New IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40
IWC Schaffhausen revisits Gérald Genta’s iconic design with the new Ingenieur Automatic 40
IWC Schaffhausen introduces the Ingenieur Automatic 40 at the Watches and Wonders exhibition in Geneva. This newly engineered automatic model reflects the bold aesthetic codes of Gérald Genta’s Ingenieur SL, Reference 1832, from the 1970s while meeting the highest standards regarding ergonomics, finishing, and technology. The collection encompasses three references in stainless steel and one in titanium. The Ingenieur Automatic 40 is powered by the IWC-manufactured 32111 calibre with a power reserve of 120 hours. All new models feature soft-iron inner cases to protect the movements from magnetic fields and are water-resistant to 10 bar, making them fully versatile sports watches for the 21st
In the 1970s, IWC Schaffhausen commissioned the renowned Geneva watch designer Gérald Genta to redesign the Ingenieur. The Ingenieur had originally been introduced in 1955. With the first automatic movement developed in Schaffhausen and a soft-iron inner case for magnetic field protection, this watch marked a technical milestone for IWC – also evident in the name Ingenieur, the word used in German and French for Engineer. With his unique artistic signature, Genta succeeded in giving the Ingenieur a new, highly distinctive visual identity. His Ingenieur SL, launched in 1976 as the talking piece of IWC’s SL collection of steel luxury watches, featured bold aesthetic codes such as a screw-on bezel with five recesses, a dial with a unique pattern, and an integrated H-link bracelet. With its innovative and disruptive design, the Ingenieur SL was ahead of its time. Today, Gérald Genta’s creation is a collector’s favourite and one of the most sought-after models from the history of IWC.
“With the new Ingenieur Automatic 40, the steel sports watch with an integrated bracelet returns to our portfolio. While taking inspiration from Gérald Genta’s Ingenieur SL from the 1970s, we invested a lot of time and effort into engineering a new automatic model with perfect case proportions and ergonomics, a high level of detail and finishing, and equipped with modern movement technology. The new Ingenieur Automatic 40 is a versatile luxury sports watch for the 21st century,”
states Chris Grainger-Herr,
CEO of IWC Schaffhausen.
“It is not every day that a designer gets the chance to work on an icon like the Ingenieur SL. We were aware of the enormous responsibility this task entailed and proceeded very cautiously. Nevertheless, we believe we succeeded in creating a new and contemporary interpretation, perfected down to the smallest detail. While keeping faithful to the original design signature, the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 is a perfect embodiment of IWC’s engineering excellence,”
adds Christian Knoop,
Chief Design Officer of IWC Schaffhausen.
The overall dimensions of the case have been carefully reworked and improved down to the smallest detail. The lug-to-lug distance of 45.7 millimetres ensures perfect ergonomics and excellent wearability, even on a slender wrist. While the Ingenieur SL from the 1970s had nose-shaped horns, the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 features a newly engineered middle-link attachment. Aesthetically similar to the Ingenieur SL, this new solution enhances the ergonomics and provides an even better fit on the wrist. The curved casing ring further improves the ergonomics of the case.
One of the most striking changes of the new model is the introduction of functional, polygonal screws on its bezel. For the Ingenieur SL, a bezel with five recesses was screwed onto the case ring. As a result, the recesses ended up in a different position on each watch. With the Ingenieur Automatic 40, five screws secure the bezel to the case. The screws now have a technical function and, as a result, are always in the same position. In addition, the dial features a distinctive “Grid”
structure, creating a balance to the technical and very sculptural case design. Consisting of small lines offset by 90 degrees to each other, it is stamped into the soft iron blank before it is galvanised. Finally, appliques with luminescence add additional depth and ensure easy legibility, even at night.
The Ingenieur Automatic 40 features an astonishingly high level of detail and finishing. The case, bezel, and bracelet are elaborately finished using a combination of polished and satin-finished surfaces. The upper parts of the bracelet contain closed links without pins, accentuating the outstanding craftsmanship. The integration of an elaborately finished butterfly folding clasp highlights the beauty and thinness of the H-link bracelet. In addition, a newly designed crown protection further underscores the sporty character of the timepiece.
The Ingenieur Automatic 40 is powered by the IWC-manufactured 32111 calibre with an automatic pawl winding system and a power reserve of 120 hours. In keeping with the tradition of the Ingenieur, a soft-iron inner case efficiently protects the movement from the effects of magnetic fields on its accuracy. Moreover, the case is water-resistant to 10 bar, making the Ingenieur Automatic 40 a modern and fully versatile sports watch.
