For nearly a century and a half, IWC has sought its own destiny in horology in Schaffhausen . Although geographically isolated from the rest of the Swiss watchmaking fraternity, IWC has attained its global renown by virtue of its international leanings.
In 1868, a watchmaker named Florentine Ariosto Jones arrived in Switzerland from Boston, seeking comparative advantages in the production of timekeeping components. As director of E Howard & Co – a leading watchmaking company in the US – Jones had the idea of manufacturing movements and parts for the American market.
In the cradle of watchmaking, Jones had access to a better pool of watchmakers and lower wages. He brought with him machines and ideas from his home country and looked into Le Locle as the base to set up his manufacture. However, Johann Heinrich Moser – a native of Schaffhausen – persuaded Jones to opt for the northern city, citing the connection of railways which would provide the necessary logistical support. Moser, an industrialist and watch manufacturer, had built Schaffhausen’s first hydroelectric plant, harnessing the mighty flow of the Rhine which feeds into Europe’s largest waterfall – the Rhine Falls.
The combination of these factors made up Jones’ mind. He founded the International Watchmaking Company in 1868, working out of an industrial building leased from Moser. By 1874, construction of Jones’ manufacture was underway, situated along the banks of the Rhine. Another Schaffhausen native, the architect G Meyer, designed the 45m-long building to accommodate 300 workbenches. This building – which now hosts the IWC museum – greets present-day visitors.
At its Neuhausen production facility, IWC demonstrates its great proficiency in machining the precise cases of its different collections, shaping metre-long steel rods into the recognisable manifestations of the Aquatimer, Portugieser, Ingenieur, Pilot and so forth. Crafted in a temperature controlled environment of 221/2 degrees – for perfect metalworking conditions – these cases are then laser etched with case numbers. A water and oil emulsion cleans each part before tiny robotic sensors apply a stringent protocol check, ensuring all dimensions of the case are perfect. Components undergo the same rigorous checking.
Inside the finishing department, a technician uses metronomic accuracy to create the pearled pattern on movement plates. The assembly of movements requires a watchmaker’s experienced hands to adjust the escapement and align the balance springs – highly individualised tasks that machines cannot replicate. A fine instance of watchmaking specialisation and human ingenuity is the Portugieser Siderale Scafusia.
IWC’s most complicated timepiece demanded 10 years of development and construction to piece over 500 components in a staggering achievement of astronomical functions. Each edition is tailored to a customised night sky, with the hundreds of stars on a disc corresponding to the constellations as seen from the owner’s location of choice.
At the quality control department, technicians with tenures of more than 30 years check on operations of the timepieces, as do highspeed cameras and laser measurement equipment. Once satisfied, a special dust cover is wrapped around the case, signalling to the retailer that the timepieces have been checked, vacuumed and are free of dust.
Even at developmental stages, each prototype is subjected to a battery of tests including climate, impact, corrosion, abrasion and even UV qualifications – ensuring an enduring service life to each IWC timepiece.
All these deliberate steps are almost second nature to IWC. The brand’s claim to excellence, Probus Scafusia – meaning ‘good, solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen’ in Latin – was formulated in 1903 to herald the unique destiny of this watchmaker – which found itself as the leading light of watchmaking in Switzerland’s north-east.