IWC - a conversation with designer Christian Knoop

An interview at SIHH that reveals the massive design commitment within IWC's new Ingenieur collection


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06 May 2013

IWC has a unique approach of renewing its collection family by family. This year, it is the turn of the Ingenieur, and it is the fourth collection that Christian Knoop, Associate Director Creative Center at IWC, has overseen. Another two collections, and he will have turned full circle.

Christian Knoop completed an apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker before he began his studies in industrial design in Essen. His love of craftsmanship stands him in good stead at IWC, where each new piece is developed and made at the company based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. The brand's booth at SIHH was a spectacular presentation, reflecting the new partnership between IWC and Formula One racing team Mercedes AMG Petronas. We spoke to him about his work and the watches.

Which of the new IWC models would you identify as the most significant at SIHH?

"It would have to be the Ingenieur Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month. This piece captures all the IWC brand values, in terms of both its movement and the dial design. The in-house movement has a unique mechanism displaying date and month on a series of five display discs, with a leap year indicator at 6 o'clock, ensuring that the watch takes the 29th day of February into account every four years. The design inspiration came from a 19th-century pocket watch, one of the first to have digital indicators instead of hands. This movement therefore represents a link with our heritage; we have translated a piece of history into contemporary design. When you see the detail on the movement and caseback, you can immediately tell that it is a modern movement, with its contemporary finish and its technical aspects."

What is it that sets IWC apart from other watchmakers today?

"The engineers. The brand stands for engineering, technicity, masculine design and precision, and you don't find this combination in other brands at our volumes. Others may be technical, but they're not masculine. Another characteristic consists of our six product families, some of which were established over 70 years ago. We develop then carefully year after year, collection after collection, perpetuating their DNA, whether they are for sailors, divers, racers, pilots and so forth. I'm not aware of any other brand in the industry that has all this."

About IWC and the challenge of new materials?

"In the Ingenieur Perpetual Calendar, the case is in titanium aluminide, a high-tech material that is four times harder than normal titanium, much harder than steel. It's used in Formula One for the most highly-stressed parts of the engine. This year's Ingenieur collection also features carbon, another Formula One material. IWC has a prestige reputation for its work in new materials, and you can see this from our use of titanium in the 1980s, and likewise with ceramics in the 1980s, in the Da Vinci line. We were one of the first brands to introduce zirconium oxide ceramics in watches."

Could you provide a portrait of a person who wears an IWC watch?

"They are all different, but they all have an emotional relationship with the product. They relate to a mechanical watch. All customers find their own link, some are really interested in the mechanical micro-universe and the micro-engineering, others are interested in the brand heritage and the style. Perhaps if they have something in common, it's that they're non-conformist; they are not seeking mainstream brands, they're not going for the obvious, they want to make a more selective choice, they want to stand out in a very modest way. For sure, all of them need a certain budget to buy these pieces, they are all interested in technology as such. They possibly have an interest in sports cars, and this seems to go well together with a mechanical watch."

You joined IWC in 2008. Could you tell us something about your personal experience at IWC?

"This is my fourth collection. I'm always very excited to introduce a new collection, and I'm getting more excited every year. We had a fantastic show last year with the Pilot's collection, and this year we have tried to improve even further with our presentation. For me, this is the crucial moment of the year, when you can get a first impression of what this product means, from our retailers and from journalists. We've been waiting for this moment for two years, from when we began to develop the collection."

Men are looking at different types of investment, which can include things such as property, but also some types of luxury products. Do you think about the investment value of watches when you are designing?

"No, never. I think that a watch, as an investment, has to be very rare. As a designer, you want your product to be very popular, to be on many wrists, and to have many fans out there. So I would never consider limiting the production of a watch in order to push its price up. For us designers, the important things are the DNA, the product's design code and its historical roots, all of which enable customers to identify the watch as an IWC. We want to make a statement in terms of introducing something new, adding new details, new stories, new materials, to give our watches a new face without losing that identity. In general, I think that the aspect of identity is of growing relevance. The watch market is getting larger and more crowded. Designing the identity of the product is enormously important. When I look around our booth, the quality of design that I see is enormous. They are all beautiful products. The key feature is that the products are immediately recognizable as IWC."

As a designer, you have to look ahead at least two years. How does this work?

"Actually it's very exciting to have that balance. As the products move forwards, you go from the drawing board to the first samples, that's always a thrill. On the other hand we are also working on the future collections which are two, three, five years ahead. The fact that the designer gets a taste of success every year helps him to work on something with such a long timespan. If you had nothing else in the meantime, and you had to wait for something so far in the future, it would be more difficult."

LUXOS readers are international travellers. They travel for business. Which model would you recommend for them?

"I'm proud to have the Ingenieur Dual Time Titanium in the new collection, which indicates a second time zone by means of a second 24-hour display. This is very relevant in our world; both local time and the 24-hour time are easy to move forward and back according to the wearer's location. It's a useful function, perfect as part of a modern collection."

The Dual Time Titanium is deceptively simple in appearance, with the cool, satin gleam of the metal providing a satisfying contrast with the black rubber strap and the black and white dial markings. A worthy successor to the long line of Ingenieur watches, which run right back to 1955, and which saw the innovative contribution of Gérald Genta, who in 1976, inspired by a diver's helmet during a walk on the shores of Lake Geneva, had the idea of leaving five screws exposed in the bezel. A feature that has been brilliantly incorporated into the new collection.

 In the photo above, the Ingenieur SL, a classic dating back to 1976, with design by Gérald Genta

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