Interview by Patrick Boyle

Located on P.C. Hoofstraat in the centre of Amsterdam, IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN’S new boutique is designed as an open and welcoming space where clients can discover IWC’S watches and learn more about its unique engineering approach and materials expertise. For the official unveiling of the boutique, IWC focused on its founding story through the prism of water with a temporary installation. 

Amsterdam’s expansive network of canals connects the city with Schafhausen, where the American watchmaker and engineer Florentine Ariosto Jones established the “International Watch Company” on the banks of the Rhine river more than 150 years ago. The store is IWC’s fifth global flagship boutique after Zurich, Dubai, Shanghai and Beverly Hills. Like the previous boutique in Amsterdam but larger and with more amenities and services, the new flagship is located on P.C. Hoofstraat. The new flagship boutique is designed as an open and welcoming space. IWC’s collections take centre stage in open displays, allowing clients to experience the watches hands-on in a much more tactile way. All watch displays feature touchscreen technology, giving visitors access to a broad range of information about the timepieces on display at the touch of a button, including product history, technical specifications and customisation possibilities. The boutique seamlessly blends different textures and materials in a colour palette that is reminiscent of “Mojave Desert”, “Lake Tahoe” and “Woodland” – the eye-catching ceramic colours IWC developed in collaboration with Pantone®.

IWC’s Engineering Approach Explained

The “Engineering Wall” allows visitors to learn more about IWC’s engineering heritage and expertise. For example, it details the sequential steps from raw material to finished watch case for materials such as stainless steel, titanium and Ceratanium®. Clients can also discover how many parts go into an IWC-manufactured movement and in which order they are assembled. Ingenious mechanisms like the Pellaton automatic winding system or the IWC-typical double moon phase display are explained with large working models. The wall also exhibits watches developed in IWC’s engineering division “XPL”. In the “Strap Studio”, clients can explore various strap options, ranging from water-resistant rubber straps in fashionable colours to leather alternatives like TimberTex® and MiraTex®. Selected watches can be fitted with new straps on-site to customise them to one’s individual tastes and needs. Complementing the experience are two comfortable lounge areas, one with a fireplace for the cool winter days and a large screen that enables clients to take a virtual tour of IWC’s Manufakturzentrum in Schaffhausen. A separate boardroom offers a perfect space for watchmaking classes and meetings. After exploring the IWC universe, clients can enjoy a beverage at the boutique’s very own BIG PILOT BAR.

An Interactive Installation Marks the Opening

To celebrate the opening and to highlight the unique connection of IWC and Amsterdam through the element of water, IWC is presenting an interactive video installation titled “The Origins of Time”, featuring a water simulation that allows clients to interact with digital versions of the sea, the Rhine and Amsterdam’s canals on three large screens. At the same time, IWC’s history and evolution to a global luxury watchmaker is told through immersive storytelling.


I sat down with Christian Knoop, Creative Director of IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN in the new Amsterdam store to discuss IWC’s identity, the brand’s connection with water and the concept behind the flagship boutique.

IWC has a different background to many other watchmakers, how do you translate this into your physical spaces?

Yes, I think this is absolutely essential and it was a key point in creating the new generation of stores. It is not just about making a nice watch store but to make it possible for people to experience that IWC is a different type of watch brand. Our history and focus on engineering and pure design had to be translated into an architectural space. We were very much focused on the fact that the store has to represent IWC as a modern brand, has to incorporate the key brand colours of black and white and has to feature the story element that we have as a brand. When it comes to colours, we work with pantone on the colours of Top Gun, desert, woodland green and so on. We translated these colours into the architectural space. We also wanted to create a couple of unique elements where people could explore the story of IWC. First and foremost, the engineering wall where people see what makes IWC different as a watch maker. We can explain certain functionalities that are unique to our movements and we can explain our story as materials engineers which dates back to the 1980’s where IWC was the first brand to introduce ceramic and titanium watches and we can explain to people how this translates into the modern collection. Then on the different watch displays, we present the watches in a very unique way. It is the only open watch display on the entire street where people can look at the product and can touch the product in a unique and special way. Also, the digital displays underneath the watch presentation bridges the link between physical and digital. People can see the physical product and can use the interactive tool on their own to learn about the product specifications, the price, the collection and design options. They can also browse social media and see the product on the wrists of people. This is a very unique way to translate between the physical and digital space. People come to the store having explored the brand on social media and on the website and want to see the physical product but we have other solutions like this to translate back. We also have the strap atelier for our watches. We have a huge choice of metal bracelets, leather straps, rubber straps, vegan straps. People can really pick their strap and can even customise with embossing and printing on it if the client wishes. Then upstairs we have a watchmaking atelier so people can see watchmakers at work. People can see what a disassembled watch looks like and we can do small repairs. For social gatherings we can do watchmaking classes and we can do private events. This is very special to this boutique. Lastly, we have the BIG PILOT BAR where we can serve drinks to our customers and also create a social gathering point that connects people and makes it open to people to pop in for a coffee or a beer. We want to make this place more than just a commercial space, but really to become a hub and a social connection point for people who like the brand and that wanting to exchange with like-minded people. We have a fantastic team in many of our boutiques and people that are very good at making people feel at ease. We are not an arrogant brand so we welcome our customers here and want to extend our hospitality and this attitude to a physical space where people feel at ease and feel welcome.

