Liv­ing Leg­end

Kurt Klaus, master watch­maker at IWC Schaffhausen, talks about in­no­va­tion and the fu­ture of IWC

DA MAN - Caliber - - CONTENTS -

Swiss watch man­u­fac­turer IWC Schaffhausen has been pro­duc­ing time­pieces of last­ing value, since 1868, with a clear fo­cus on tech­nol­ogy and de­vel­op­ment. As one of the world’s lead­ing brands in the lux­ury watch seg­ment, IWC crafts mas­ter­pieces of haute hor­logerie at its finest, com­bin­ing supreme pre­ci­sion with ex­clu­sive de­sign. To top it all off, the com­pany also gained a rep­u­ta­tion based on its pas­sion for in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions and tech­ni­cal in­ge­nu­ity.

Speak­ing of which, one of the key lead­ers in the world of IWC’s tech­ni­cal mas­tery is none other than its master watch­maker, Kurt Klaus. Born in 1934 in St. Gallen, Switzer­land, Klaus has been in­ter­ested in tech­nol­ogy and me­chan­ics since his teenage years, and un­sur­pris­ingly de­cided to be­come a watch­maker, start­ing his ca­reer at IWC back in 1957. Even though Klaus is most fa­mous for his per­pet­ual cal­en­dar, there has hardly been a ma­jor horo­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment dur­ing his time that he did not make an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to.

Dur­ing the 1970s, he de­vel­oped a cal­en­dar with a moon phase dis­play for a Lépine pocket watch. Fur­ther­more, af­ter the launch of the iconic Da Vinci Per­pet­ual Cal­en­dar in 1985 dur­ing the Quartz Cri­sis, his sig­na­ture could be found on the likes of the Grande Com­pli­ca­tion, the Il Destriero Sca­fu­sia (the world’s most com­pli­cated me­chan­i­cal wrist­watch at the time of its de­but in 1993), the 5000 au­to­matic cal­iber, the split-sec­onds mech­a­nism, the world time mod­ule and the me­chan­i­cal depth gauge. On top of all that, Klaus also helped to adapt the per­pet­ual cal­en­dar to the Por­tugieser and con­trib­uted to the de­vel­op­ment of the per­pet­ual cal­en­dar with a dig­i­tal date and month dis­play.

The­o­ret­i­cally, he re­tired back in 1999, but his work goes on. He re­mains as a con­sul­tant and rov­ing am­bas­sador for IWC Schaffhausen, and also shares his ex­pe­ri­ence to the brand’s younger gen­er­a­tion of engi­neers. Need­less to say, to this day, the charm­ing Swiss is re­garded as one of the most pop­u­lar per­son­al­i­ties in the watch in­dus­try. DA MAN: Look­ing back, what was it that drew you to watch­mak­ing in the first place? Kurt Klaus: I’ve al­ways had feel­ings for small and mi­cro-mech­a­nisms, even when I was a boy. For that rea­son, I chose watch­mak­ing and started to learn the craft back in 1951 in Switzer­land. I spent four years study­ing mi­cro-mech­a­nisms and watch move­ments and, af­ter that, I be­gan work­ing as a watch­maker. DA: When you started work­ing at IWC back in 1957, did you ever think that you’ll work with the com­pany for this long? KK: Yes, I did. I was born not far from Schaffhausen in the Ger­man-speak­ing part of Switzer­land. Af­ter

“I’ve al­ways had feel­ings for small and mi­cro-mech­a­nisms, even when I was a boy”

com­plet­ing watch­mak­ing school, I wanted to come back home. IWC Schaffhausen was the only watch man­u­fac­ture in this part of Switzer­land, so I went to them and asked: “do you need a young watch­maker?” Mr. Al­bert Pel­la­ton, who was the brand’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor at that time, hired me and told me I could start work im­me­di­ately. At the be­gin­ning, I was tasked with re­pairs and the assem­bly of move­ments. I felt at home at IWC Schaffhausen. It was a very good feel­ing. I never wanted to leave in all my 60 years work­ing here.

