International Watch Company - A Brief History
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An interesting fact you may or may not know: International Watch Company (IWC)
is possibly the only major Swiss watch company whose founder was an American!
During the 1860's, three manufacturers dominated the American watch
industry: Elgin, Howard and Waltham. Combined, these firms produced upwards of
100,000 pocket watches. Times were changing in the industry as pocket watches
went from being a status symbol that only the wealthiest individuals could
afford, to an everyday item available to the middle class. As a result,
production methods had to be improved; for example, most parts for watches were
still being made by hand. Costs were also high because the pool of available,
qualified watchmakers was relatively small.
In Boston, Massachusetts,
Florentine Ariosto Jones, who had worked in the American watch industry for a
number of years, keenly observed the failure of Aaron Lufkin Dennison, a leader
in the watch business, whose efforts to move production to Switzerland to
benefit from lower wages and Swiss watchmaking know-how, failed miserably.
Undaunted, Jones took over the failed enterprise and soon set up his own company
in Switzerland. His plan was to assemble watches in Switzerland and import them
into the United States, hence the name International Watch Company.
Fortuitously, Jones made the acquaintance of one Johann Heinrich Moser,
a watchmaker whose hometown of Schaffhausen was conveniently located near the
Rhine. Following Moser's advice, a dam was built in order to harness the mighty
river and generate hydro-power to drive the machines used in manufacturing
facilities throughout Schaffhausen.
A watch factory was built in
Schaffhausen to take advantage of the cheap hydro-power and production commenced
in 1868. Despite the company's unique business plan, the enterprise was doomed
from the start. For one thing, Jones had trouble selling the watches in America,
due to a high tariff on imported finished watches. An even worse problem: Jones
was undercapitalized and encountered technical problems with the machines. By
1875, he was scrambling to find new investors, amid allegations by disgruntled
stockholders that the company was on the verge of collapse. Inevitably, the
company filed for bankruptcy and Jones was forced to relinquish control of his
A Swiss consortium acquired IWC's shares and put another
American, Frederick Seeland, at its helm. Although the company's fortunes
improved somewhat, the improvement was not deemed sufficient enough. As a
result, the company was put up for sale again. This time, one of IWC's
stockholders, Johannes Raschenbach-Vogel, bought the company at auction for
280,000 francs. Technical achievements and increased sales soon followed with
the production of the first pocket watches with digital time indication, as well
as development of the famous Calibre 52 movement, which at the time was quite
revolutionary in its concept and construction.
Although the company
experienced significant growth, following World War I, the company's fortunes
again hit rock bottom under the proprietorship of Ernst Homberger-Rauschenbach.
Fortunately, a major modernization effort paid off when the advent of World War
II resulted in increased military demand. It was thus during World War II that
IWC created the first oversize anti-magnetic pilot's watch, followed by the
famous Mark X, featuring its new in-house movement, Calibre 83. In 1944, IWC had
a close call when the Allies mistakenly bombed Schaffhausen. As luck would have
it, the factory narrowly escaped destruction.
In the aftermath of the
war, International Watch Company lived up to its name and became a company of
international scope. Exports to the United States increased and the brand became
best known for its specialty watches, such as the Mark XI and Ingenieur - the
first automatic IWC with a soft-iron inner case that protected the movement
against magnetic fields - as well as for its elegant dress watches. Needless to
say, vintage IWC's from the 1940's and 50's are highly collectible today and in
great demand, as they are somewhat under-priced compared to other high-end watch
brands of that era.
Although IWC entered the quartz era with its first
quartz watch in 1969, using the Beta 21 movement, the company was ultimately
unable to remain under family ownership. In 1978, a majority interest in the
company was sold to VDO Adolf Schindling AG.
include the debut of the Porsche series of sports watches, which remain in
production to this day, as well as the creation of the "DaVinci" - a perpetual
calendar chronograph wristwatch that is mechanically programmed for the next 500
years. This watch caused quite a stir when first introduced and set new
standards with its "user friendly" perpetual calendar. In 1993, the company
again stunned the watch world when it unveiled the remarkable Il Destriero,
which at the time was the most complicated wristwatch in the world.
year 2000 is no less exciting for the company, as it introduces a new
advertising campaign, as well as the 5000 calibre, a new mechanical movement
with a power reserve of seven days and an automatic movement. The automatic, an
IWC exclusive, is a further development of the patented Pellaton system. The
pocket watch-size movement is featured in the latest addition to the Portuguese
line: an automatic with a power reserve display. It should also be noted that
1999 was the most successful year in IWC's history, with 39,000 watches sold,
115 million Swiss francs in revenue, and over 350 employees.
the company's philosophy is best summed up by IWC's current CEO, Michael Sarp,
who recently stated: "We shall produce watches of the highest quality with
unique technical and design characteristics and thus continue to experience the
pleasures of innovation." If you should have an opportunity to examine an IWC,
you will quickly realize that Mr. Sarp speaks the truth.