Innovation & Know-How

“The style of our decade: A comforting past while enjoying the moment”

On the first day of Watches & Wonders 2023, Chris Granger-Herr, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen reveals the new Ingenieur Automatic 40, a reinterpretation of the Ingenieur watch SL designed by the legendary Gerald Genta in the 70s. A design inspired by this decade in which anything was possible, and technological progress drove creation.

Chris Grainger-Herr was appointed CEO of IWC in 2017, but he joined the Schaffhausen-based brand in 2006 (IWC)

Some archives are priceless. The ones which the watchmaking brand IWC showcased on February 20th are unvaluable, and good to capitalize on. An original, signed by the hand of star-designer Gerald Genta, confirms the uncopiable style of the IWC 70s watch SL Ingenieur, and from which the Schaffhausen brand found its inspiration for the new Ingenieur Automatic 40. Why not simply reedit the iconic model designed by Genta in the 70s? The answer was whispered by Evelyne Genta herself, wife of the now late designer, and founder of the Gerald Genta’s heritage Association, present during the watch launch in London, and which Luxury Tribune was also attending. She said: “The creative richness of my husband was confirmed every day. Gerald constantly designed new watch models. They were not always commissioned by brands. Often, he would dive into the mindset of the House and enjoyed imagining a model for this brand or another, just for fun. He didn’t like to hang on to old models, he refused it. Creating new watches every day was his drive.”

The new Ingenieur Automatic 40 revealed to the international press in London for the first time on 20 February (IWC)

Today, the will to communicate about the style that Genta conveyed to the Ingenieur – an information which remained unexploited by the brand until today – is strategic, even if choosing not to reedit it as such was made by Chris Grainger-Herr, CEO of the IWC brand for six years. He explains this in an exclusive interview to Luxury Tribune and delivers a detailed analysis of the decades that have inspired the designs and innovations during different times.

During the launch of the Ingenieur model, Christian Knoop, creative director at IWC, underlined that “a designer doesn’t often have the chance to work on an icon such as the Ingenieur SL.” How did you brief the teams?

Evelyne Genta, long-time spouse of the late designer Gerald Genta, and founder of the Gerald Genta Heritage Association, was in London for the launch of the Ingenieur Automatic 40 (IWC)

At IWC, there are some collections, just like the Portugieser or the Pilot that possess a design which lasts through time in an unequivocal way, with a completely recognizable DNA in its lines. But there are other collections, like the Ingenieur and Aquatimer who have had different looks with time. The Ingenieur was initially created in the 50s. A classical round watch whose antimagnetic added-value made it unique. But its reinterpretation by Gerald Genta in the 70s, then again in 2005, in 2013, then in 2017 show different approaches of his design. That is why, for this iteration of 2023, my brief was: we want to infuse what the Ingenieur means to IWC today, with its codes, its function. And then, based on that, we designed an Ingenieur which is a sports watch with an integrated bracelet, totally aligned with our time. Our intent was not to reedit the Ingénieur, by going back to a specific moment in its history, but to take the best of each iteration going back to their essence, and creating this new watch in a coherent design, establishing it for years to come. Our approach with Evelyne Genta and her foundation was totally in line with this objective.

In the 70s, Gerald Genta was commissioned by IWC to redesign l’Ingenieur. At the time, and up until recently, the designers were not at the brands’ forefront. Today, the luxury industry and specifically watchmaking seem to understand that collaborating with external designers is a way to communicate. When and why do you think this change started?

Gerald Genta has designed all the great successes of contemporary watchmaking (Gerald Genta Heritage Association)

When watchmaking houses commissioned a design from outside the brand in the past, it was always in a so-called “white label”, a contractual relation which was not openly mentioned. Artistic collaborations or even between houses existed, just as our brand did with Porsche Design by IWC. Two things have since changed: the recognition of Genta’s talent, considered today as one of the greatest designers in the modern world of watchmaking and the growing importance of sports watches with integrated straps. Today, only three aesthetics have launched this concept, all by Gerald Genta, and L’Ingenieur by IWC is one of those three watches. Before this era, a high-end mechanical watch could not be anything else than a gold watch, with a mix of hidden details in the movement. Since Genta, the idea of luxury watches completely changed.

