Interview by Patrick Boyle

IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN unveiled its new Portugieser collection at Watches and Wonders in Geneva. Building on its unique expertise in calendars, the Swiss luxury watch manufacturer introduced the Portugieser Eternal Calendar. The watch is IWC’s first secular perpetual calendar meaning that it accounts for all irregularities of the calendar, adjusting for skipped leap years at the beginning of each century. The Eternal Calendar will be accurate until the year 3999, the point where it is yet to be decided how we will deal with a leap year in 3400. A tribute to eternity, IWC’s first secular perpetual calendar also features a moon phase accuracy of 45 million years. The eternal cycle of day and night has also inspired four new signature dial colours: Horizon Blue, Dune, Obsidian and Silver Moon which can also be found across the complete range of novelties, including the new Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 44, Portugieser Automatic 42, Portugieser Automatic 40 and Portugieser Chronograph. All watches in the new Portugieser collection feature intricately crafted dials, finished with 15 layers of transparent lacquer, and are powered by IWC manufactured movements.

We sat down with Christian Knoop, IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN Creative Director, to discuss the novelties unveiled at Watches and Wonders. 

Are you enjoying Watches & Wonders 2024? What does it mean to IWC?

It is the biggest watch fair in the world so for us it is the moment to really set the tone for a new commercial year which starts in April. We are presenting the most important novelties for this year at the fair. Like always, there is more to come throughout the year but we make a consistent story about one of our most prestigious collections, the Portugieser, and kick off a new collection here in Geneva. In that sense it is quite important. It is a moment where we meet journalists, retailers, our end customers and this year there is 3 public days so this ability to connect and network with people is quite important to us.

What were the inspirations behind the latest novelties unveiled at Watches & Wonders, in particular the Portugieser Eternal Calendar?

The inspiration behind is basically to combine the essence of the Portugieser watch with our ambition and capacity as a watchmaker. The Portugieser is a collection that is deeply rooted in our history. It is more than 85 years old, it has always been an instrument watch that started off as a wrist watch that had a pocket watch movement for the robustness and the accuracy. This idea of a very precise instrument with a very robust design is the DNA and the foundation of what we have done over the last decades and it has grown into one of our biggest collections, one of the collections that has carried most of our complications, becoming particularly known for calendars. For us, making this statement about our capability, our culture of watchmaking in Schaffhausen, the Portugieser is a perfect collection to do that. What we do here is finding a bridge between the design icon that is the Portugieser, and talking about watchmaking complications and watchmaking records at the same time. The Eternal Calendar marks a new record for us, it pushes the boundaries and it is our talking piece and flagship piece. With the calendar features and the record-breaking moonphase display it is really a statement. 

I was also very impressed by the night and day sphere. How did that come about?

Yeah, the night and day sphere is also talking about IWC watchmaking in a different sense. It is a complication and a concept that has been created by a former apprentice. This was part of our own watchmaking programme, we have our own watchmaking school in Schaffhausen where we train our future talent. We do annual watchmaking innovation challenges. There is the apprentice challenge where all the apprentices come up with their own complication ideas or new ways to display functions. This was a kind of celebrated solution from a couple of years ago which we now turned into a fully functional movement. We have also have a tide indication movement. All of these functions talk about calendars in the wider sense and all of these calendars are typically defined by the three planets, sun, earth, and moon revolving around each other which influences not only the year, the months and the cycle of the day but also the cycle of the moon. We cover all of that with our different watch complications. 

Can you talk me through the design of the IWC booth at Watches & Wonders?

For us as designers it always a challenge to combine purity and aesthetic reduction with something that brings across the value, the luxury, the preciousness. This is the case in the watches. You will find in the Portguieser that we have put a lot of effort to make very fine details, to make the watch not look simple but pure in fine beautiful details. That is the same also for the booth which takes inspiration from mid-century design of very clean, very minimal, timeless architecture that doesn’t look boring and banal. It still has refinement in materials, in the finishing, the proportions, the lighting, and this is the underlaying idea that also connects our approach to watch design and our approach to architecture. In Schaffhausen, we have an internal team to look after the brand 360 degrees. We have in house watch designers, in house designers that look after the brand creation in a wider sense through communication, advertising, films, corporate design but also architecture, visual merchandising and our boutiques. This is all done internally in Schaffhausen.

I presume the water and the moon is in reference to the tides?

Yeah, so the Portugieser started off as a watch for sea-faring people based on the precision reputation we had for marine chronometers. You can find the model made for the royal navy on the booth here today. So, it started with this marine and naval navigation spirit and we communicated the Portugieser a lot in the context of sailing and navigation in the last 20 years in various campaigns and various partnerships so the water element is always present. This also connects us to Schaffhausen. We are located right next to the water and we have been using water power ever since. Water becomes the connecting element. 

IWC has been a pioneer in watch materials such as titanium and ceramic. Are you currently pursuing the development of new materials?

Yes we are. We have an innovation and development pipeline that reaches 10-12 years in the future. This doesn’t mean that we are designing the watches that will come out in 12 years but we work on materials and movement innovation that is meant to come to the market much later. We will have a few material related launches later this year but even in the Portugieser, you find details, for example you mentioned the hand wound tourbillon day and night where we have the little escapement wheel is made of silicon with an IWC patented process called ‘dark shell’ in which we cover the silicon material with a very thin diamond powder to reduce the friction and abrasion. Even in the smallest parts of the movement there is material innovation ongoing. All of the movements that we are featuring on the Portugieser are state of the art in-house calibres featuring a lot of ceramic components, ceramic automatic clicks, ceramic bearings. Our material innovation doesn’t end with the cases but really goes into everything we do at IWC

It’s not necessarily materials but the 60 layers of lacquer on the Eternal also feeds into this mentality. 

Here you also find a good example of how we approach things. Even in a collection that is so well recognised, you find that also aesthetically we seek perfection in every little detail. We have a culture of not only watchmaking and design, but also innovation and engineering at IWC. One fundamental aspect is constantly questioning the status-quo, constantly questioning what we can improve and seeking improvement in every detail of the product. Be it the performance of movements, the performance of materials, the finishing, the refinement, this is the general attitude that we are living in in Schaffhausen and this lives from the willingness, the passion and the talent of the individuals. 

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in all industries. How is IWC addressing the topic?

I think that sustainability is of course a very important part of what we do. We are lucky to already manufacture a product that is made of metal materials that can partly come from recycling. The materials are designed to last and can be repaired. The mechanical watch as such is a very good product in that sense, they are built to last. They are by definition sustainable. Also as a company we are constantly looking at how we get our energy, through water power, through solar polar. Also in the country divisions, we are getting renewable energy for our boutiques and our offices. We are looking into packaging and many different aspects that are not only related to the primary product but also the secondary product. The way we source and chose materials for booths like this, the way we do events in terms of food and packaging is also considered. We are really trying to establish a sustainability culture.