IWC Schaffhausen prides itself on engineering solutions and innovating products for the future while never forgetting the heritage of the brand.
Something that has been key to the watchmaker since its beginning in 1868. Founded by American engineer Florentine Ariosto Jones who arrived in Switzerland with a vision, today the brand’s heritage combines American engineering techniques with Swiss craftsmanship to create something very unique.
CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr has been with the company for over 14 years and has seen it develop over the past two decades. Since becoming CEO Grainger-Herr has had a focus on widening the reach of IWC’s watches, particularly in the younger market through developing innovative designs that were authentic and true to the DNA of the watchmaker. Here we discuss the latest novelties that were presented at Watches & Wonders earlier this year, as well as the future for the watchmaker in the Middle East.
Can you share a little about the Watches & Wonders platform and how it has allowed you to communicate the message of the brand and new novelties this year?
When the idea for a digital edition of Watches & Wonders came up, we immediately jumped on board. We saw this as an opportunity to underscore our pioneering spirit. IWC has repeatedly created excitement and enthusiasm with its spectacular booth at Watches & Wonders. This year, we spared no effort to turn the presentation of our new Portugieser collection into the exclusive and immersive digital experience that people have come to expect from IWC. Using a series of in-depth conversations with the people behind IWC, we brought our new Portugieser watches directly from our home in Schaffhausen to the homes of journalists, partners and customers across the globe. Visitors even had the opportunity to take a virtual walk around our booth. Another highlight was the innovative Augmented Reality application, which allows you to discover and experience the new models directly on your wrist or anywhere in your environment.
We want to talk a little about the new novelties that were launched through the platform – what can you tell us?
We launched our new Portugieser collection through Watches & Wonders. One thing that I am particularly proud of is that all new models are fitted with IWC-manufactured calibres. This underscores our commitment to technical excellence and is also a testament to the significant investments IWC has made in recent years, in manufacturing capabilities and quality. For the first time, we have equipped the Portugieser Chronograph with an in-house movement from the 69000 calibre family. We are also presenting attractive new models with slightly smaller diameters. One of my favourites is the Portugieser Automatic 40, a compact three-hand model in the iconic design of the original Reference 325 with the small seconds at “6 o’clock”. The Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 42 is an entirely new model with IWC’s iconic perpetual calendar in a very wearable size of 42 millimetres. Another highlight is the third-generation of the Portugieser Yacht Club, which we presented in a 44-millimetre case with reworked proportions and a beautifully finished stainless-steel bracelet. The talking piece is the Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide, the first IWC watch with our newly developed mechanical tide indication. Lastly, we presented a selection of Boutique Editions in an overarching maritime design code in gold and blue, among them two high-watchmaking references with tourbillons.
How important do you think it is to be inspired by the brand’s heritage and historical watches when creating new designs?
The Portugieser has been a part of IWC’s history for over 80 years and is one of our flagship collections. When you face the task of updating such an iconic line, you need to respectfully study its history, while still trying to introduce something new. Our goal was to create a bridge between the past and the future; to surprise our customers with new aspects, while making sure they will instantly recognize the collection as the IWC Portugieser. We achieved this through introducing new models like the Portugieser Automatic 40, the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 42 or the third generation of the Portugieser Yacht Club while securing an overall look which is true to the nautical heritage of this watch family. By combining the pure and timeless design characteristics of the original with details and colours inspired by modern yachting, the new collection has a consistent and contemporary look.
What can you tell us about the Portugieser and how it’s developed over time but continued to remain relevant and contemporary?
The Portugieser is one of our most prestigious product lines. The first Portugieser, or Reference 325, was created in the late 1930s to the specification of a “marine-chronometer-precision” wristwatch for two merchants Lisbon. Its clean and functional dial was inspired by the deck observation watches of the time, nautical precision instruments used to determine longitude on ships. The amazing thing about the Portugieser is that its design has hardly changed since then, and it looks just as fresh and contemporary today as it did over 80 years ago. The characteristic minute’s scale, Arabic numerals, slender feuille hands and the small seconds at “6 o’clock” have later appeared virtually unmodified in many other Portugieser models. For example, in the Portugieser Anniversary Edition, the Portugieser Minute Repeater or the Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days.
What can you tell us about e-commerce at IWC and where is its position within the company currently?
We are pursuing an omnichannel distribution strategy which encompasses IWC Boutiques, authorized retail partners, and e-commerce on iwc.com. Online sales have been an essential part of our strategy since 2017. It’s an option that the young generation of technology-savvy customers expect from a luxury brand today. We want to offer our customers a choice and not tell them where and when to buy their watches; this decision is entirely up to them. I think what is critical is the service aspect. Our service needs to be on the same level, regardless of which channel the customer uses. A customer may decide to buy a watch on iwc.com from his smartphone while he waits for his flight. Another customer will maybe buy his watch after a three-hour discussion with one of our sales associates in-store. For both of them, the experience needs to be equally perfect and at the top of the game.
You became CEO at IWC around three years ago – what can you share with us about your strategy since then and what would you still like to achieve going forward?