The Ingenieur Automatic 40 is available in three references in stainless steel:
- Ingenieur Automatic 40, Ref. IW328901: stainless steel case, black dial, rhodium-plated hands and appliques, integrated stainless steel bracelet with butterfly folding clasp
- Ingenieur Automatic 40, Ref. IW328902: stainless steel case, silver-plated dial, rhodium-plated hands and appliques, integrated stainless steel bracelet with butterfly folding clasp
- Ingenieur Automatic 40, Ref. IW328903: stainless steel case, aqua dial, rhodium-plated hands and appliques, integrated stainless steel bracelet with polished centre links and butterfly folding clasp
to IWC’s titanium competence
IWC is also presenting one version of the Ingenieur Automatic 40 in titanium. Titanium is about one-third lighter than steel. Other distinguishing features of this material are its skin-friendliness and anti-allergic properties. However, the robust and rugged metal is also incredibly difficult to machine. IWC pioneered titanium in the watch industry in the 1980s and has since acquired unique expertise in this field. The Ingenieur Automatic 40 with a grade 5 titanium case and bracelet features a highly detailed finish with sandblasted, satin-finished, and polished surfaces. The grey dial, as well as the black hands and appliques, further accentuate the characteristic matte grey look of the titanium.
- Ingenieur Automatic 40, Ref. IW328904: Grade 5 titanium case, grey dial, black hands and appliques, integrated grade 5 titanium bracelet with butterfly folding clasp
All new Ingenieur Automatic 40 models are available through selected IWC boutiques. Additionally, it is eligible for registration under the My IWC care program, benefitting from a 6-year extension to the standard 2-year International Limited Warranty.
Ingenieur Automatic 40
|IWC-manufactured calibre 32111
|28,800 vph / 4 Hz
Central hacking seconds
Soft-iron inner case for magnetic field protection
Antireflective coating on both sides
|Stainless steel case
Rhodium-plated hands and appliques
Integrated stainless steel bracelet with butterfly folding clasp
|Stainless steel case
Rhodium-plated hands and appliques
Integrated stainless steel bracelet with butterfly folding clasp
|Stainless steel case
Rhodium-plated hands and appliques
Integrated stainless steel bracelet with polished centre links and butterfly folding clasp
|Grade 5 titanium case
Black hands and appliques
Integrated grade 5 titanium bracelet with butterfly folding clasp
In the 1970s, Geneva watch designer Gérald Genta gave the Ingenieur from IWC Schaffhausen an entirely new visual identity. With its strong aesthetic codes, the Ingenieur SL ranks among his most important creations from this era. To this day, the Reference 1832 perfectly embodies Genta’s vision of a robust yet elegant steel sports watch.
IWC Ingenieur SL “Jumbo”
The 1950s were a time of change and departure. New devices simplified household chores, and the belief in technical progress was almost limitless. Technical Director Albert Pellaton had just completed the development of IWC Schaffhausen’s first in-house automatic movement. Its remarkably efficient winding mechanism used even the slightest rotations of the oscillating weight in both directions to wind the mainspring.
During this eventful period, IWC launched the Ingenieur, its first anti-magnetic wristwatch for civilian use. It was specially developed for professionals exposed to strong magnetic fields in their daily work, such as engineers, technicians, chemists, pilots, or doctors. A soft iron inner case effectively protected the movement against magnetic fields. Like a Faraday cage, it guides the magnetism around the movement and prevents the sensitive components inside from becoming magnetised and affecting the watch’s accuracy. IWC had developed this technology a few years earlier for the Pilot’s Watch Mark 11.
The first Ingenieur, Reference 666, was launched in 1955 with a modest, round case. IWC continued this rather inconspicuous design in 1967 with the second generation, Reference 866. By the end of the 1960s, however, the idea of developing a “new, heavy Ingenieur Steel model” was already circulating among IWC’s management. Minutes of meetings indicate that IWC launched the project on 1st August 1969.
The new Ingenieur was to become even more robust by integrating a shock protection system. But there was also a desire for a new case to further emphasise the watch’s technical character. The first prototypes were produced and tested in 1970 and 1971. However, they did not meet the manufacturer’s exacting quality standards, failing the rigorous impact tests.