This IWC store is now the biggest in the world. Why was Amsterdam chosen as the location for IWC’s fifth global flagship boutique?

The Dutch market is a very strong market for us. It is a market where we have one of the highest percentage shares of anywhere in the world. This shows that the IWC brand resonates very well with the Dutch market. We see that actually the Dutch market is a very educated market when it comes to watchmaking and design. There are lots of creative businesses, lots of fashion industry, lots of architects and lots of people working in the design industry. This is probably why a design brand like IWC brand works very well in the Dutch culture and with Dutch clients both men and women. The fact that we have the two latest generation stores in Rotterdam and now Amsterdam emphasises how we look at this market and how we give priority to this market. 

Can you tell me more about the interactive video installation, “The Origins of Time”?

This was specially created for the Amsterdam store because the Amsterdam story is about water and talks about our origins as a watch brand and also the link with Amsterdam. Amsterdam is very much a city born from water and linked with water. Historically, you see the water with the canals around you every day and this water is literally linking up to Switzerland. You have the Rhine and a water connection all the way up to Schaffhausen creating a water connection. We also make the point in the origin story that water has been especially important in founding the IWC brand. The founder of IWC Florentine Ariosto Jones came from Boston over the Atlantic Ocean to Switzerland in 1968 to set up IWC. He set up IWC with a very bold vision of a new way of watchmaking, centralised watchmaking. This was not individual artisans or small ateliers but centralised watchmaking and building and using new technologies using hydro-power coming from the river to drive transmission belts for all the drilling and milling machines in the factory. This was an industrial way of producing watches. This installation pays tribute to the fact that the flow of water has been part of our origins as a watchmaker. We have been using water power ever since and today we have a powerplant. For us it is a part of our culture and so to speak a sort of given especially in the discussion around sustainability and renewable energies there is a special focus but we have never thought about where our energy comes from because it comes from water for over 150 years. We want to pay tribute and highlight that this has been essential both practically and in terms of ideology for the brand. Now we have worked with some Dutch designers to create this digital installation allowing visitors to interact with the water. It is camera-based and you can have an interaction with the flowing water on the screens. The screens simulate three different states of water, the water of the Atlantic Ocean, you have the river and then you have the Rhine Falls which is one of the landmarks in Schaffhausen. So, you have three different states of water showing the travelling water. 

You have a background in industrial design and previously mentioned to me that you worked in furniture, lighting and even aircraft interiors. Were you able to apply this experience in developing the store concept for Amsterdam?

That is actually part of the beauty of this brand, that we have so many creative aspects to work on. We have the watches, the branding, the corporate design, the communication, the visuals, the interactive elements and so on. We have a dedicated architectural team working on this. We have a team of ten in-house architects in Schaffhausen and they work with local architects to execute buildings like this. When it comes to translating the brand message and talking about the brand message and the corporate design and translating this into an architectural space I work with these architects to find the right solutions but they are the expects in defining the space and sourcing the materials and so on but it is more about the special translation of the brand message. 

How does that process differ from when you are designing a new watch?

In fact, it is not so different. The scale is different but also a watch has to do with the message and it has to have the roots in the history and the brand DNA while finding that surprising element that really inspires people and gets people’s attention. Also, here for such a space it is about a couple of functional aspects that you need but you also need to find some IWC signature elements and hence some surprise elements to make the complete picture. 

Does the new Amsterdam store set the tone for what we can expect from IWC stores going forward?

We call this the latest boutique concept. This is the fifth store of this new concept executed worldwide. This is definitely the concept that we will continue executing for the coming years. However, I must say that with many creative aspects we are constantly evolving and there will be new ideas coming into new stores. We keep pushing the boundaries. We don’t switch off our brains and execute some more stores in the same way. We pursue new ideas and push the concept even further. 

Finally, what watch are you wearing today?

I’m wearing a Portugieser Yacht Club.