IWC, or the International Watch Company, remains one of the most popular manufacturers in the world. The meeting of American entrepreneurial vision and the rich traditions of Switzerland's master watchmakers has created a legacy of achievement and flawless quality. IWC balance supreme performance with elegant aesthetics, living up to the brand motto of 'Probus Scafusia' from the Latin for 'good, solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen'.
The International Watch Company (better known as IWC) has been creating refined, impeccably crafted luxury timepieces for more than 150 years. A highly respected brand within the horology community, their portfolio of sleek, sturdy, and decidedly masculine watches have long been favorites among both first time buyers and knowledgeable collectors.
Today, the manufacturer’s comprehensive selection encompasses six distinct families. The Portofino as their out-and-out dress piece. The Portugieser a sophisticated everyday model that is inspired by the great Portuguese navigators and explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Magellan, and the Da Vinci an ever-evolving blend of the two. The others in the catalog represent their tool/professional watches; the Aquatimer is their diver, the Ingenieur was built to withstand magnetic fields (in the same style as Rolex’s Milgauss or Omega’s Railmaster), and their most extensive collection - the Pilot’s watches - is the one that put IWC on the map, perhaps more than any other.
The variety across their output ensures there is a watch fit for any occasion, each one benefitting from a legacy of design and engineering excellence that dates all the way back to 1868. In the modern era, the brand has set itself apart with their commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development. Their manufacturing base is a progressive carbon-neutral facility and utilizes ethically sourced materials for their products. Additionally, IWC also lends its support to prominent conservation projects, working together with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Cousteau Society, and making them one of the most forward thinking luxury watchmakers in the industry.
The early years of IWC were relatively tempestuous. The company was started by an American engineer and watchmaker named Florentine Aristo Jones who, at the tender age of 27, decided that he wanted to set up his own business in Switzerland—with its rich tradition in horology, a highly skilled workforce and low wages.
Receiving only fearful resistance in the west of the country when presenting his plans for mass-production techniques, he eventually met an industrialist by the name of Heinrich Moser who had just built Switzerland’s first ever hydroelectric plant in the north-east town of Schaffhausen, fed by the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall. IWC was able to rent its first factory premises from Moser in 1869, the business growing rapidly and expanding to further locations around the canton in the following years.
An exceptional watchmaker, Jones scored early successes with a range of movements for use in pocket watches (the Jones Calibers) which introduced a host of innovations, such as using a three-quarter plate rather than separate finger bridges, which added greatly to the mechanism’s stability and simplified its construction. Finally in 1874, a purpose-built plant was constructed along the banks of the Rhine at the Baumgarten (the Orchard) employing nearly 200 workers. Unfortunately, it was a step too far for IWC at the time. Its main customer was the U.S. market, but demand was stilted due to high import taxes, and the brand went into receivership in 1876.
Taken over by the Schaffhausen Handelsbank, the business was bought in 1880 by Johann Rauschenbach-Vogel, a local machine manufacturer, and it would remain in the same family for the next four generations. During the early 20th century, it was even briefly part-owned briefly by famed psychologist Dr. Carl Jung. It would take until the 1930s before IWC produced a true milestone model. The Reference IW436, or Special Pilot’s Watch, was the brand’s first piece designed for aviators, equipped with an oversized crown which could be manipulated while wearing gloves, and large luminescent hands and indexes to make it easily readable. Most importantly, it was also antimagnetic and could be worn safely in aircraft cockpits. Clean and simple in its design, the IW436 has formed the basis for all IWC’s aviation-inspired models since.
That was followed up in 1939 with the introduction of the first Portugieser reference, built at the request of two businessmen who wanted a wristwatch with the accuracy of a marine chronometer to supply to officers of the Portuguese merchant navy. Known as the IW325, it was powered by one of IWC’s own pocket watch movements, the Caliber 74. Like the pilot’s models before it, many of the features of the IW325—the Arabic numerals, elegant handset and railway track minute scale—have all been consistent elements throughout the watch’s long life.
In 1950, IWC released its first in-house movement, the Caliber 85. The invention of technical director Albert Pellaton, it contained a new and highly efficient bi-directional winding system with two separate pawls, either of which could wind the mainspring independently of the other. It proved a major breakthrough and went on to be used in the first Ingenieur in 1955, the brand’s scientists’ watch.
Following the introduction of the Aquatimer in 1967, with its impressive 200m water resistance and inventive interior rotating bezel, the quartz crisis loomed and IWC launched their answer to it. The Da Vinci quartz watch was powered by the consortium-built Beta 21. The new quartz-powered release, along with the traditional models from the brand’s catalog, was just popular enough to enable the brand to survive the period while many others went under. They were also able to keep innovating, releasing a watch with the world’s first titanium case and bracelet, the IW3700 Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph.
Since then, IWC has worked on consolidating its strictly curated range of exceptional timepieces, combining genuinely useful complications with an aesthetically versatile and confident design. The brand has continued to go from strength to strength, now under the Richemont umbrella, enjoying excellent market share in the United States., Germany, and Asia and operating more than 70 dedicated boutiques worldwide. The once niche brand has now entered the horology big time, with no signs of slowing down.