IWC subsequently went in search of an external designer. Gérald Genta from Geneva was a freelance watch designer at the time and no stranger to the company. He had already created a steel chronograph for the Schaffhausen-based manufacturer in 1967, but this project was never realised. Finally, IWC commissioned Gérald Genta with the creation of the new Ingenieur. The designer delivered the result of his work in 1974. His sketches show a striking watch with an integrated steel bracelet and a structured dial. Its most important design feature, however, was the screw-on bezel with five recesses.
At that time, the Swiss watch industry faced pressure on several fronts. Cheap quartz watches from the Far East were flooding the market. But far more severe was the fact that the dollar exchange rate plummeted, and, at the same time, the price of gold climbed to ever-new heights. IWC’s product portfolio, which at the time consisted mainly of gold watches, suddenly increased in price by a factor of three to five. Hannes Pantli, the marketing and sales manager at the time, decided to significantly expand the brand’s offering in stainless steel. He developed IWC’s commonly named SL collection, comprising different luxury steel sports watches.
Gérald Genta’s Ingenieur SL, Reference 1832, became the talking piece of the SL collection and was launched in 1976 for the then steep price of 2000 Swiss francs. Due to its size of 40 millimetres, the watch was soon nicknamed “Jumbo.”
The automatic calibre 8541 was mounted on rubber buffers and thus optimally protected from shocks and impacts. The soft iron inner case effectively shielded the movement from magnetic fields of up to 80,000 A/m.
In the following years, the Ingenieur SL was also issued in steel-gold or gold. IWC also produced several versions with quartz movements. However, despite its innovative design language, the model did not enjoy commercial success. The Ingenieur SL felt large and heavy, almost bulky, on the wrist. Since clients at that time mostly demanded flat quartz watches, little more than 1000 pieces were sold between 1976 and 1983. It was not until the 1990s that collectors became aware of the “Jumbo.”
Today, it is one of the most sought-after watches from IWC’s history.
The fact that Gérald Genta created the Ingenieur SL at the peak of his creative period in the 1970s is historically significant. Between 1972 and 1976, the designer produced several steel sports watches, thereby establishing an entirely new product category in the Swiss watch industry. For the first time, watches made of stainless steel were being sold at such high prices.
With its strong aesthetic codes, such as the screw-on bezel with its five recesses, the dial with a unique pattern and the integrated H-link bracelet, the Ingenieur SL reflects essential elements of Gérald Genta’s artistic signature. It is one of the designer’s most important creations and perfectly embodies his vision of a robust yet elegant steel sports watch.
Celebrated watch designer Gérald Genta created the Ingenieur SL for IWC Schaffhausen in the 1970s. The Swiss luxury watch manufacturer has now enhanced his iconic design to produce a modern interpretation, perfected down to the smallest detail. But the Ingenieur Automatic 40 does not only reflect the bold aesthetic cues and unique character of the original. The new automatic model also meets the highest standards regarding ergonomics, finishing and technology. Christian Knoop, IWC’s Chief Design Officer, reviews a development process that has taken several years IWC Schaffhausen launched the Ingenieur in 1955. What is the significance of this collection?
“GÉRALD GENTA DEFINED THE DNA OF THE INGENIEUR’S DESIGN”
More than any other watch, the Ingenieur embodies IWC’s engineering spirit and the brand’s strictly technical and design-oriented approach. It was initially developed for professionals such as engineers, physicists and doctors, whose work exposed them to strong magnetic fields. The first Ingenieur, Reference 666, was a technical milestone. It was powered by the 8531 calibre, the first automatic movement developed in-house by IWC with the highly efficient Pellaton winding system. A soft-iron inner cage effectively shielded the movement from magnetic fields. This technology had originally been developed for the Pilot’s Watch Mark 11, a professional navigation watch engineered in 1948 for the British Royal Air Force. How would you describe the age that saw the launch of the Ingenieur?
In the 1950s, people were fascinated by technology, and engineering was the embodiment of innovation, progress and prosperity. Back then, engineering achievements laid the foundations for new forms of architecture and design that occurred repeatedly in many of the products and everyday objects of that period. This sense of optimism and the widespread belief in technical progress was also expressed in the name chosen for the new watch family: Ingenieur, the French word for “engineer”,
which is also used in German. In 1976, IWC unveiled the Ingenieur SL – a new, completely revised version of the Ingenieur, designed by the well-known Geneva watch designer Gérald Genta. What was so outstanding about his achievement?