DA: Are IWC’s cases and move­ments de­signed in par­al­lel? KK:

Yes, ab­so­lutely. When I was de­vel­op­ing the IWC per­pet­ual cal­en­dar back in the 1980s, I worked very closely with an in-house de­signer who drafted the plans for the brand’s cases. We sat to­gether ev­ery day for four years and even­tu­ally be­came the best of friends. The col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the move­ment en­gi­neer and the case de­signer is very im­por­tant. The best mech­a­nisms can­not be sold when they don’t look good. Un­til to­day, peo­ple are still tak­ing about the first IWC Da Vinci Per­pet­ual Cal­en­dar. That was good de­sign. DA: Apart from the Da Vinci Per­pet­ual Cal­en­dar, what would you con­sider one of IWC’s great­est ac­com­plish­ments dur­ing your time with the brand? KK: In 1990, five years af­ter the de­but of the IWC Da Vinci Per­pet­ual Cal­en­dar, IWC un­veiled its first Grande Com­pli­ca­tion, which fea­tured a per­pet­ual cal­en­dar, a chrono­graph and a minute re­peater. Dur­ing its launch, a good friend of ours in the West of Switzer­land com­mented that a watch can­not be de­fined a Grande Com­pli­ca­tion if it wasn’t equipped with a tourbillon and a split-sec­onds chrono­graph. Upon hear­ing that, Mr. Gün­ter Blüm­lein, who was IWC’s CEO at that time, told me: “Let’s show them”. That was when I started work­ing on a new Grande Com­pli­ca­tion with a split-sec­onds chrono­graph and a tourbillon mech­a­nism not on the front but on the back side of the watch. We named that watch the Il Destriero Sca­fu­sia, which trans­lates as “Warhorse from Schaffhausen”, and pre­sented it in 1993 for IWC’s 125th an­niver­sary. With 750 parts, it was the most com­pli­cated wrist­watch in the world at the time of its un­veil­ing. DA: Out of all the watch mech­a­nisms out there, which one do you like the most and why? KK: This. [Show­ing the Da Vinci Per­pet­ual Cal­en­dar

“We named that watch the Il Destriero Sca­fu­sia, which trans­lates as “Warhorse from Schaffhausen,” and pre­sented it in 1993 for IWC’s 125th an­niver­sary”

from 2017] It was a com­pli­ca­tion that I de­vel­oped dur­ing a very dif­fi­cult pe­riod known as the Quartz Cri­sis, when no­body re­ally be­lieved that me­chan­i­cal watches would con­tinue. Per­pet­ual cal­en­dars were not new at all, but IWC’s per­pet­ual cal­en­dar fea­tured an in­no­va­tive con­struc­tion which al­lowed wear­ers to op­er­ate the cal­en­dar mech­a­nism us­ing the crown. This was a new start and suc­cess for IWC in the pro­duc­tion of com­pli­cated me­chan­i­cal watches. DA: Speak­ing about suc­cess, what do you think about IWC right now? KK: When I started at IWC, the com­pany had around 313 em­ploy­ees and I was one of them. Then, dur­ing the Quartz Cri­sis, the num­ber went down to 150. To­day, we have around 800 em­ploy­ees in to­tal. I can tell you that IWC, right now, is at the top – you see the suc­cess in all our watches. On top of that, we now have a new man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­tre to pro­duce, in-house, not only move­ment parts, but also the cases of all our watches. DA: As a watch­maker, how im­por­tant is in­no­va­tion in a watch? KK: In­no­va­tion is very im­por­tant. It was what Floren­tine Ariosto Jones (F.A. Jones) founded IWC upon when he came from Amer­ica. His vi­sion was to pro­duce me­chan­i­cal watches with the help of ma­chines and, to me, that was our very first show­case of in­no­va­tion. To­day, the IWC per­pet­ual cal­en­dar re­mains the best ex­am­ple of the com­pany’s in­no­va­tive spirit be­cause we man­aged to pro­duce, in­dus­tri­ally, a mech­a­nism that was con­sid­ered a piece of art. More­over, we also have in­no­va­tions in ma­te­rial. For in­stance, IWC man­aged to de­velop, in-house, at our his­tor­i­cal head­quar­ters in Schaffhausen, the first watch case in ti­ta­nium when case fac­to­ries in Switzer­land saw it as an im­pos­si­ble task back then. A watch­maker needs to in­no­vate ev­ery sin­gle day. DA: Will the de­signs of IWC evolve in the fu­ture? KK: Af­ter my re­tire­ment, I was work­ing for 10 years with a team of young engi­neers and watch­mak­ers who just joined IWC from school. While I do not work with them any­more, I still fol­low what they are do­ing and I can see that they are em­brac­ing the same ideas as I did back in the day. How­ever, to­day, with new tech­nolo­gies, I am very happy to think that IWC’s de­signs will con­tinue to evolve. I see a very good fu­ture for the brand.

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