The price of IWC watches can range greatly depending on the specific model, its age, the materials of its construction, the features/complications of its movement, and its overall condition. Retail prices start out at a few thousand dollars for their entry-level models and can quickly jump into the five-figure price range for complex pieces or those crafted from precious metals.
|Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire||IW326801||$4,350|
|Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar||IW503601||$28,200|
|Big Pilot’s Watch||IW501001||$12,900|
|Portugieser Grande Complication||IW377601||$235,000|
|Da Vinci Automatic 36||IW458307||$6,400-$37,900|
The IWC catalog is home to some of the most iconic and desirable timepieces in the world. Many of the brand’s most successful collections have been mainstays in the industry for decades, and have helped define their respective categories of timepieces.
Debuting in 1955, IWC’s answer to the problems being faced by the world’s scientists and technicians (i.e. the destructive effects on watches of their equipment’s high electromagnetic fields) actually beat similar offerings from Omega and Rolex to the punch. The references 666A and 666AD entered the market together, the latter furnished with a date function, and both powered by IWC’s first manufacture calibers, the 852 and 8521 (respectively). To protect the movement’s delicate components, including the new Pellaton winding system, the mechanism was shrouded in a soft iron Faraday cage, providing enough protection to withstand magnetic forces of up to 1,000 gauss—16 times greater than required by Swiss regulations of the time.
Traditional in styling, the initial two releases were actually civilian versions of the brand’s Mark XI pilot’s watch, given a different dial and handset. A radically different interpretation of the Ingenieur arrived in the 1970s when design duties were turned over to Gérald Genta, the man already responsible for Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus. The IWC Ingenieur SL borrowed trademark elements from both, with an integrated tonneau case and bracelet, topped by a round bezel secured by five visible screws.
Although it was produced with plenty of variety; cast in steel, a combination of steel and 14K gold, and full 18k yellow gold, the Genta-penned Ingenieur arrived in the middle of the quartz crisis and, as a result, was a relatively poor seller. Since then, the model has reverted back to a more classic shape, and the current collection includes everything from simple three-hand and date watches retailing for around $5,500 up to complicated pieces with a perpetual calendar and digital date which will set you back about $55,000.
Dating back to 1939, IWC’s Portugieser collection is one of the marque’s longest-running series and also among the most recognizable. The original reference, the IW325, came about to satisfy the demand for a wristwatch with the precision of a marine timepiece, able to aid in ocean navigation for the Portuguese navy. Fitting the Caliber 74 inside a then-enormous 43mm case, the Portugieser became the first wristwatch ever powered by a pocket watch movement.
Although it has been released with a wide selection of dial variations over the years, a number of key styling cues have remained consistent. A very thin bezel helps to make the watch appear even bigger, a large sub dial at six o’clock and Arabic numeral hour markers make for perfect readability and the elongated ‘feuilles de sauge’ leaf hands have all endured. Today, the Portugieser collection bridges the gap between formal and sporty, with a portfolio of 35 different models, ranging from elegant bi-compax chronographs that command prices in the neighborhood of $8,500, up to flying tourbillon pieces, with power reserves and retrograde date displays, still wound by the Pellaton system, which go for more than $130,000.
However, the series also boasts the Grande Complication, an astonishing watch in either yellow gold or platinum, containing a total of 20 functions. Driven by the Cal. 79091 movement and made up of 659 individual parts, the Grande Complication boasts, among other things, a minute repeater, a chronograph, and both a perpetual calendar and perpetual moonphase. This 45mm pinnacle of haute horology costs about $237,500 for the limited edition gold version and $270,000 for the platinum edition.
The most extensive range in the catalog by far, IWC’s pilot’s watches are actually split into five distinct collections:
The Classic series draws heavily on the vintage originators, with the likes of the Big Pilot IW501001 an obvious close cousin of the IW436 ‘Special Pilot’s Watch’ from 1936. The range now comprises basic time and date models along with several chronographs, ranging in price from $5,100 to $34,600.
The Spitfire watches look, at first glance, very similar to the Classic, but they are powered exclusively by IWC’s own movements and are housed in either steel or bronze cases. A comparable set of complications make up the group, as well as a perpetual calendar piece rounding it out at the top end. Prices for the Spitfire collection are more-or-less in keeping with the Classic collection.
Named after the legendary U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, the Top Gun editions were introduced in 2007 and started with the Double Chronograph. While the two previous ranges were decidedly retro, the Top Guns are right up to date, with either ceramic cases or IWC’s own blend of ceramic and titanium known as Ceratanium. 2019 saw them add to the series with the Mojave Desert model, featuring a sand colored case and bracelet and beige dial.
The other two examples, the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Petit Prince, are limited edition collections, with the latter characterized by bright blue dials. Covering a similar spread of watch types, proceeds from sales of both go towards supporting the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Foundation which helps to fight illiteracy worldwide.
