A Stroke Of Ingenuity: Behind The Return Of The IWC Ingenieur
A previously underrated Gérald Genta design reenters the fray with the Ingenieur Automatic 40.
Launched earlier this year, the Ingenieur Automatic 40 swiftly made an impression as one of the standout releases of the year—retaining the design codes posited by Gérald Genta in the ’70s and adapting them for a contemporary audience. Here, we receive a horological history lesson on the Ingenieur and its contemporary rebirth from IWC’s Museum curator David Seyffer.
Let’s get into the Ingenieur—we first saw this watch in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the ’70s that it became the recognisable design so revered today.
Yes, the 1955 Ingenieur was really the first kind of tool watch for the civilian market.
Anti-magnetism was really the selling point…
Exactly. And this maybe makes the Ingenieur so interesting for collectors because it was only sold in few quantities—because it was only addressed to a certain group like engineers, doctors, anybody who works together with magnetic fields… So this was the story and related more to the 1950s, and what we now celebrate are the 1970s because the idea to restructure the Ingenieur, this was born in the late 1960s and then executed in the 1970s.
Gérald Genta’s SL design of 1976, yes?
This is super-interesting, because not everybody at IWC would love to have this kind of avant-garde design. For some managers it was not a luxury watch—how could stainless steel be luxury? Luxury watches had to be gold, things like that. But one marketing director was really keen and said, “Come on, let’s do something new. Let’s redefine the brand.”
Again, cue Gérald Genta.
We believe that it was in ’72 or ’73 that he got a briefing. And this is interesting because Gérald considered himself as an artist. And so he wanted his, let’s say, liberty, and we let him—but there was two specifications he had to take in his mind. One was the anti-magnetism and the shock protection. And at the end, this design was born in the standard steel, which then became so iconic.
Am I right in saying it wasn’t a success out of the gate?
Yes, in the Seventies this was not that successful because our watches, well, the movements, were too high. And so it was not that super-successful until later.
When did that perception start to shift?
I would say in the 1980s and then the 1990s, when people started really to collect or look into the vintage market.
It’s interesting that in the ’70s, IWC pushed the fact that it was Gérald Genta but that wasn’t how things were done.
We were never shy to talk about that and, yes, IWC was maybe one of the first brands in naming the designer. It was all about the brand [at that time]. So we always said, yes, it’s Gerald. And even in times when he was not perceived as this artist by others, we always honoured him, and respected him for what he was doing for us.
How important are those initial design codes to what we’re seeing today with the new Ingenieur Automatic 40?
We know how important this watch is, especially for the collectors. And you want to please all your friends, but on the other hand, you have to do something new and find the perfect balance. For the designer, Christian [Knoop], it was always, you have this icon by a now super-famous designer and now you have to do something new out of it. That’s really, really a challenge. And a lot of these discussions were going on and finally we make it.
And here it is. It must be exciting for everyone involved, to see this return?
Absolutely. Because there is the passion for the Ingenieur for all of us. I mean, everybody knows about this watch at IWC and so the expectations were really high.
I bet you wish you had a few originals in the collection…
Please don’t talk about it, it’s my weak spot. And this is so interesting when we talk about the vintage market and perception of this watch. I mean, some 20, 30 years ago, the prices were on a reasonable stage. But now we see there’s a huge demand for these vintage watches. And I think it’s not only that you have all these iconic models, it’s that people appreciate things from the past, and this is why there’s the run on the markets for these watches.
From $17,300; iwc.com
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