64 Stay Awhile And Lis­ten

Four el­der states­men in watch­mak­ing re­flect on the in­dus­try and their places in it

World of Watches (Singapore) - - Contents - WORDS JAMIE TAN

Four el­der states­men in watch­mak­ing re­flect on the in­dus­try and their places in it

Kurt Klaus, IWC’S watch­maker-turned-am­bas­sador, will mark his sixth decade at the man­u­fac­ture this year, in a ca­reer which be­gan in 1956 un­der Al­bert Pel­la­ton, who de­vel­oped, among other things, the Pel­la­ton bi-di­rec­tional wind­ing sys­tem that’s still in use to­day. Klaus, who turns 82 this year, has made sev­eral con­tri­bu­tions of his own to move­ment de­vel­op­ment both at IWC and to watch­mak­ing in gen­eral. The high­light of his ca­reer is ar­guably “Op­er­a­tion Eter­nity”, which took place over 30 years ago. Tasked with de­vel­op­ing a per­pet­ual cal­en­dar mod­ule, he went on to re­de­fine the com­pli­ca­tion with a sys­tem of syn­chro­nised in­di­ca­tors ad­justed via the crown, with just a part count of 90. Klaus, who still main­tains his desk at IWC’S head­quar­ters, was hon­oured for this con­tri­bu­tion in 2007 with a lim­ited edi­tion Da Vinci watch that had his per­pet­ual cal­en­dar mod­ule, and an en­grav­ing of his por­trait on the case back.


“It’s easy to wax nos­tal­gic about watch­mak­ing ‘in the past’, but in many ways, we are on the same stand­ing as we were sixty years ago, when I first started out. When I look at our young watch­mak­ers as­sem­bling move­ments to­day, I see no dif­fer­ence from what I was do­ing – we are still keep­ing to the stan­dards of the past. Be­sides, watch­mak­ing was never static. The first ma­chines to

mass pro­duce parts came a hun­dred years ago, be­fore com­put­er­con­trolled man­u­fac­tur­ing fol­lowed. Then, it was com­puter-aided de­sign. Watch­mak­ing has been co-evolv­ing with the ma­chin­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try, so there was never re­ally a ‘back in the old days’ that peo­ple talk about.”


“IWC used to pro­duce 100 per cent of its move­ments in-house, but this wasn’t pos­si­ble dur­ing the Quartz Cri­sis. The only way for us to sur­vive at that time was to scale back dras­ti­cally and buy ex­ter­nal move­ments. There was no de­vel­op­ment depart­ment too; I was alone. When things picked up post-cri­sis, I got to de­velop a per­pet­ual cal­en­dar move­ment. I wanted a new it­er­a­tion of this com­pli­ca­tion, be­cause the ones on the mar­ket at that time weren’t good enough for me. The user had to use push­ers to change the dis­plays, which was too com­pli­cated, and the move­ments them­selves were too ‘ar­ti­sanal’, while I wanted a good, func­tional one that could be pro­duced on a larger scale. The fi­nal prod­uct was the Da Vinci watch, which had two im­por­tant fea­tures – it was easy to use as all ad­just­ments were made via the crown, and it could be pro­duced on an in­dus­trial level.”


“The per­pet­ual cal­en­dar was an im­por­tant mile­stone, be­cause it was the most com­pli­cated mech­a­nism for IWC at that time. It also kicked things off for re­search and de­vel­op­ment again, be­cause a sin­gle per­son wouldn’t be enough if you wanted even more com­pli­cated move­ments. I found a part­ner in La Chaux-de-fonds, Gi­ulio Papi, and we worked to­gether for four years to cre­ate a minute re­peater for the Grande Com­pli­ca­tion. I learnt to use pocket sci­en­tific cal­cu­la­tors from him, whereas be­fore that, I had all the trigono­met­ric func­tions in my head for cal­cu­lat­ing an­gles, get­ting dis­tances and rec­tan­gles right, mark­ing co­or­di­nates for piv­ots, etc. Dur­ing this time, my team was ex­pand­ing slowly, and by 1990, we had the first work­ing pro­to­type of the Grande Com­pli­ca­tion. It was as­sem­bled by a young watch­maker that you may be fa­mil­iar with. His name is Robert Greubel.”


“When I was work­ing on the Grande Com­pli­ca­tion, I had two other watch­mak­ers with me. To­day, my suc­ces­sor, Ste­fan Ih­nen, has a team of 40. It’s good to see more re­sources be­ing ded­i­cated to de­vel­op­ment work, but we have shifted away from try­ing to break records to try­ing to do things dif­fer­ently. The an­nual cal­en­dar we cre­ated isn’t more com­pli­cated, but it’s some­thing new. That’s the way we want to go.”


Klaus’s per­pet­ual cal­en­dar mod­ule was de­vel­oped with­out com­puter-aided de­sign; a draughts­man cre­ated the fi­nal tech­ni­cal draw­ing

Left: Da Vinci Ref. 3750, where Klaus’s per­pet­ual cal­en­dar mod­ule de­buted Right: IWC’S first an­nual cal­en­dar

Grande Com­pli­ca­tion in plat­inum

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