The first Ingenieur, launched in the 1950s, had a round and rather understated case. Thanks to Gérald Genta’s inspired contribution, the watch finally had a face. For the Ingenieur SL, Reference 1832, he relied on bold aesthetic cues such as a screw-on bezel with five recesses, a checkerboard-pattern dial and an integrated bracelet with H-links. These gave the watch its distinctive character and made it instantly recognisable. Genta thus achieved something we might refer to today as strategic development of the product’s DNA. Using these pronounced, recognisable design cues, IWC has been able to vary the Ingenieur slightly again and again over many decades without sacrificing Gérald Genta’s artistic signature. How should Genta’s work be assessed in terms of historical perspective?
In the 1970s, Gérald Genta succeeded in creating an entirely new category of luxury watches. Rugged, water-resistant, yet elegant steel sports watches with integrated metal link bracelets replaced classic gold watches. With creations like the Ingenieur SL, Gérald Genta is the undisputed master of this category. But these steel sports watches were also in keeping with the spirit of the times. The boundaries between work, leisure and sport became increasingly fluid – a development that helped shape watch aesthetics. Why didn’t IWC simply reissue the original?
Initially, we discussed that idea but quickly discarded it because merely reissuing a historical design does not fit in with our aspirations for the Ingenieur collection. As engineers and designers, continuously improving and perfecting something that already exists is our DNA. Evelyne Genta, Gérald Genta’s long-time spouse, business partner and founder of the Gérald Genta Heritage Association, told us her husband was constantly developing his ideas and refused to cling to old designs. Ultimately, that encouraged us to take the Ingenieur SL as the starting point for a new and contemporary interpretation. And where did this journey lead?
The result is the Ingenieur Automatic 40. The new automatic model reflects the unique character of the iconic design from the 1970s while meeting the highest possible ergonomic and aesthetic demands. We’ve spent years fine-tuning the proportions of the case and perfecting it down to the tiniest detail. And we must remember that manufacturing techniques have made huge strides forward since the 1970s. The new Ingenieur has an astonishingly high level of detail and outstanding quality in processing and finishing – evidenced, among other things, by the combination of polished and satin-finished surfaces. How did you set about improving the ergonomics?
Our aim was to make a perfectly proportioned 40-millimetre case that would ensure the watch fitted snugly even on a slim wrist. So, over the years, we have produced countless prototypes in steel, continually checking how they feel on the wrist and further improving the case proportions. The Ingenieur SL had a relatively wide bracelet and nose-shaped horns that increased the length of the case. That is why we developed a new middle-link attachment, which is aesthetically comparable but more ergonomic, providing a better fit on the wrist. Another factor is the slight curve in the case ring, which further improves the ergonomics. The distinctive bezel is one of the central features of Genta’s design. How did IWC adapt it for the new Ingenieur?
We spent a lot of time tweaking the bezel’s proportions and finishing. The most obvious difference, however, is that we have used genuine polygonal screws. For the Ingenieur SL, the bezel with the five recesses was simply screwed onto the case ring. The position of the recesses was purely random, and they were never in the same place. I’m a perfectionist, so that always bothered me. With the Ingenieur Automatic 40, five screws now secure the bezel to the case ring. The screws have a technical function and, as a result, are always in the same position. One of the striking features of the Ingenieur is the dial with its relief-like structure. How did you enhance this part?
Similar to Reference 1832, the Ingenieur Automatic 40 features a dial with a structure that we now call “grid”. The pattern consists of lines offset by 90 degrees to each other and stamped into the soft-iron blank before it is galvanised. It covers the entire inner area of the dial, while the outer area around the chapter ring remains smooth. We also painstakingly balanced the proportions of the IWC logo and its position on the dial and alignment with the Grid down to thousandths of a millimetre. Finally, appliques with luminescence ensure great legibility, even at night. What else have you perfected?
We have optimised countless details you would hardly notice at first glance. For instance, the upper parts of the bracelet now contain closed links without visible pins. This feature not only enhances its overall quality but also underscores the superb finish. The integration of a clean, simple butterfly folding clasp gives full rein to the beauty of the bracelet. Another example is the slightly curved front glass. It is even more finely tuned to the overall proportions of the watch, underscoring its value and sophistication. What are the individual parts of the new collection?
