The International Watch Company, better known as IWC, was founded by American Florentine Ariosto Jones. The business was ambitious – an American traveling to Switzerland to establish his own factory – but the gamble paid off, for a time. Jones set out to marry US production technologies with Swiss craftsmanship and began manufacturing watches from the German-speaking town of Schaffhausen, Switzerland. In 1885, IWC released the first Pallweber pocket watches, which featured an innovative approach to telling the time with a digital display for hours and minutes. However, high tariffs for importing timepieces to the American market proved too costly to absorb, and the company changed hands several times in the coming decades.
The IWC Portugieser: The Birth of an Icon
By the turn of the century, with Ernst Jakob Homberger at the helm, IWC was developing its own calibers and placing them in elegant tonneau-shaped cases. They also expanded into traditional pilot’s watches, which were equipped with anti-magnetic cases and began to hit their stride in the late 1930s with the release of the Mark IX. This highly-legible reference led IWC to develop the Mark XI, famous for its use by the British Air Force during the twentieth century. Pilot’s watches continue to make up a significant portion of IWC’s catalog to this day, but the brand was also working on a number of different models at the time, including the IWC Portugieser and Aquatimer.
In 1939, IWC answered calls for an oversized watch with the debut of the Portugieser collection, which featured watches equipped with pocket watch movements. The line was re-released in 1993 and has remained in production ever since. The Portugieser collection has become synonymous with the brand and includes time-only watches alongside perpetual calendars, chronographs, and more.
IWC & Genta: Why is the Ingenieur less popular than the Nautilus and Royal Oak?
Like many Swiss watch manufacturers at the time, IWC enlisted the help of Gérald Genta in the 1970s for his expertise in sports watches with integrated bracelets, resulting in the release of the Ingenieur SL. However, this watch is much less popular than the other two Genta designs of the time, the Royal Oak and Nautilus. You can find this icon on Chrono24 for prices starting around $15,000, while the Nautilus costs over $150,000. But that means you can actually still get one of Genta’s designs for a decent amount of money.
IWC continued to produce original designs with the help of talented designers into the 1980s, debuting several co-branded pieces with Porsche Design. These included the first chronograph enclosed in a titanium case and the ultra-rugged Ocean 2000. During this time, IWC modified outsourced movements to fit their own designs. It wasn’t until the brand’s acquisition by Richemont that IWC started using in-house movements in 2005.
Are IWC watches worth the investment?
Since then, the brand has continued to develop and refine its core collections, focusing its efforts on vertical integration, longer power reserves, and new pilot’s watches. IWC represents incredible value within the industry and boasts a catalog spanning numerous decades and various design languages. While the IWC Ingenieur hasn’t historically reached the same premiums as its Genta-designed siblings at AP and Patek, it presents a great opportunity for collectors. Lines such as the IWC Da Vinci also include highly-complicated movements encased in precious metals for a fraction of the price you would find with other manufacturers.