TREND BLAZER. As the “Year of the Portugieser” rolls along, Christian Knoop, Associate Director of IWC Schaffhausen’s Creative Center, shares the principles that define the house and its premier collection
One of the things that really set IWC Schaffhausen apart from other Swiss watch brands is its “tradition” of focusing on only one line of products each year. And this year, at SIHH, IWC proclaimed 2015 as the year of the Portugieser to coincide with the collection’s 75th anniversary, much to the delight of watch connoisseurs the world over. As trends in timekeeping started to gravitate toward smaller, flatter and more elegant wristwatches, IWC’s decision to once again highlight its most popular and recognizable line is most welcome after a year of large and bulky timepieces.
So far, the “Year of the Portugieser” seems to be one of plenty. Sales figures for IWC (and its sister brands) are not publicly disclosed, but a peek at its parent company’s annual report shows noticeable growth—even as the year started under the heavy pall of currency volatility that sent shivers through the Swiss watchmaking industry. In addition, 2015 has seen many more exciting developments from the brand, from its entry into the smartwatch game with the IWC Connect to how the arguably understated Portofino line took center stage at this year’s Watches and Wonders fair.
Still, probus Scafusia, or good craftsmanship from Schaffhausen (which has been the brand’s motto since the early 1900s), has always come about through the brand’s ability to move forward but with one leg firmly planted in the past. Or perhaps “legacy” is the correct word here. Today, this legacy continues to expand at IWC’s Creative Center in Schaffhausen. And taking us through the inner-workings and the underlying philosophy that keeps IWC Schaffhausen ticking is the man who quite literally is the center of the brand’s creativity: Christian Knoop.
DA MAN Caliber: What are the most basic principles of IWC watch designs?
Christian Knoop: The pure masculine signature and authentic design builds the identity of IWC. Every product reflects the heritage and the heart of the brand. Our approach is a distinctive, pure design with a rational reference, be it functional or historic. We aim for products that are meaningful for customers and for the tradition of the brand. All of today’s IWC product families are deeply rooted in our history. Although we constantly develop and re-evaluate the design, every IWC watch is still recognizable and represents the respective product line.
DA MAN Caliber: Where do you normally start when designing a watch? Is it from the exterior (case, bezel) or interior or depending on the inspiration?
Christian Knoop: The development of a watch and its corresponding design starts simultaneously. We have to consider the volume of the watch movement, as well as materials and ergonomic aspects at an early stage of development. A big challenge when designing a watch is to be faithful to the respective family’s heritage as well as the heritage of the company. As a brand, we are fortunate to have established very iconic products a long time ago and for us as designers, it is an honor and an obligation to engage and carefully work with these icons. While trying to maintain the core of the brand, we constantly take our products to the next level and into the future.
DA MAN Caliber: Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” How do you decide when the design of a watch is complete or ready to be produced as so?
Christian Knoop: Let me answer this question succintly with another quote which originates from legendary French author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who said: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
DA MAN Caliber: The case-backs of IWC Portugieser watches are so beautiful. If you could put in order the top three of watch design elements that you personally love, what are they?
Christian Knoop: Indeed, the Portugieser collection is not only one of our oldest and best-known watches but probably also the most prestigious of our brand. With its clearcut structure, no-frills reduction and elegance, it is style-defining and difficult to surpass. The design elements that I appreciate most are: The pure beauty and simplicity of its dials, in particular the typeface; the arch-edged glass which we are excited to introduce on several of the complications and, in my view, perfectly suits the Portugieser watches; and how several timepieces feature a sapphire glass on the case-back allowing a glimpse of the beautiful in-house automatic movement caliber 52.
DA MAN Caliber: Could you name three IWC watches that were the hardest to create?
Christian Knoop: One of the most challenging yet memorable innovations in my IWC career was the Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph, which, for the first time, brought a sportingly elegant note into the Portugieser family. Carving out this new edge in one of the most traditional lines in the portfolio of IWC was a challenge, but from the beginning the product was praised as a big success and was received as a full Portugieser family member.
Another Portugieser that also presented a challenge was the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar, because it was already considered by many as “perfect.” But I think we succeeded in making it even a little more perfect and taking it to the next level. Thirdly, one of the most important criteria in enhancing the Aquatimer collection launched in 2014 was to create an authentic IWC model range that, even more than the previous line, represents the technical and aesthetic codes of the brand. For the development team, it was a top priority to generate unique selling features consistent with the history of IWC. The influence of legendary design elements and colors of the Aquatimer heritage is unmistakable. The design of the new generation, however, is more purist than that of its predecessors. It makes a powerful overall impression, effectively accentuated by the new, innovative rotating bezel, the hallmark of the IWC Aquatimer watches.
DA MAN Caliber: With the Ingenieur collection two years ago and the Aquatimer last year and now the Portugieser, what are the strengths and weaknesses from strongly focusing on one line each year so far?
Christian Knoop: First of all, it is a privilege to be able to strengthen the focus on one single watch family. The engineers, the watchmakers, the design team … we all plunge into the world and heritage of this specific watch line. With united forces we constantly aim to create a renewed coherent product range with a variety of different models, which meet the demands of a multifaceted clientele. IWC stands for engineering excellence, masculinity, innovation and precision, and one of the biggest challenges is to find the right balance between maintaining our brand heritage and the history, on one hand, and producing new ideas, fresh impulses and innovative concepts, on the other hand.
DA MAN Caliber: Which market do you observe when testing out a new watch design?
Christian Knoop: We usually do not test one specific market but instead focus on our customers in general who are not only enthusiastic about the brand and products, but also very critical at the same time. It is always exciting to see that we have critical and esthetically conscious collectors and enthusiasts of integrity all over the world. I have personally met several of them, and their commitment and judgment truly means a lot to me.