The Ingenieur Automatic 40 comes in stainless steel with the choice of a black, silver-plated, or aqua dials. Aqua is a new dial colour, a fascinating shade between green and blue. We are also making another version in titanium. IWC pioneered the use of titanium in the 1980s. This light, hard-wearing metal epitomises IWC’s engineering and material expertise and is, therefore, a perfect match for the Ingenieur. What about the mechanics inside the case?
All the models in the collection are powered by the IWC-manufactured 32111 calibre with an automatic pawl-winding system and a power reserve of 120 hours. In keeping with the Ingenieur tradition, the watches all feature a soft-iron inner case that shields the movement from the adverse effects of magnetic fields on its accuracy. And, as you would expect of a modern sports watch, the cases are water-resistant to 10 bar, making the Ingenieur Automatic 40 an enormously versatile companion, suitable for both work and leisure. Could you describe what the creative process was like for you and your team?
It’s not every day that a designer gets the chance to work on reinterpreting an icon like the Ingenieur SL. Gérald Genta’s achievement deserves the utmost respect. We were aware of the enormous responsibility it entailed and proceeded very cautiously. We discussed every visible change intensively and asked ourselves whether we could justify certain specific interventions. But when Evelyne Genta told us her husband would certainly have approved of the new Ingenieur Automatic 40, it felt like a well-deserved reward for all the passion and hard work that had gone into the project.
Evelyne Genta, long-time spouse and business partner of Gérald Genta, remembers the work, creativity and passion of the most legendary watch designer of all time. She also reveals what the recent discovery of the original Ingenieur SL drawing means to her and how she preserves her husband’s legacy with the Gérald Genta Heritage Association.
“GÉRALD WAS VERY PROUD OF THE INGENIEUR”
Not only did you play one of the most important roles in Gérald Genta’s private life as his spouse, but you were also tightly involved in managing his business. What did you enjoy most about working with him so closely?
For us, working so close together is also what made for a fantastic marriage. When I look back at our life together, it really was a big adventure. We would go to the factory in the morning, work together, have lunch together, and go home together. It was actually quite fortunate that we got along so well! Did you always agree, or were there disputes from time to time?
If we had disagreements, they were only ever related to work. Gérald was a genius, a wonderful man, but not of the easiest temperament. I was more down to earth. His genius was creating and making sure that the manufacturing corresponded exactly to his vision – and I was doing all the rest. I would never argue about a model he was designing, but sometimes, he had such strong feelings for pieces that he was not very keen on selling them. That’s when I would step in because I had to run the factory and pay the bills as well as the salaries.
You were in charge of the numbers and had to ensure the boat stayed afloat. Did you have to pull him back down to earth sometimes?
Never. We were both pretty mad back then: we took every risk under the sun! Many people are not aware that Gérald also designed automata and larger clocks. We didn’t even have orders for these pieces, but he would create them anyway because he believed in them. Some of them took over four years to make. We had to invest so much money, the risk was huge.I never heard about Gérald Genta designing automata!
This is a fascinating chapter of his career. He once made a clock with a large circus wheel, and there was a little clown or columbine in each wheel. When you started the automaton, all these little characters would move to beautiful music. This is a side of his work that many people do not even know about. These extraordinary pieces are with different clients all over the world today. Sometimes I just wish they were in a museum for people to see and appreciate them.When and where did you meet for the first time? Could you share with us what was your impression of him then?
We first met in the summer of 1981 at the house of a mutual friend in Monaco. He told me that my watch was shabby, and he contradicted everything I said. I thought he was incredibly rude. I put my watch in my pocket and then completely forgot about it. It then went into the washing machine and came back out in little pieces. So, in the beginning, I was very upset with this guy! How would you describe his character in three words?
Creative. His creativity was nothing short of amazing. Secondly, I would mention his integrity. Throughout his career, I never saw Gérald do anything he did not fully believe in. For example, he never changed a design just to be able to sell it. I would also describe him as inspired. He would get up in the morning and just know what he wanted to design that day. He kept saying that his inspiration came from above, it was incredible.And how do you think your husband would have described your character?
Probably as a very organised person, which was not always meant as a compliment. Maybe also a bit obsessive. And down to earth. This side of my character maybe had to be developed more in order to balance his own way of being as an artist. What did you appreciate most about his personality?
