Are IWC More than a Motto?
written by A.Morgan - 27th Apr 2011
I’d never really noticed it, unassuming and discreet – but it is there. In letters barely a few millimetres high, it protrudes from the crown; ‘Probus Scafusia.’
We see it, but what does it mean? It would be easy to assume that this battle cry of a phrase was no more than a PR exercise to drum the brand into our subconscious, were it not for the modest placing, round the side and out of sight. In fact it is more of a reminder; a reminder that IWC was founded by an engineer who applied his engineering brain and attention to detail to whatever he did. The motto has stood firm for the company since 1903, and means simply, ‘good, solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen.’
Easy to overlook, perhaps, but nonetheless, it is a bold claim. So what does IWC to do to justify such a motto? Deep in the heart of the Swiss IWC machine, on the banks of the River Rhine, engineers are busy. You could call them watchmakers, but that would be doing them a disservice. It would be quite easy to be fooled into thinking that a lot more was going on than making watches. Clean, white workstations, adjoined by clinical testing equipment, all form part of the development process that goes into every IWC watch.
Let’s start with the accuracy. It would be pretty safe to assume that a mechanical watch is intricate enough to require some quality standards, and it’s worth remembering that these tiny components have been consistently made by watchmakers for the best part of two hundred years with little more than their hands. So it comes as a surprise to learn that IWC build to tolerances of up to 0.001 millimetres. That’s one millionth of a metre. One hundredth the width of a human hair. Using Electric Discharge Machines, IWC can create parts so small and so accurate that a microscope would be needed to weed out any flaws.
And then there’s the testing. Before a component even exists as a tangible object, it has already been subject to a series of detailed simulations using three-dimensional computer modelling, calculating exactly what stress tolerances it can bear. A satisfactory component can then be manufactured, and is tested all over again using x-ray machines, laser scanners, high-speed cameras – enough equipment and precision to give a Formula One team an inferiority complex. IWC’s ‘Error Source Analysis,’ programme works from the earliest phases of development to ensure that there are no weak points in any part of the finished product. Additional time spent at this stage can save a costly headache further down the line.
By the time the tested components finally come together in the form of a development watch, it is pretty much a given that it complies with the IWC ethos of good, solid craftsmanship. But nothing is left to chance, and so a batch of development mules undergo the next the phase of testing.
All the standard, expected work is done – pressure testing under water for several minutes to ensure that the cases are properly sealed, crown and pusher fatigue tests, corrosion tests – but, as is becoming clear, IWC take it one step further. The climate test, for instance, tortures a watch by subjecting it to temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius, and as high as 70 degrees Celsius at 95% humidity. Testing also includes prolonged periods of up to several weeks at either extreme, and sudden changes from one extreme to the other. At every point during this phase, automatic multilevel microphones listen to the heartbeats of the watches, ensuring that they don’t fall outside of tolerance.
Given the survival of the mules, they move on next to impact testing. It is standard practice to do a ‘drop test’ for a given product, to evaluate its survivability when subject to a single, hard knock, but once again, IWC take that bar and raise it considerably. What emerges is quite a simple test, really. A watch is placed in an enclosed box and shaken. Two hundred and sixty four thousand times. At up to 500g, twenty five times the force of a military ejector seat. No wonder IWC engineers have dubbed the test, the ‘chapuis extrême’. Once the prototypes have been satisfactorily tested, they have then earned a place amongst some of the best watches in the world within the IWC catalogue.
The message that clearly resonates from this fascinating establishment is that IWC are quietly confident in their product. ‘Probus Scafusia – good solid, workmanship from Schaffhausen,’ is not a marketing ploy; merely a reserved nod to the unseen dedication and hard work of the staff at the International Watch Company.