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How IWC Have Made Watches For Over A Hundred Years

Mar 4, 2008
The International Watch Company or IWC has manufactured watches in Switzerland for over a century. They are based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and notably the only manufacturer of fine watches in the east of the country. The company motto gives some idea of the work ethic behind the manufacturing process. In Latin the motto is 'Probus Scafusia' generally translated as 'good solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen.

IWC was founded strangely by an American. Florentine Jones was an engineer and maker of fine watches in Boston. The company he directed was E.Howard and Co. who at the time they were the leading manufacturers of watches in America. His plan when founding IWC was to combine the sublime craftsmanship of Swiss watches with the modern engineering technologies pioneered in America.

On the ground he would create a masterful division of labour utilising movements from the American market. IWC would use this cheap import of materials and twin it with a wealth, and more importantly a surplus, of skilled watch makers in Switzerland. Normally the making of watches was carried out in homes, but Jones brought employees into the IWC factory and homogenised the process. Another financial incentive for Jones was that wages in Switzerland at the time were actually lower than those in the United States.

Schaffhausen at the time was still a rural idyll far removed from industrial Boston. Thanks to the work of another entrepreneur, J.H. Moser, who opened a hydroelectric plant in the town, Jones was able to open a factory premises within the township. IWC was then settled in the northeast of Switzerland and has remained there since, despite changing premises to accommodate expansion many times.

In 1885 thanks to the obtaining of a design patent from Austrian inventor named Pallweber the IWC started to manufacture the first ever digital watches. Without LCD displays however, IWC were restricted to producing watches with an analogue display.

In the late nineteenth century the IWC became electrically powered for the first time. Originally used for purely lighting working areas, IWC eventually used electricity in the galvanising process that created gold platted watches. In later years, power spread throughout the factory eventually running all the machinery.

IWC had a clear conscience for the plight of their workers. Shortly after the Great War the director, E.J.Homberger expanded the living quarters of workers and created a fund to care for the widows of workers from the factory. A social conscience was clearly something that could be combined with the making of fine watches.

After the Second World War IWC found themselves in a quandary, unfortunately the company's main route for watches had been the German markets. As most of Germany was in ruins or behind the iron curtain the sale of watches was expanded into markets further a field such as America, Australia and the Far East.

During the latter half of the twentieth century the watch industry had to face a number of challenges in the manufacture and sale of watches. Firstly there were technological developments such as the use of batteries and the creation of the transistor. The hybrid nature of modern watches between mechanics and electronics made much of the IWC workforce obsolete although these problems were overcome.

Gold prices also affected the manufacture of watches worldwide. An astronomical rise in the seventies meant export prices for watches went up 250 percent. Added to an influx of cheap quartz watches from Japan during the eighties, many Swiss watch companies found it hard to survive.

Fortunately, IWC through shrewd financial planning and efficient resource management coped with the changes and have made it through to the present day. Today despite being bought out by a larger luxury goods company, IWC still makes fine watches for pilots and those with an eye for quality and style.
About the Author
Horology expert Thomas Pretty looks into to the ways in which IWC watches have been manufactured for over a century. To find out more please visit http://www.chronolux.com/catalog/iwc-c-60.html
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