Gérald was a very loving person. A wonderful man and a loving husband. And then there was his curiosity. Even as he got older and ill, he was still so curious about the world! He would never talk about the old days and how everything used to be better. He would never think about the watches he had already designed. He always looked ahead to the ones he was still going to make. He was so curious about new things – he liked rap music, which to me was insane! He liked rap music?
Yes, he did. I was stunned by that. Even our daughter could hardly believe it. She was pretty young back then and would say, “Mommy, have you heard what Daddy is listening to?”.
I would listen to Tchaikovsky or Beethoven, and he was listening to rap. He would say, “This is genius, you don’t understand!”.
After all these years, I still don’t understand!How would you describe Gérald’s way of working?
There were different places where he designed, depending on where we stayed at the time. In our house in London, he was always right at the centre of the home in his studio. He liked people to walk by when he was working. He wasn’t reclusive at all. What characterised his drawing technique?
The process always started exactly the same way. First, he would use his compasses to draw a circle in the original size of the watch. Then he would draw two lines – one horizontal and one vertical. Finally, Gérald would take very fine pencils and paintbrushes and paint the watch with watercolour, down to the tiniest details. He would always go from a circle with two lines to a finished watch. There was no sketching involved in the process, no intermediary step. So, he always drew the watches in their actual size?
Yes. Some of the ladies’ watches he designed were incredibly small and detailed. He would wear a watchmaker’s magnifying glass and need a powerful light source. And I never saw him tear anything up. That’s one of the reasons why I think the finished watch was all in his head before he started to draw.Did he have a favourite place or time to draw?
Gérald designed everywhere and all the time. When we were on holiday, he would find himself a quiet spot in the restaurant after lunch and start to draw. He wasn’t fussy at all about where or how he worked, he just designed.Was he fast, or did it take him a lot of time?
He was fast! It was like he had the finished watch in his head already and it just needed to get out on paper. Sometimes he would show me two drawings at the end of the day and ask which one I preferred. If I said, “the right one,”
he would say, “because you hate the left one?”.
Therefore, I always had to be very diplomatic and careful when giving him my feedback.Where do you think Gérald’s inspiration came from?
He loved nature. He used to say that all shapes and colours are in nature. And he loved architecture and art. But he never looked at other people’s watches. He used to say that it would damage his creativity. He paid so much attention to the world around him. For instance, if he were to visit your apartment, he would look around and notice everything there was to see. Did he hold on to an old design, or was he constantly improving things?
Gérald’s artistic vision was very detailed, and his drawings were always very close to the watch we would make in the end. If he changed a design, it would only occur during the manufacturing process – most changes were motivated by technical issues that came up at that stage. Were there exchanges between him and the watchmakers, the engineers?
All the time! He didn’t just design a piece and then forget about it. He was constantly up and down the floors of the factory, talking to everyone involved in the manufacturing process. My husband knew exactly what he wanted and always wore the prototypes. We only made the final piece once he was totally happy with it. I once read in an interview that he didn’t like to wear watches. Is that true?
That’s true. On some occasions, I had to insist on him wearing a watch. Of course, if you go to the Basel Fair, it looks better if you wear a watch. But at home, did he bother? No! Is that also true that watches were just one of his passions? What else was he passionate about?
Painting! He painted every day. He loved drawing his watches, yes, but had he been able to, I think he would have been a painter. He once said that if he had lived in Italy, he would probably have designed cars – Gérald loved cars. But because he was born in Switzerland he designed watches instead. His true love was painting. Who was your husband’s favourite painter?
He was obsessed with Picasso. Picasso was the ultimate artist to him because he painted, sculpted, and mastered so many creative expressions. That’s why they call Gérald the “Picasso of timepieces”
in Singapore. How many watches did your husband design throughout his whole career?
I can’t tell you because I honestly don’t know. I roughly have 3,100 watch designs and about 400 paintings in my archive, but so many of his designs are lost. Early on in his career, Gérald travelled around Switzerland and sold his drawings for 15 Francs. We have no idea how many watches he designed during all those years. He probably designed up to 100,000 watches in total. We know you were not present when Gérald designed the Ingenieur SL for IWC Schaffhausen, but do you remember him talking about the company and the Ingenieur?
Gérald talked about the Ingenieur a lot. He always liked IWC for their seriousness, for doing their own thing, and for being true watchmakers. And he was very proud of the Ingenieur. He felt that the name “Ingenieur” was reflecting IWC and what they do very well. He also appreciated that they didn’t fight him on his design. They got it straight away; they just understood it. IWC recently discovered the original drawing of the Ingenieur SL. You assisted in certifying its authenticity. Can you tell us more?
