IWC’s six watch collections. Mr. Coelho was particularly interested in the life of Ariosto Jones, because “he followed his dream, and he took on a great challenge.” The author said that the more he learnt about IWC watches, the more he understood the inspiration, creativity and enthusiasm for them. Essentially, Mr. Coelho said his approach was to focus on a beautiful story.
IWC’s sophisticated manufacture facilities and the complexity of its movements fascinated Enki Bilal. The famed French cartoonist decided to bring IWC to life. “I got so fascinated with these watches, because their complications are like life’s complications. They reflect our past, present and future.” As an illustrator, he kept a sense of mystery in his drawings, which aimed to invite the readers to discover the stories for themselves. The expression of his characters reflects an inner strength, and the symbolism in his drawings demonstrated the abstract nature of time. Mr. Bilal said thoughtfully, “At the heart of every work of art lies the question of the passage of time: how to use time, how to evolve through time, how to race against time, and how to be ahead of our times.”
There was no doubt that, with this book, IWC has written a new chapter in its history. As Mr. Fritz explained, the book is a “literary reflection on time”. The original concept of the book was to combine IWC’s history with fictional interest. Not just created for watch connoisseurs, it can be a collectable coffee table book that everyone can appreciate. He added, “This book is also our message to IWC customers: it’s our foundation, our rock. It is the testimony to our history. We created this book because it’s important to know our roots and our past.” As he looked at his IWC pocket watch which his grandfather passed down to him, Mr. Fritz said, “Every IWC watch is a statement of the time in which we live.”
The memorable day was coming to an end. The roaring Rhine Falls were not far away from Schauffhausen. I stood on The Rock and looked at one of Europe’s most important rivers flow into a cool, honey sunset in the distance. The endless flow of the water and its sheer strength perhaps best describe the legacy of IWC Schauffhausen. It was not just a watch company. From its founding days, IWC knew how to hold on to its values while staying ahead of its times, as illustrated by models such as the IWC Portugese chronograph and the IWC grande complication watch . Today, IWC continues its global success as a watch manufacturer. The mysterious Florentine-American would have been proud.
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