“This new material ... is as light and robust as titanium, and as hard and scratch-resistant as ceramic”

Time flies

Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen taking off in Japan
and beyond


Text by Tim Hornyak

Sporting IWC timepieces at the annual tradeshow were celebrities such as Bradley Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Dev Patel, James Marsden and Ryohei Suzuki. They were there to promote a new line of 14 IWC Pilot’s Watches, including seven revamped Spitfire watches that are meant to evoke the overall aesthetics, as well as the cockpit design, of the storied British aircraft. The watches have stainless steel or bronze alloy cases, movements built in-house at IWC, and options including chronograph and multiple time zone versions. The new aviation offerings also included three Pilot’s Watches in IWC’s Le Petit Prince line, and four branded with the TOP GUN logo, a series produced since 2007. The latter showcases IWC’s materials engineering prowess.


“The Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium is our first Pilot’s Watch made of Ceratanium,” says IWC CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr. “This new material, which was developed by IWC, combines the advantages of titanium and ceramic. It is as light and robust as titanium, and as hard and scratch-resistant as ceramic. For the first time, it enables us to manufacture components of the watch — including the push-buttons and the pin buckle — in a jet-black finish that is much more durable than any coating solution available.”

Building on a solid foundation
IWC Schaffhausen — which marked its 150th anniversary last year — is an unconventional player in the Swiss watch industry. Florentine Ariosto Jones, a watchmaker from Boston, founded the International Watch Company in 1868 in the hopes of marrying modern American production methods to Swiss craftsmanship. He chose the town of Schaffhausen to set up shop because of its highly-regarded craftspeople, its factory space and a hydroelectric plant by the River Rhine. The company’s first movement was the eponymous Jones calibre, and in 1884 IWC debuted its iconic Pallweber pocket watches, which displayed hours and minutes as numerals on rotating discs. It began producing wristwatches at the end of the 19th century.

IWC is the only major Swiss watchmaker located in eastern, German-speaking Switzerland. Grainger-Herr is himself a Frankfurt-born German and brings a unique background to the job. He studied interior design at Bournemouth University in the UK and the University of the Arts in Basel, Switzerland. He worked as an architect at Smolenicky & Partner Architektur in Zurich before joining IWC’s Trade Marketing Department in 2006.

“When I was at university in Bournemouth, there was a watch retailer on my way to lectures, which happened to be an IWC dealer,” says Grainger-Herr. “I fell in love with the look of the Portugieser Chronographs of that time. I was impressed by the extreme clarity in the design — the clean black and white dials, the sort of crispness that this watch expressed. This was something that spoke to me.”



Growth in Japan and beyond
Since becoming CEO in 2017, Grainger-Herr has overseen the design and construction of IWC’s large manufacturing centre outside Schaffhausen that opened last year. With 238 technicians, it is the first IWC factory to bring together movement parts-making and case-making under a single roof. The production and management functions are also grouped closely together to make processes more efficient.

The plant is evidence of long-term growth at IWC, and the expansion has also been seen in East Asia. IWC is adding to its 75 boutiques in China and, in 2018, it opened a second boutique in Japan, in Osaka, which follows its first in Tokyo’s Ginza district. The shops offer watch enthusiasts the chance to see the company’s six product families: the Portugieser, Portofino, Aquatimer, Ingenieur, Pilot’s Watches and Da Vinci lines. Grainger-Herr says Japanese customers are very knowledgeable about mechanical watches.

“Japanese watch lovers have similar tastes to our customers in Europe and North America,” he observes. “They have a strong appreciation for the crisp and pure design that is embodied by our Portugieser models with their railway-track chapter ring, the applied Arabic numerals, and the elegant feuille hands. There is also a strong appreciation for the sporty, tool-watch product lines, like our Pilot’s Watches. Their now-iconic design in the style of an easy-to-read cockpit instrument was the result of purely functional engineering to meet specific requirements in military aviation.”

Everyday luxury for everyone
Although there’s a masculine look to many IWC watches, the company has been offering more ladies’ watches in recent years. One is the stainless-steel Portofino Automatic 37, which features a cobalt-blue dial, ringed by 66 diamonds on the bezel. Another is the Da Vinci Automatic 36, which has a case and bracelet made of 18-carat red gold set with 54 pure white diamonds. IWC timepieces can represent significant investments, with the entry-level Spitfire priced at ¥572,000. But Grainger-Herr says that they are luxury products for everyday use.

“Our clients are men and women who are on the move in their lives,” says Grainger-Herr. “A watch from IWC is not a lifetime achievement award, but a gift you make to yourself for celebrating a milestone in your career journey, or another important event. Our clients are not just looking for status; they are confident and free-spirited people who appreciate precision engineering and genuinely timeless design.” 

“Japanese watch lovers ... have a strong appreciation for the crisp and pure design that is embodied by our Portugieser models”