When the design was recovered, it was very exciting for me to see it as I had no trace of it in my archive. Gérald talked about the Ingenieur a lot. When IWC showed me the drawing, it was very moving for me to hold it in my hands for the first time. I made a copy which I am now keeping in the archive as well. I am excited that it has been discovered and certified by the Gérald Genta Heritage Association. Does the drawing feature typical traits of his technique and style?
The paper, the technique, the colours. Looking at the rest of his designs, you instantly see that these are the same. Nobody else could have done it. What I thought was particularly interesting is that the crown is octagonal – Gérald was obsessed with octagonal shapes, even my wedding ring is octagonal. This is so typical! However, he seems to have used a different signature on this drawing.
Yes, this is a signature that he would use early on in his career. He’s always had different signatures, even later in life, but I have seen this one before. It is definitely a Genta design.Did you already know then, from the moment you held the drawing in your hand, that it was genuine?
Absolutely. Everybody seems to be discovering Genta designs these days, and I would never give my approval if I were not 100% sure. Currently, two well-known watch brands are asking me if a design they found is from my husband, but I don’t have proof because he never talked about these other watches. So, I will not give them my authorisation while I grant it – totally free-willingly – to IWC. You have seen a rendering of the new Ingenieur Automatic 40. Did you like it?
Yes, I think it will be great, I can’t wait to see the final watch. I think it is very faithful to Gérald’s design – I am sure my husband would have liked it. In 2019, you founded the Gérald Genta Heritage Association. Why?
The primary purpose is to preserve my husband’s artistic legacy and heritage. I am excited when I see how many personalities from the watch world have already come on board to support the idea. But we also want to encourage and inspire a younger generation of watch designers. With that in mind, we are now preparing a design competition, and hopefully, we will be able to announce something soon.
For IWC Schaffhausen, the 1970s were a particularly challenging decade. The dollar went into a tailspin, the price of gold skyrocketed, and the rise of quartz watches seemed inexorable. It was a constant struggle for survival. As a junior employee at the time, Hannes Pantli experienced it all first-hand. The veteran Sales and Marketing Director looks back on the genesis of the legendary SL collection, his cooperation with watch designer Gérald Genta and the launch of the Ingenieur SL. Hannes Pantli, how do you remember your first years with IWC Schaffhausen?
I joined IWC when I was 30, back in 1972. My first job was in sales. At that time, gold watches featured very prominently in our product portfolio. We also made eye-catching jewellery watches that won much-coveted competitions like the Golden Rose of Baden-Baden or the Prix de la Ville de Genève. And then came the perfect storm.Do you mean the quartz crisis that beset the Swiss watch industry?
Yes, but not only that. Technological progress was elemental to the Swiss watch industry throughout the 1970s. Our top selling points had always been durability and high levels of accuracy. When cheap but incredibly precise quartz watches from the Far East flooded the market, everything we stood for seemed suddenly worthless. Any quartz watch is more accurate than a mechanical watch. But it would be much too simplistic to put the blame entirely on quartz watches. There were several factors in play at the same time.So, what did cause the “perfect storm”?
The termination of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1971 uncoupled the convertibility of the US dollar to gold. Over the next few years, the US dollar/Swiss Franc exchange rate went through the floor. In the early 1970s, a dollar was still buying you 4.30 Swiss Francs, but by 1978 the rate was down to less than 1.50. That made our products much more expensive abroad. On top of that, the price of gold reached dizzying heights. Between 1971 and 1974, the cost of an ounce of gold went up threefold. What did all that mean for IWC?
Looking at our catalogue in the early 1970s, our focus on gold watches is immediately apparent. And that is also why the consequences were so severe. Within no time, our products cost three times as much. A watch that had cost 1000 Swiss Francs until then was suddenly priced at around 3000. Not surprisingly, our sales figures fell sharply. How did the company survive all these challenges?
By being creative and flexible. Back then, I would put together several collections a year for our Middle Eastern markets. Apart from luxury gold and platinum watches, they would also feature accessories like rings, cufflinks, fountain pens and lighters, some of which were set with brilliants. We would sell these sets to various royal houses in the region. One of our important clients was the Sultan of Oman, who received me personally on several occasions during my travels. These sales might have saved IWC from bankruptcy, but because they involved such small quantities, they did not do much to help the overall manufacture. What was the greatest challenge facing you?
