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Introducing IWC Schaffhausen

The countdown is over: MR PORTER is proud to launch one of the finest and most historic Swiss watch brands

You may have heard people say that when it comes to watchmaking, the Swiss want us to fall in love with their watches, while the Germans want us to understand how their watches are made and why.

Stereotypes are often dubious, but not here, not when we’re looking at luxury watch brand IWC Schaffhausen. Its covetable collection appeals to head and heart.

IWC began life in the US under the guidance of Bostonian Mr Florentine Ariosto Jones, a watchmaker who wanted to make exquisite pocket watches for the US market. He knew the expertise was in Switzerland, so in 1868, he moved his ambitious young company to Schaffhausen in the northernmost tip of the country, right on the border with Germany.

He named it the International Watch Company (hence IWC) to reflect his global vision, and in doing so gave it a cosmopolitan feel that it retains to this day. IWC’s watches have always felt well-travelled, rather than the product of a cottage industry.

But head and heart? Consider that IWC makes both the heavily engineered, borderline Teutonic Aquatimer diver’s watch, and the understated, deftly masculine, almost romantic Portugieser. And that both, no matter how different aesthetically, are very often powered by the same innovative in-house IWC movements.

Quality watches made for men of the world. Now there’s a stereotype we can all sign up to. Here, then, is an introduction to the brand’s “families” and the models available on MR PORTER.

As the name suggests, IWC’s Pilot’s Watches line earned its stripes in the dogfights of WWII. After the war came the Mark XI, a piece made for the Royal Air Force in 1948 that stayed in service for more than 30 years. The Mark XVIII, the entry-level piece in the current collection, picks up that story. Like the original, it has a soft-iron inner case that protects its mechanical movement from magnetic forces.

The line also includes a range of pieces made in partnership with the US Air Force’s elite Top Gun division, and a series devoted to the memory of writer and pioneer aviator Mr Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And it’s home to some of IWC’s most impressive innovations, none more eye-catching than the ingenious Timezoner Chronograph. Its bezel is marked with 24 time zones. When it’s turned, the hands adjust simultaneously to reflect the time in the time zone aligned to 12 o’clock.

Any man of style worth his salt will not just have heard of Portofino, but will have spent time casually taking in its cobbled streets and supping an espresso on one of its elegant piazze.

While there’s no doubt the town’s namesake is superbly made and finished, IWC’s Portofino has always been a lifestyle watch that channels the louche sophistication of the famous Italian destination, tailored to be worn with the same measured insouciance as a Brunello Cucinelli blazer.

It is the successor to an earlier model launched in 1953, which had a round case, a slim-line bezel and elongated baton hour markers – a classic look typical of elegant daywear watches made in the 1950s and 1960s. The aesthetic was formalised in the late 1970s, and then given the name Portofino in 1984. The design principles have never wavered – simple, understated, tasteful.

Today’s Portofino collection still includes a number of arch three-hand date models in steel or in plush rose gold, but it also takes in further complications. Highlights include a beautifully balanced chronograph with vintage pushers, and a hand-wound eight-day power reserve model fuelled by one of IWC’s suite of high-performance in-house calibres.

The story behind the Portugieser, now IWC’s most recognisable watch, begins in 1938 with two Portuguese watch importers who, to put it bluntly, came to IWC with an order for a big watch that would keep good time. The fashions of the day were for smaller art deco designs, and IWC assumed the order must have been a mistake and went back to the businessmen with a more contemporary solution.

But it wasn’t a mistake. The importers’ customers included sea captains and officers of the Merchant Marine, who wanted a watch with the accuracy of the marine chronometers they used for onboard navigation. That meant a bigger movement and a bigger watch. The watch was delivered in 1939 and had a case measuring a then unwieldy 41.5mm across.

More than 75 years later and the Portugieser, as it’s now known, is a watchmaking icon. The Portugieser Chronograph is a design classic, particularly in steel and on a blue strap with blue hands and numerals, while the Portugieser Automatic, with its seven-day power reserve, is all the watch you’ll ever need. The tourbillon and perpetual calendar models (the latter a full calendar watch that keeps track of the date, even in leap years) show IWC is a master of both design and watchmaking.

Back in the day, watch houses used to name their watches after their function, or sometimes after those they were made for. Hence the Ingenieur, a watch introduced by IWC in 1955 for the growing number of technicians working in industries where they were exposed to strong magnetic fields.

Magnetism, like water, is a watch killer. As the moving metal parts inside a watch become magnetised, they stick together. Initially, this affects accuracy, but ultimately, it can stop a watch. Recognising this, IWC took the anti-magnetic soft-iron inner case developed for its pilot’s watches and put it into the new Ingenieur, then a round-cased watch.

For 20 years, that was how the Ingenieur was. But in the 1970s, IWC invited lodestar watch designer Mr Gérald Genta to redesign it. Mr Genta, the man behind Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, reinvented the Ingenieur as a muscular, utilitarian steel sports watch. We can still see his aesthetic today, not just in the overall form, but also in the five signature bore holes around the bezel.

More recently, IWC introduced a series of round-cased limited-edition Ingenieurs to celebrate its connections with Mercedes, making 750 pieces to honour the iconic Mercedes-Benz W125 Silver Arrow race car of the 1930s and a further 750 pieces in memory of racing driver Mr Rudolf Caracciola, who won the European Drivers’ Championship three times in the 1930s.

In the 1950s and 1960s, explorers and adventurers stretched their limits further than ever before – and with them the limits of their watches. IWC’s response to the growing world of underwater exploration was the Aquatimer, a punchy diver’s watch introduced in 1967.

Down the years, IWC’s diver’s watch collection has been a vehicle for many groundbreaking innovations, from the Ocean 2000 of 1982, made in collaboration with Porsche Design and boasting water-resistance of 2,000 metres, to the GST Deep One of 1999, which came fitted with a mechanical depth gauge. 

The latest Aquatimer collection surfaced in 2014. Despite being more sartorially versatile than previous iterations, it was also more technical. Each of the current models sports IWC’s SafeDive System, an advanced take on the uni-directional rotating bezel function divers rely on to make sure they don’t accidentally extend their dive time.

Within the collection, there are a number of special pieces made to mark some of IWC’s environmental partnerships. The company supports the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz, hence the bronze-cased Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Expedition Charles Darwin”, said to be inspired by Mr Darwin’s expedition vessel, HMS Beagle. Likewise, IWC also has ties with French underwater explorer and filmmaker Mr Jacques Cousteau. The blue-dialed Aquatimer Automatic Edition “Expedition Jacques-Yves Cousteau” is the sixth watch made by IWC to carry his name. IWC is contributing to the restoration of Mr Cousteau’s research vessel, the Calypso.