Tourists come to the Swiss town of Schaffhausen to enjoy the view of the noisy waterfall that turns Germany’s respectable Rhine river into a raging giant. It’s one of the main sights of the eponymous canton, but not the only one; after the waterfall, travelers come upon IWC Schaffhausen’s headquarters, a manufacture which brought worldwide fame to the city of Schaffhausen with its watches.
The IWC museum is located on the ground floor of the manufacture, and it features a great variety of exhibits, from the very first IWC timepiece — created back in the days of the Boston watchmaker Florentine Jones, who with the support of Heinrich Moser, founded the company International Watch Company (IWC) — to models from the past decades, manufactured by the brand under the shadow of Richemont Group.
One of the museum’s most interesting exhibitions tracks the evolution of IWC’s Aquatimer Collection, which was updated in 2014. The first Aquatimer timepiece was released in 1967. It was a period of oceanographic research and exploration, when diving had become a popular hobby, and diving watches had become highly sought-after. IWC created a great model for this time. The first Aquatimer was water-resistant up to 200 meters, and was equipped by a more comfortable rotating inner bezel (in contrast to an external bezel), with an additional crown at 4 o’clock. The timepiece housed an automatic movement with a date display. In outward appearance, the original version of the Aquatimer looked almost like IWC’s Ingenieur, which has been in production since 1955.
Perhaps the design of the first Aquatimer models was too conservative, because the next year a new version was released (Ref 816AD and Ref 822AD). It was executed in a style that is now often called ‘the style of the ’70s.’ These models are easily recognizable by their characteristic tonneau (cushion-shaped) cases. And let’s not forget the dials — instead of boring black and white, they were blue and red, blended in smoothly with black. In addition, IWC increased water-resistance to 300 meters.
From the mid-1970s onward, IWC began to experience some difficulties, due to the rising price of gold (at that time the brand produced a lot of women’s jewelry watches). The brand — like all Swiss brands at the time — also suffered from the influx of cheap Japanese watches with quartz movements. Because of these problems, the descendants of Ferdinand Rauschenbach, who re-purchased IWC in 1880, were forced to sell the company to the German instrument manufacturer VDO Adolf Schindling AG. With the change of the owner, the brand’s strategy changed, and more emphasis was placed on design and innovation. Porsche’s design bureau became IWC’s partner in this sphere.
The Aquatimer Collection gained a lot during the time IWC was controlled by VDO. Representatives of both brands joked that they created the first underwater Porsche. The most significant result was the special Ocean BUND model, which IWC created for the German army. It was developed in accordance with the army’s numerous requirements, set out on 30 pages, which related to accuracy, toughness, water-resistance, extreme temperature performance, and anti-magnetic protection. That last requirement for anti-magnetic protection was particularly important, because German divers wore this timepiece while operating sea mines with magnetic detonators. You can easily recognize the Ocean BUND model thanks to its red minute hand and fluted black bezel. IWC used quartz and automatic movements, made without a single steel piece. (It’s worth noting that the design of the Ocean BUND would later become the inspiration for IWC’s Ingenieur 500,000 A/m, which features the same powerful anti-magnetic protection.)
In addition to its creation for military use, IWC and Porsche also created civilian diving models during this time — the Ocean 2000 and Ocean 500. The Ocean 2000 could withstand pressure of 200 atmospheres, and became the first commercial model able to descend to the depths of up to 2000 meters. Meanwhile, the Ocean 500 was water resistant to 500 meters. Their cases, like the case of the Ocean BUND, were made of titanium, a revolutionary material for the watch industry thanks to its light, non-magnetic, hypoallergenic and damage-and-corrosion-resistant properties. In order to make these titanium cases, IWC mastered new technology, making a major step forward in metalwork.
The next stage in the evolution of the Aquatimer collection was the release of the GST 1998 series (an abbreviation for gold, steel, titanium), which looked like a classic diver’s watch. The model featured the completely re-manufactured movement ETA 2892, all of the parts of which were made from scratch in-house. With this edition, the brand didn’t achieve any technological breakthroughs. In those days it was the specialists in micro-electronics, who worked on the creation of diving technology, who were making breakthroughs. The popularity of electronics put pressure on the position of mechanical watches, but divers never ceased to use them, for the sake of safety.
In 1999, IWC surprised its fans once again. The brand unveiled the first timepiece in IWC history with a mechanical depth gauge, the GST Deep One. IWC engineers encircled the mechanism with a tube, which during a dive water entered into through microscopic holes in the crown, thus transmitting pressure to the split-hands, one of which showed the actual depth, while the other was fixed at the maximum depth. The indicator was constructed to the depth of 45 meters, although the model was water-resistant to a full 100 meters. It’s much less than the Ocean 2000, but quite enough for a regular diver, so the piece generated great interest among divers.
In 2004, the brand created the unique Aquatimer Split Minute Chronograph. At the request of divers, IWC equipped the model with an independent minute counter. Moreover, it could be run at depths of up to 120 meters.
Since that time, IWC has become a partner of the Cousteau Society, which is dedicated to the protection of the water systems and marine life. The brand even dedicated a timepiece to the marine researcher and diver Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
After five years the Aquatimer Collection’s was completely updated, with the addition of a new sapphire bezel with a fluorescent coating on the inside, which became the hallmark of the Aquatimer. A lot of models appeared, including one with a rubberized case, and the Aquatimer Deep Two, which featured a mechanical depth gauge designed for dives of up to 50 meters.
After leaving the museum, we stopped by the impressive Rhine Falls once again. All in all, Schaffhausen is definitely worth visiting!
Photo credit: Chronoscope.ru for Haute Time Russia.