IWC com­bines tra­di­tional haute hor­logerie prac­tices with cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy, dis­cov­ers Candice Chan

Adore Gems & Timepieces - - CONTENTS -

A visit to IWC’s fac­to­ries in Schaffhausen and Neuhausen

Since IWC was founded in 1868, it has al­ways been an ad­vo­cate for in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. When Amer­i­can engi­neer, watch­maker and founder Floren­tine Jones built the fac­tory in Schaffhausen, near the Swiss-Ger­man bor­der, his goal was to bring to­gether Amer­i­can ex­per­tise in mech­a­ni­sa­tion with Swiss pre­ci­sion. De­spite that, the brand is no stranger to haute hor­logerie. In­no­va­tions such as the Pall­we­ber sys­tem (1885), Pel­la­ton wind­ing sys­tem (1950) and crown op­er­ated per­pet­ual cal­en­dar (1985), as well as su­per com­pli­cated time­pieces such as the Il Destriero Sca­fu­sia (1993) and the Por­tuguese Tourbillon Mys­tère Rétro­grade (2010) among oth­ers, are proof of IWC’s tech­ni­cal mas­tery.


Some 147 years later, this care­ful bal­ance be­tween in­no­va­tion and tra­di­tion re­mains. A visit to its newer Neuhausen fa­cil­ity re­veals a wide se­lec­tion of so­phis­ti­cated ma­chin­ery ca­pa­ble of do­ing elec­tri­cal dis­charge ma­chin­ing (EDM) and CAD/CAM (com­puter-aided de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing) that help build com­po­nents from the tini­est of move­ment parts to bracelets and cases.

IWC is one of few watch man­u­fac­tures that build its own cases from scratch. Work­ing only with steel, gold, plat­inum or ti­ta­nium for its cases, the process be­gins with the un­pol­ished metal rods and pre­formed blanks. They

go through a turn­ing and milling process that shape them into their de­sired forms, com­plete with all the nec­es­sary an­gles, aper­tures and grooves. All cases, even the sim­plest ones, are com­posed of sev­eral parts. These shaped com­po­nents, com­pris­ing things such as case rings and case backs, are then placed on racks and fed into ma­chines to be en­graved. Up to eight case backs can be placed within the ma­chine at any one time, with two be­ing man­u­fac­tured con­cur­rently in a span of just six min­utes.

The CNC (com­puter nu­mer­i­cal con­trol) ma­chines are also re­spon­si­ble for the pro­duc­tion of plates, ro­tors and bridges. Most move­ment parts are made of brass that is put through a gal­vani­sa­tion process be­fore be­ing rhodi­umplated. These parts are ei­ther fin­ished by hand or un­dergo a mech­a­nised spark ero­sion process to achieve their shape.

Pad print­ing, a spe­cialised tech­nique that trans­fers a 2D im­age (such as let­ters or nu­mer­als) onto a 3D ob­ject (such as a sap­phire crys­tal watch glass), is also done in-house at the Neuhausen fac­tory. The process in­volves pick­ing up paint from a print­ing plate via a flex­i­ble con­i­cal-shape sil­i­con pad and press­ing it onto the sur­face to be printed. With these print­ers, IWC is able to ef­fi­ciently cre­ate in­tri­cately dec­o­rated graph­ics like that on the rear side of the IWC Portugieser Sidérale Sca­fu­sia, where more than 500 stars recre­ate the majesty of the night sky.

Once the var­i­ous case com­po­nents are cut, printed, en­graved and checked for im­per­fec­tions, the metal­lic parts are given proper sur­face fin­ish­ing, even on places that are not vis­i­ble from the out­side. They go through a pre-assem­bly process be­fore the cases are put through a wa­ter-re­sis­tance test and sent to the Schaffhausen fa­cil­ity to­gether with the other move­ment parts.


Al­though modern ma­chin­ery guar­an­tees un­prece­dented ac­cu­racy, hand-craft­ing re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the move­ment pro­duc­tion pro­cesses. This prac­tice is seen at the his­tor­i­cal Schaffhausen fa­cil­ity lo­cated just a short dis­tance away from Neuhausen, where move­ment and case assem­bly is done, and where the brand’s most com­pli­cated time­pieces are made.

Un­like at Neuhausen, where a lively and au­di­ble me­chan­i­cal buzz fills the spa­cious rooms, the mood at Schaffhausen is a lit­tle more aus­tere. Closed doors and off-lim­its ar­eas keep highly con­fi­den­tial ren­der­ings and doc­u­ments away from pry­ing eyes. Af­ter all, this is where 20 watch move­ment projects and up to 50 watch case projects are be­ing worked on at any one time in the year. These range from brand new de­vel­op­ments for se­rial pro­duc­tion (like its three new base cal­i­bres) to com­plex com­pli­ca­tions that are of­fered only in lim­ited num­bers.

Dur­ing the assem­bly process, the move­ment’s wind­ing mech­a­nism, train and es­cape­ment are put to­gether by hand and the watch goes through pre­ci­sion ad­just­ments to en­sure that it runs ac­cu­rately. Re­spon­si­ble for this im­por­tant task are the tech­ni­cians, who make sure the bal­ance spring runs true and flat — a task that no modern ma­chine has the means of per­fect­ing.

Highly skilled watch­mak­ers in the Com­pli­ca­tions depart­ment add on com­pli­ca­tions such as the per­pet­ual cal­en­dar or split-sec­onds mech­a­nism to the ba­sic move­ment, while the Spe­cial­ties depart­ment takes care of the tour­bil­lons and minute re­peaters. Com­posed of a team of five spe­cialised watch­mak­ers, they put to­gether the 657-part Grande Com­pli­ca­tion move­ment, the in­ner me­chan­ics of the Portugieser Tourbillon Mys­tère Rétro­grade (which de­mands a full week to put to­gether) and the In­ge­nieur Con­stant-Force Tourbillon (which re­quires two days).

The fi­nal assem­bly process sees the move­ment, di­als and watch hands as­sem­bled, en­cased and fit­ted with crowns. Each watch is then put through a 10-day test, which stim­u­lates the day to day us­age of a watch, to de­ter­mine its ac­cu­racy. Af­ter this, the time­piece un­der­goes a last in­spec­tion that en­sures its ro­bust­ness, ac­cu­racy and re­li­a­bil­ity.

The IWC man­u­fac­ture in Schaffhausen is where move­ment assem­bly is done

From top: Chris­tian Knoop, as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of IWC’s Cre­ative Cen­ter leads a dis­cus­sion; the IWC mu­seum

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