This year, IWC Schaffhausen celebrates 85 years of its iconic Pilot’s watch. A watch that first debuted in 1936 when the Special Pilot’s Watch became the first wristwatch developed by IWC, specifically for use in an aircraft.
Since then, innovation and technology have allowed for generation after generation of Pilot’s watches through to the 21st century. This year as it celebrates this milestone anniversary IWC Schaffhausen is reigniting the Pilot’s watch with a series of new novelties throughout the tear surrounding this line. The first of four waves of new products debuted this April at the latest edition of Watches & Wonders. Presenting the watches to the world is CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr. Having worked at IWC Schaffhausen for over a decade before becoming CEO of the brand in 2017, Grainger- Herr fully understands the importance of the Pilot’s watch and its place in the brand’s heritage. As the first wave of new launches debuts across the world we discuss the latest innovations and the outlook for the future of the watchmaker.
Tell us about the latest novelties launching as part of Watches & Wonders?
We have been working on a full upgrade for our main Pilot’s line this year, bringing the latest om movement innovations and case innovations into the line, complemented by some ground-breaking efforts that we’ve been making over the last eight years now and I’m very happy to present that this year. This year we have four waves of novelties and the first is about updating the Pilot’s classic pieces.
We are presenting the Big Pilot 43 and the Chronograph at Watches & Wonders and then we will have three more waves later on in the year. This first wave is all about making an upgrade from utilitarian, vintage-orientated timepieces that are aviation inspired to fully versatile, modern sports watches. One of the key pieces for this update to the Big Pilot. and we’re very happy to introduce the Big Pilot 43 which combines the wearability of the Big Pilot with true expression in the dial. We have completely changed the case size and height so we have much better wearability on smaller wrists, as well as an upgrade with the sapphire glass caseback. It has 100-metre waterproofing which makes it a more versatile sports watch and then we have the new EasX-CHANGE system which offers the capability to upgrade the strap within seconds at the simple touch of a button. There is of course a whole range of different colours that we can offer including the typical IWC Pilot’s blue, as well as a stainless-steel bracelet which is very comfortable and of very high quality.
Then we have the Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar with a 46.2mm dial. So we are presenting this watch with a blue dial and stainless steel case in the standard collection. It’s a great entry point to the Perpetual Calendar range.
Then we have the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph that is our most popular sports watch today. This has been redesigned with a 41mm case which is really wearable. It’s a fully upgraded case featuring a highly comfortable bracelet with all of the adjustment features and the EasX-CHANGE system. For the first time, this watch comes with the 69 calibre in-house chronograph movement. You can also fit this system to other IWC Pilot’s watches, whether you want a sporty look or a classic look. So we have a very versatile setup with the Pilot’s Chronographs which are also great for first-time buyers of Pilot’s watches.
There is a strong focus on your Pilot watches this year –why is it important for the brand to continue its legacy of Pilot watches?
We’re hoping for a huge Top Gun wave to kick off with the release of the film, which as you know has been pushed again to November 19th, but really when we start talking about Top Gun this is all based on our collaboration pieces. The first one to be directly the US navy was the Top Gun Mojave Desert Chronograph that launched two years ago and we’re now adding two more models to this line. We have the Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert” and the Big Pilot’s Watch TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert”. These will be limited edition pieces.
We also have a big technical launch. Eight years ago we set up a new department at IWC that studies all of the effects on our watches, looking at the shock-absorption element of mechanical watch protection and this year we present the first watch from our experimental edition; the Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL. It holds a world record in d-force protection, protecting the mechanical watch movement against g-forces up to 30,000g. The watch uses our patented spring-protect system which has been finely calculated to reduce the impact of forces that affect the watch movement by over 80 per cent and to evenly anticipate the forces around the entire surface of the watch movement. It also features a lightweight version of our calibre 32 in-house automatic movement. It uses aerospace aluminium as a base plate to make the movement lighter and to make sure that when the shock hits the spring as little movement as possible is generated. And the third element which is truly unique is the clutch system that we have in the crown. So when the crown is locked in, it partially disconnects the crown transmission from the movement. When you unlock this mechanism and pull the crown out, the clutch reinserts making sure that the collection is solid and you can then change the time and wind the watch movement. This flexible transmission allows the movement to move inside the case in every direction up to a millimetre, without breaking the physical connection to the crown. The watch is also made from our in-house titanium which is a ceramic-infused titanium alloy that is exclusively created for us in Pittsburgh. So after 85 years of the Pilots watch; we present a legacy packaged into the next level of engineering which should be a good technical piece for this year.
This is the second year that you participate in the digital format of Watches & Wonders – how is it serving you and how are you remaining close to your clients during these times?
I think we have to look at the two main elements. The first in terms of the benefit for many clients and our partners is clearly that we can reach a much broader audience a lot quicker with a virtual format. We have reached more people than we could ever have reached by travelling around the globe as there are just not enough hours in the day. So that’s the efficiency element of it. On the other hand, I think as an industry we are missing the energy and the atmosphere of actually coming together with journalists and retailers in a physical format and actually feeling the state of the industry. That’s a lot more difficult when you’re speaking to an empty camera lens and getting no feedback from the audience. You have to go onto Instagram to find out whether people liked it or not! That’s weird and the same emotional connection is not there through the screen. But I hope in the end we can find a balance of both going forward because it is great that we can meet a lot more people virtually including on a one-to-one basis with the efficiency of our studio, but at the same time I think for inspiration it’s a killer!