IWC’s dive watch range, the Aquatimer debuted in 1967 when the sport of Scuba diving was enjoying its heyday. They may have been later to the game than some, but with a 200m water resistance and a pioneering internal rotating bezel, they were able to stand out in an increasingly crowded space.
The modern-day collection consists of nine models, with several, such as the ‘Expedition Jacques-Yves Cousteau’, the ‘Galapagos Islands’, the ‘Expedition Charles Darwin’, and the limited edition ‘Laureus Sport for Good’ chronographs all donating part of their profits to environmental causes. Construction varies between stainless steel and bronze casings, all still retaining the inner bezel (now operated with an outer bezel ring rather than a second crown like on vintage examples) and prices range from between $6,100 and $12,500.
Perhaps the watch that did more than any other to change the public’s perception of IWC, the IW3750 was one of the most revolutionary models of its type ever made. Before its introduction in 1985, perpetual calendar watches were viewed as incredibly complex and decidedly fragile items, impressive in their functionality but often so fantastically expensive as to almost prohibit wearing.
The Da Vinci, brainchild of technical director Kurt Klaus, was designed to be not only easy to use but also sturdy and simple to produce in volume. With a Valjoux 7750 movement providing the power, the calendar complications could be regulated with just the crown, as opposed to the series of pushers integrated into the case like on many other examples. It became the most user friendly and accessibly-priced perpetual calendar watch available, and within two years, IWC was building 2,000 pieces annually, more than the rest of the Swiss industry put together.
In 1936, when many aviators were still using pocket watches, IWC developed the reference IW436 Spezialuhr für Flieger—or, Special Pilot’s Watch. Developed by the brand’s General Director Ernst Jakob Homberger, in conjunction with his two aviation-obsessed sons Hans Ernst and Rudolf, the IW436 was established specifically to survive the harsh environments of the era’s aircraft cockpits.
It featured the Caliber 83 (complete with antimagnetic escapement), a rotating bezel to keep track of flight times, and special lubricants to ensure that it stayed working at temperatures between minus 40 and plus 40 degrees Celsius. Handset and numerals were especially large and finished with plenty of luminescence and the dial was covered with shatterproof glass. The highly legible dial design was not only a vital aspect of the watch’s usefulness, but it has also formed the basis for the majority of IWC’s industry-leading pilot’s models today.
While the IW3750 might have changed the game for perpetual calendar timepieces, the Portugieser Sidérale Scafusia is simply the most complicated wristwatch IWC has ever created. Launched in 2011, it was more than 10 years in the making. The 46mm, $750,000 work of art contains displays on the dial side for 24-hour time, sidereal time (a system astrologers use to locate celestial objects), solar time, and a power reserve indicator, alongside a patented constant-force tourbillon.
Flip the watch over, and there is a large rotating celestial chart showing a specific sky location chosen by the owner, a sunrise and sunset display, a night and dusk gauge, and a different version of Kurt Klaus’s perpetual calendar showing leap years and the number of the day. Driving it all is the Caliber 94900, an in-house, manually-wound movement containing over 500 parts.
Despite its incredible functionality, IWC were able to keep the Scafusia’s styling within the Portugieser’s design book, and it sits well among the rest of the range. Available in more than 200 different combinations of case materials, straps, dials and polishes, the IW504101 is a special order item only.
IWC has associations with a wide and diverse range of charities and organizations. They lead the industry in sponsoring both community social groups and sustainable environmental bodies, including the Laureus Sport for Good Campaign, which uses sport to inspire hope and positive change around the world. The brand also partners with the Cousteau Society, working to help protect the planet’s oceans and wildlife, as well as the Fondation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for Youth, which carries on the legacy of the great French writer, pilot and humanist.
Motor racing plays a large role in IWC’s associations too, and they have been the sanctioned engineering partner of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team since 2013. They have also been the timing partner of the classic Goodwood Member’s Meeting from 2015. Additionally in 2018, IWC united with English soccer team Tottenham Hotspur, lending their support as official timekeeper.
Brand ambassadors span the worlds of sport and entertainment. The watchmaker can call on the services of such Hollywood luminaries as Cate Blanchett, Bradley Cooper, James Marsden, and Christoph Waltz to show off their wares to full advantage. Portuguese soccer legend Luis Figo and driving ace David Coulthard also lend their names to the list of brand ambassadors, and most recently, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady became a global representative.
IWC has been owned by giant luxury conglomerate Richemont since 2000, which has done much to elevate the brand’s position in the industry and public perception. You can now buy an IWC watch from over 1,000 places around the world, including more than 70 dedicated boutiques.
Retail prices range from around $5,000 for basic entry-level models, all the way up to many hundreds of thousands of dollars for one of the manufacturer’s exceptional haute horlogerie offerings. Although IWC models hold their value reasonably well, they don’t quite compete with the likes of Rolex or Patek Philippe when it comes to appreciation on the secondary market, so buying pre-owned can be a great way to save significant amounts of money.
As always, make sure you do some thorough research and only buy from a trusted and reputable seller before parting with any hard-earned cash. To see our complete inventory, shop our selection of certified pre-owned IWC watches online today.