I joined IWC more than 14 years ago and have since held various positions within the company. In 2017, I became CEO. One of the focal points of my strategy has been the extension of our manufacturing capabilities in the area of in-house movements. In 2018, we opened our new manufacturing centre in Schaffhausen, which I had the pleasure of helping to design as an architect. In this new facility, we are combining the making of movement-parts, case-making and movement assembly under one roof for the first time. The new manufacturing layout is organised in logical and sequential steps, from raw metal to finished movement or case. This approach allowed us to optimise production processes, improve communication, and implement a totally integrated quality management system. As a result of our continuous investments into technical excellence and quality, we introduced our new My IWC program last year. It includes an extension of the International Limited Warranty from two to eight years. When it comes to product development, I focus on functional engineering of complications, timeless design, and emotional storytelling. Another focal point is of case materials. Last year, we created excitement with the Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph Top Gun Ceratanium with a case made of Ceratanium®. This new material combines the lightness and robustness of titanium with the hardness and scratch-resistance of ceramic.
Moving forward into the second half of 2020 will you be changing the strategy of the brand at all and do you think the buying habits of customers will change once the retail stores are open again?
IWC follows a very long-term oriented strategy. I don’t believe consumer buying habits are going to change fundamentally. Man’s desire to surround himself with handmade, decorative and emotional things has so far survived every distortion in history. Seen in this light, luxury goods are also insignificant either, but even vital for our emotional well-being. Especially in the current situation, many people will reflect again on what brings them joy. I can imagine, however, that it will be less the extravagant products that will be in demand, but rather those of established brands that have a high degree of legitimacy, a history and a radiant design. Many IWC product lines date back for several decades. For example, the Portugieser or the Pilot’s Watches were created over 80 years ago – and their iconic design appears as fresh and contemporary today as it did then. This is what makes our brand authentic and credible, and these are the qualities that consumers will be looking for when choosing a luxury product in the future.
How important is it to provide experiences for your customers today and how does IWC do this?
In the luxury industry, we are not only manufacturing beautiful products. We are engineering dreams that our clients fall in love with. These dreams range from the history of the brand to the actual product and the stories surrounding it. Experiences are an important part of these dreams. A visit to our new manufacturing centre in Schaffhausen, for example, has turned into an unforgettable experience for many of our most loyal customers. Seeing where our watches are made, allows them to appreciate them in a new way. In today’s environment, we are experimenting with ways to connect people digitally. In Singapore, for example, we hosted a virtual cocktail party, which took place inside a 360-degree digital rendering of our boutique. We sent our customers cocktail kits via mail so that they could prepare their drinks at home. We even provided a matching Spotify playlist so that everybody would feel the same vibe at home. Customers were able to walk around the virtual boutique, discover our new collection, and participate in video chats with each other or with people from IWC.
Where does the Middle East fit into the strategy of IWC and how important is this market to the brand?
The Middle East is an essential market for us. The region is home to many experienced watch collectors, and they do have a very high level of knowledge about mechanical luxury watches. Especially when it comes to high complications, they are an extremely discerning clientele. I am confident that watch lovers in the Middle East will be excited to see our new models with complications. The first one is the Portugieser Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph, which combines a tourbillon, a chronograph function and a retrograde date display. The second one is the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon. Both of these exclusive timepieces are available in the overarching design code of our Boutique Editions with cases made of 18 ct Armor Gold®. Thanks to an improved microstructure, this material has significantly higher hardness values than traditional gold alloys. The deep blue dials create a beautiful contrast to the cases. Other versions are also available in platinum, where silver-plated dials and rhodium-plated hands and appliqués harmonise wonderfully with the rare precious metal.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
To be passionate about what we do at IWC, to share that passion with my team, to inspire and encourage them to give the very best they can.
What do you think makes IWC unique as a brand?
IWC is the only Swiss luxury watchmaker that was founded by an American. More than 150 years ago, Florentine Ariosto Jones crossed the Atlantic and established the company by the banks of the river Rhine in Schaffhausen. Combining the advanced manufacturing methods from his homeland with the skilled craftsmanship of Swiss watchmakers, he laid the foundation for IWC’s unique engineering approach. Based on this heritage, we focus on developing technically elegant solutions that solve real engineering challenges and are practical and comfortable for customers to use. A great example would be IWC’s legendary perpetual calendar, which was developed by our former head watchmaker Kurt Klaus during the 1980s. Upset by the imperfections of mechanical calendars for wristwatches, Klaus designed a completely new calendar mechanism which is triggered via a single nightly switching impulse from the base movement. All its displays are perfectly synchronized and can be adjusted via the crown. IWC’s engineering approach has also led to timeless designs. The iconic design of our Pilot’s Watches in the style of an easy-to-read cockpit instrument, for example, is a direct result of functional engineering to the requirements from military aviation. Pilot’s Watches were used for performing celestial navigation in the cockpit, and easy legibility even under challenging visual circumstances was a fundamental requirement.
How would you describe IWC in one word or sentence?
IWC is engineered, timeless and emotional.
What watch are you wearing today?
Today, I am wearing the new Portugiser Yacht Club Moon & Tide. This timepiece is an excellent example of how you can respect the history and DNA of a watch family and still come up with something astonishing. If you look at the design of the watch, it has all the elements that have made the Portugieser Yacht Club a success since 2010. Taking the iconic double moon indication of our legendary perpetual calendar as a starting point, we have developed a practical mechanical tide indication which informs you about the approximate time for the next high and low water. The tide indicator can be set to any location on a cost with so-called semidiurnal tides and will then keep running in the 12 hours 24 minutes tide cycle. The mechanism is so precise it will only theoretically deviate by 10 minutes in 100 years. This complication is on the spot with the nautical heritage of the Portugieser, it’s respectful of the DNA of this line, yet it’s something completely new.