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IWC Schaffhausen - the story of a top Swiss watch manufacturer Featured

From its first wristwatches to the best Grande Complication timepieces

by 26 June 2012

To tell IWC’s story, we will have to go back to the Schauffhausen at the time when its founder Florentine Ariosto Jones who first arrived in this prosperous town on the Rhine in the second half of the 20th century. He came to Le Locle looking for an opportunity to start his watchmaking business. His chance acquaintance with a Rhine River hydraulic power plant owner named Johann Heinrich Moser presented the perfect chance, when the industrialist rented out a manufacturing site to Jones. International Watch Company was founded in 1868.

Initially, IWC focused on producing pocket watches – an important part in its history which continues to have a significant influence on its new collections today. Jones was an innovator who pushed the envelope, and by 1899, IWC’s first wristwatches were launched– a bold move in the Swiss watch industry that marked the start of a changing trend in the way people wore their timepieces. IWC’s motto “Probus Scafusia” – declared in 1903 - meaning “Good, solid craftsmanship from Schauffhausen” perfectly described Jones’ approach to haute horlogerie.

The beginning of the 20th century was a troubled time for the world, and IWC’s global market was also affected. The Homberger family helped the company through the difficult first half of the century, and their passion for aviation led to the creation of IWC’s Special Pilot’s Watch - powered by Calibre 83, a wristwatch movement which measured flight time. As wristwatch production continued to meet increasing demand, IWC created its first wristwatch with a pocket watch movement that had the precision of a marine chronometer for the Portuguese market. Thus, the first ‘Portuguese’ watch was born in 1939.

From 1944 to 1966, when Albert Pellaton was IWC’s technical director, the Schaffhausen brand went through a period of great innovation with several important movements, all propelled by the Pellaton pawl winding mechanism (which IWC still uses today). The Ingenieur watch equipped with Pellaton’s automatic movement was launched, and would go on to become one of IWC’s most iconic collections.

At the dawn of celebrating its 100th anniversary, IWC debuted its first diving watch, the Aquatimer, in 1967 – a great tribute to explorers such as Jacques Cousteau who introduced the world to the eye-opening world of marine life. In fact, the Aquatimer would go on to become a great icon, and ever since, IWC has actively advocated environmental – as well as marine - conservation with its support of the Charles Darwin Foundation.

The Swiss watch industry was heavily hit by the advent of the quartz movement in the 1970s. Always a step ahead of its times, IWC once again overcame the challenge by entering a significant market, the Middle East, introducing its beautiful and exclusive ladies’ luxury watches.

IWC wrote a new chapter in its history during the 1980s when it created two very different yet successful collections: the Portofino and the Da Vinci. The first Portofino watch launched in 1984 appealed to those who loved understated elegance, while the Da Vinci perpetual calendar, invented by a young watchmaker and creator Kurt Klaus, revived the watch industry’s passion for mechanical complications.

The Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar by Kurt Klaus helped to open up the way for a decade of brilliant mechanical complications in the 1990s: the IWC Grand Complication, the Novecento, Il Destriero Scafusia, the GST Deep One and many more. These watches propelled IWC into the new millenium. A year after celebrating its 140th anniversary, in 2009, IWC opened its first global flagship boutique in Hong Kong, at the heart of IWC’s historically important Asia Pacific market.

At this year’s Salon International de Haute Horlogerie, IWC Schaffhausen comes full circle with the new Pilot’s collection, a tribute to the brand’s very first family. A total of 12 unprecedented watches is proof that IWC Schaffhausen is fully committed to carry on Florentine Ariosto Jones’ spirit of innovation, while staying ahead of its times as a prestigious Swiss watch manufacturer.

See all our IWC coverage here