Six legends celebrate 140 years of IWC Schaffhausen
Jubilee Edition 1868–2008
The Watch Quote™ - March 26th, 2008
It all started more than 140 years ago in Boston where the talented and enterprising watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones was looking for an opportunity to set up on his own and do things much differently and better than his colleagues in the flourishing American watch industry. The director of F. Howard Watch & Cie at that time, he had of course heard of the little country of Switzerland and its outstanding watchmakers. And he was fired up by the information that workers in the Swiss watch industry produced their watches for amazingly low wages and in the main with old machines. Wages in Switzerland were then still really low, something that may seem surprising today. And so a compelling business idea came to F.A.Jones: Why not manufacture quality watches in Switzerland under more favourable conditions, but with new and better machines, for the North American market?
His idea was conceived, planned and carried out: in New York Jones set up a sales organization with two business partners where pocket watch movements manufactured in Switzerland were to be put in cases and then sold throughout North America. The company was given a grand-sounding name: International Watch Company. And Jones set off by boat to Europe with his watchmaker friend Louis Kidder. Along with a whole host of ideas, the two men also took with them machines for the mass production of parts and finished design drawings for the first Swiss-manufactured watches.
Initial surprise: in the watchmaking centres of western Switzerland where Jones had intended setting up his business the innovator was given the cold shoulder. The locals, who mainly produced watch parts in their homes, feared the modern machines and the concept of mass production even if it did have the indisputable advantage of consistent quality.
This is where the story could have ended. But in western Switzerland Jones met Heinrich Moser, a versatile industrialist from Schaffhausen. He made the American an offer that was tempting even if not completely altruistic: he could start immediately in Schaffhausen, a small town in northern Switzerland the American had certainly never heard of until then – in industrial buildings Moser owned. What persuaded him was that a source of energy was already available there for the machines – electricity was not even a consideration then. A hydrostation built by Moser brought the power required for the machines directly into the factory using shafts and long transmission cables. So in1868 Jones arrived in Schaffhausen – and Schaffhausen, a long way from western Switzerland, got a watch factory. Jones was, therefore, able to realize his bold ideas. Even his principle of manufacturing high-quality watches with consistent tolerances worked – and this was the beginning of the reputation now enjoyed by Schaffhausen watches throughout the world.
What had been a promising start inwatchmaking with the first “Jones calibres”, named after the company’s founder, ended in difficulties commercially for Jones when America did not lower the 25 per cent war duty imposed in 1864 – contrary to what was announced. The advantage of lower Swiss wages vanished. Jones returned to Boston and the “American watch factory” passed into Swiss hands. However, the founder did leave behind his particular aspiration for sophisticated, ever-better technical solutions. Despite the initial difficulties the manufacturer became one of the most renowned producers of sturdy and durable pocket watches.
And it was there right from the start at the turning point in watchmaking history when the wrist-watch came into favour around1900. The battle about how to wear a watch was decided for good by the 1930s and 1940s. The onset of this period of technical innovation brought some of the most exciting IWC watches, still much sought-after by collectors today. Some of them wrote watch history.
Six watches – six founding legends
of today’s IWC watch families
Six of these milestones have been brought back as vintage models from the company’s proud history into the modern day for the manufacturer’s 140th anniversary – even if it is not a “round” one. Not as copies, something that IWC has never done, but as new interpretations of good old friends. Some with ultra-modern, up-to-date automatic IWC movements which are also used in the current series-produced models. Where historical accuracy demands it they have been equipped with hand-wound pocketwatch movements based on the 98-calibre, the most famous IWC calibre and the one that has been made for the longest, but they have also been expanded, incorporating some of the elements of the earliest Jones movements. And, to the extent that their predecessors had not already appeared in the IWC extra-large format, the case of some of the vintage models has increased in size on its journey through time, which on first sight makes them distinguishable from the originals. But in this way they have also taken on completely new watch personalities. They illustrate how, for example, a1955 Ingenieur would have looked if its case had had a 42.5 mm diameter rather than 37.5mm.
The six watches, which are available in unlimited numbers in stainless steel with a black dial and in limited numbers in platinum with a silver-plated dial, are more than just a “Best of” the wristwatch era at IWC. Each one of them essentially embodies the founding legends of the manufacturer’s current watch families. The first 140 vintage watches in platinum have, though, in a way already been reserved: as a special offer they are available as a unique numbered set in an ornate leather case.