THE PRECISION INSTRUMENTS OF IWC
The rise of the International Watch Company, or IWC, is something of an outlier in the history of horology. If you look at most major watch brands, they all tell the same story. A European founder — often Swiss or French — sets up shop in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland to produce watches for the world. IWC’s early days, however, were markedly different. Founded by F.A. Jones, an American from Boston, and established in the township of Schaffhausen on the Swiss-German border, the watches were designed almost entirely for the American market. That all changed, however, in the ’40s.
IWC produced large wristwatches for the Axis powers during World War II — the company, like so many others, was appropriated by the German government and forced to do as they were told. But it was IWC’s development of the Mark XI pilot’s watch for the British military that would go down as one of the twentieth century’s finest contributions to watchmaking. Water-resistant, shockproof, immensely accurate, and anti-magnetic, the Mark XI would become the foundation on which all of IWC’s pilots’ watches would be built, and we still see the hallowed military-inspired triangle sitting at the top of these dials today. Other companies have taken the IWC Mark XI’s design as their own, but the original remains the purest expression.
IWC’s success in functional tool watches continued all the way up through the 1990s, when they released the reference 3705 fliegerchronograph, the very first fully ceramic chronograph by any brand. This watch is the precursor to countless others, both from IWC and competitors seeking to replicate the sleek, matte black nature of the original. While the “black watch” trend is undoubtedly linked to IWC, so is the “big watch” trend that has pervaded the industry for the last fifteen years. It was IWC’s Big Pilot, an homage to the German pilots’ watches of the 1940s, that inspired this modern icon and changed how many of us thought about the size of a watch.
The final big piece of IWC’s history is its creation of truly haute horlogerie. We can thank the ever-innovative and practical Schaffhausen manufacturer for producing the first grand-complication wristwatches, based on a simple Valjoux 7750. We can also thank IWC for building the world’s first affordable, split-seconds complication watches and the most user-friendly perpetual calendars in the history of watchmaking.
It is the combination of thoughtful technical approach with authentic purpose, accented by an American DNA, that has made IWC such a favorite among collectors and connoisseurs over the last 149 years. And it’s this same outsider’s approach to Swiss watchmaking that will continue to make it successful for years to come.