What do you think are the challenges that the industry is facing now?
I believe that we are in a very good position considering all the hardships and difficulties that COVID-19 has brought about for many people. It has been a moment of reckoning where we really started to think about what is important to us, and what we connect with, who’s supporting us and what we are missing and not missing. I think people have looked at what they consume, how they buy, the impact on the environment and also this whole question of global Vs. local. There has been this idea of process and emotion during the pandemic and there has been a sort of stripping away.
And as a brand, we have a very good message in that context because we create things from start to finish here in the heart of Europe that have not been shipped all around the earth already before they get to the end consumer and it’s a product that creates value, creativity, jobs and content and is designed to last forever. So in terms of creating a product that is not bound by all of the problems we associate with consumption today, it’s really interesting as an approach and I think that’s given people a renewed sense of importance of the idea of self-creation. At the same time, I think we could see even in the middle of the pandemic when there was a lot of uncertainty, there was an element of hope, dreaming and escapism that’s beautifully captured by things like watches and jewellery. Especially mechanical watches that are rich in heritage and history. It’s something I noticed myself, during a time like that you go back to the things you genuinely care about to give you a bit of escapism. I think this element of humanity that goes beyond the functional and beyond purely survival instinct is now more important than ever and people have come to realise that again. So I do hope going forward that gives us a very strong base to develop as a brand.
What can you tell us about sustainability at IWC Schaffhausen currently and what can you tell us about your projection and plans for this topic?
We are constantly working on our simple mission to make the most responsibly manufactured watches in the business today. We have showcased initiatives highlighting that we are on the bus of sustainability, but I want to make sure that we are actually changing ourselves for the better. A few years ago we launched a very open communication around every element of our subscription to the sustainable development goals that everything we are doing is bound by. The drive behind this is always to step by step both make the process a more responsible one, reduce the impact on the environment, but also be very open with our consumers in terms of how we do things. That’s already been recognised during the WWF study on gold-sourcing from a couple of years ago where IWC was one of the very few in the industry that actually openly communicated on where our materials are from and now taking our involvement with the Responsible Jewellery Council from the code of practices to the chain of custody, takes us a whole level further because that means that fifty years down the line I can use my case number and actually trace precisely where the gold in my watch originally came from. This is a guarantee that goes much further than anything that was ever possible previously. Then, it’s about working on every element of the supply chain to really make sure that the entire impact created by the product on the environment is minimal and at the same time, we maintain what the product is for. First and foremost it is still a luxury product and it needs to continue to be that, so it’s not just innovation for innovation’s sake, it’s actually about trying to make a better, beautiful product that also has a lesser impact on the environment.
We have had a complete overhaul of our packaging concept where not only are we reducing the waste from packaging by making modular packaging that can be used as a travel pouch or a collectors box further down the line, it has a very low plastic content and is highly recyclable. Then we have gone for new local sourcing on our packaging. Meaning for example that all of the packaging we are using in China is now produced in China and the watches are coming from Switzerland without packaging to our Chinese distribution centre where we then package them and the same happens in Europe and around the rest of the world. By sourcing much more locally to the final destination we ensure that we don’t have to ship everything. This goes through to every element of the business and we are making sure that step-by-step we are getting better at every element towards making the most responsibly manufactured watches in the industry.
What is in the pipeline for IWC for this year?
Watches, services, accessories, campaigns! As I said we have the four major waves that are coming throughout this year. The first was the Pilot’s classic, then we will enter the world of Top Gun which we have already begun to do a little and then we will take it from there!
What is one thing that you haven’t achieved yet that you still aim to achieve?
I have many plans for the next few years. What is key to remember is that in this business at the end of the day, it’s a very emotional product. It’s all about curiosity, creativity and maintaining energy and fun and I think as long as we as a team have this much fun doing what we’re doing, hopefully, our clients will continue enjoying our products. Let’s see what guides us, I’m not making distinct six-year plans because we know from everything that’s been going on in the last ten, fifteen years that this is a nice planning exercise but hardly every materialises exactly in the way you expect, but I think it’s all about staying creative, keeping curious and just building it stage by stage, level by level and as long as we are having this much fun then we will carry on.
2020 has been a learning curve for many of us both on a personal and professional level – what is a key challenge that you have faced and a lesson you will take with you from this year?
The key lesson was not to think that the end of 2020 would suddenly change the situation. We found on the 1st January 2021 that things looked quite similar to 2020! And I think what I’m taking away from it is that the fact that none of us can control the environment. All you can do is have a good feeling for what’s going on and be very agile and respond with a great amount of innovation to every situation you face. Long-term planning is a thing of the past and the environment is changing rapidly all the time and I think we’ve become quite good and are getting better at responding to this and then innovating to adapt and this is what we have to keep on doing. What I’ve taken with me is definitely to ignore that idea that suddenly everything is going to normalise.
What’s the message that you would send to your clients and friends in the Middle East?
First of all, I would love to see you all again at some point! I very much look forward to engaging with everyone again in the region. We’ve got a huge upgrade to our flagship boutique concept in Dubai Mall later in the year which I’m very excited about. It will bring a new level of immersive storytelling and a connection to the manufacturer and our product design process and it also happens to be the biggest boutique in the world, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing that and getting in touch again with everybody.