We did not have enough work, and our production facilities were working way under capacity. And it was not just a question of being able to pay the wages at the end of the month. We needed to utilise our capacity to ensure that the know-how accumulated over the years in developing and producing our in-house movements remained in Schaffhausen. And it was this challenging environment that would ultimately lead to the SL Collection?
Yes, indeed. We already had an excellent automatic movement in the 8541 calibre, which features the highly efficient winding system developed by Albert Pellaton. What we did not have in our range was a watch it would have fitted. So, we needed new models with cases designed precisely for our in-house movements. On top of that, we wanted to eliminate our strong dependence on gold. That is how we landed on the idea of creating an entire range of luxury sports watches in stainless steel: the SL Collection. How did you start working with Gérald Genta on the Ingenieur SL?
The “new Ingenieur”
project was underway in the late 1960s. The plan was to use a new case that would underscore the technical characteristics of the Ingenieur even more sharply. Gérald Genta was working as a freelance watch designer at the time and IWC approached him in the early 1970s with a request to redesign the Ingenieur. After a development phase of around four years, we finally unveiled the new Ingenieur SL at the 1976 Basel Watch Fair. It became the flagship of the SL Collection, which also included models like the Polo Club and the Golf Club.What did the initials “SL” stand for?
They did not have any specific meaning. For the Italians, it meant “Super Lusso”,
for the French “Super Luxe”.
But you could also have interpreted it as “steel”
To be honest, we never actually committed ourselves, and that is why there’s never been an official answer to the question. The truth is that we were inspired by a well-known model produced by a German car manufacturer.Was the Ingenieur SL the success you’d hoped for?
From a design point of view, the Ingenieur SL was a totally new departure. But it was never a commercial success. The fact we’d used our 8541-calibre movement made the watch too bulky for the time. That is the reason why it was also nicknamed “Jumbo”. Another factor was the relatively high price of 2000 Francs. We later produced a bicolored version of the Ingenieur SL in stainless steel and gold, as well as a model with a quartz movement. Altogether, we made just under 1000 of them. The Ingenieur SL was unquestionably ahead of its time. How would you assess Gérald Genta’s work and the Ingenieur SL today?
The famous steel sports watches designed by Genta in the 1970s, of which the Ingenieur SL is one, represent a new era in watch design. On the one hand, he created a new and independent formal idiom. On the other, luxury sports watches made of steel were an entirely new product category for the Swiss watch industry. Never before had stainless-steel models been selling at such high prices. It took a good bit of nerve for us, as watch manufacturers, to offer something like that. Did you ever meet Gérald Genta personally?
When Genta created the Ingenieur SL, we did not have much contact. From 1975 onwards, my position as Sales and Marketing Director involved a lot of travel. Apart from Europe and the Middle East, I had to get to know the Asian and US markets. But in the 1980s, I met Genta on several occasions at the offices of our distribution partner in Milan. I remember well the lunches we had together. He was an inspiring, cultured and very agreeable personality. But my most prominent memory of him is as an artist. By that time, his own watch brand was already up and running. How would you sum up the 1970s?
It was an exciting time, and lots of changes were taking place. But it was also a constant struggle for survival. We did everything we could and clutched at any straw to keep IWC alive. We had good ideas but often no money. And without finance, it is difficult to implement a strategy properly, especially when you need to keep a company with 150 employees afloat. Although we were also manufacturing quartz watches back then, it gradually became clear to management that IWC could only guarantee its long-term future with high-quality mechanics. What happened next at IWC Schaffhausen?
Following the takeover by VDO Adolf Schindling and the appointment of Günter Blümlein as CEO, IWC had an experienced man at the helm. In 1985, we launched the perpetual calendar, developed by our master watchmaker Kurt Klaus. And in 1990, with the “Grande Complication”,
we had reached the pinnacle of Haute Horlogerie. By the late 1970s already, I had also been working with our then Technical Director to pave the way for the cooperation with Ferdinand Alexander Porsche. This helped us to make better use of the company’s production capacity. The collaboration with Porsche Design finally led to the development of our first wristwatch in titanium and marked the foundation of the unique expertise in case materials that remains the hallmark of IWC Schaffhausen to this day.