What were the components that enabled this change in mindset, this idea to reveal the name of designers out in the open?

That is an excellent question. Back then, I don’t think we were in a spirit that naturally wanted to hide designers. In fact, technical directors such as Pellaton or Kurt Klaus were very renowned. Regarding designers, I remember Guy Bove or Christian Knopp who always played a public role. But of course, they never experienced the key role that the fashion industry would offer them, mainly because watchmaking pursues continuity, where iconic products stand first before designers. Watchmaking doesn’t work like fashion which can define its creative periods according to the designers that have forged them. But of course, today, watchmaking is seeing a trend which relies increasingly on collaborations and creative encounters. It is clear and very interesting, at our brand as well, to work on the encounter of two creatives such as Lewis Hamilton and IWC, and to see what can emerge. What back then could have been called a “Tribute” watch, entirely designed by the brand, is now becoming a true cocreation just as what is happening in fashion or with sneakers.

Each decade brings its new style, its new spirit. The 70s have revolutionized the creative sector. What is your favorite decade and how would you qualify the one we are currently living?

The new Ingenieur Automatic 40 takes up the codes of the one redesigned by Gerald Genta in the 70's, namely the guilloche "chessboard" dial, the shape of the integrated bracelet and the 5 screw bezel (IWC)

I was born in 1978, therefore I cannot really speak about my personal references in the 70s, but what I appreciate and what fascinates me the most in the 60s and 70s, and even in the pre-war years, is that positive perspective in terms of future and progress. That state of mind has deeply influenced design back then, specifically post-war. The promise was that by reaching technical progress and increasing productivity, we would access a healthier lifestyle, with more free time and a better life standard for all. This idea of a design for the common good was very powerful back then. Engineering, innovation in outer space promised speed, connectivity, the best for all. The breaking point in the 90s was clear. Any productivity or technical improvement didn’t necessarily generate benefits in the life of everyone. This tipping point mixed with today’s current challenges, such as A.I., damages caused to the environment and social inequalities are of course not positive for mankind. Therefore, from a completely nostalgic point of view, I remain fascinated by this promise of a better life through technical progress and of better tomorrows.

What are the main characteristics of our decade?

Today, our decade is defined by uncertainty. The need to be reassured, to obtain trust is a central element which defines this absolute trend towards vintage, this reassuring past which becomes desirable. I would say the tipping point was 2008 with the financial crisis. After Covid, another turning point enabled a decade during which searching for trust is persisting, yet this time it is intertwined with a new awareness of being in the moment, the happiness to be living while in good health and mindfully. This can be noticed in the trend towards color or even exuberance.

How do you infuse these trends in IWC watches?

This is visible in the will of our clients to have high heritage value, in terms of legitimacy and legacy. Furthermore, there is the icon, the immediately recognizable product, a criterion of which people are nowadays very fond of. The icon reassures, as it is immediately readable. The immediacy of social media forged this mindset. The last lever is newness, and the twist we bring to it. That is what I call the “age of recoding”, an expression that comes from Hollywood, but which well describes what is happening within brands, just like the Star Wars franchise which remains a very relevant work across decades and new episodes. I am thinking here about our Pilot line, the chronograph ceramic Top Gun Lake Tahoe or Mojave Desert models, with the collaboration of Pantone which give them a new interpretation while maintaining the historical codes.

Of course, IWC has been reinventing its icons successfully for decades. But why not also invent a new line, with no historic base, simply generated by your imagination?

Absolutely. This is not mutually exclusive. We are currently working on some completely new projects.

What are you expecting from the Watches & Wonders fair this year?

The entire industry is getting together and that is essential. I remember having easily been able to present our novelties online during the pandemic. But feeling the energy, the atmosphere around creations is unique. It is the story of people, first and foremost.

Will you have an emphasis on the metaverse adventure this year as well?

Yes, we will be offering a new experience on our space, related to the Diamond Club which we launched last year. We will also have a first implementation of A.I. and I invite you to come and test it!

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