International Watch Co

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International Watch Co

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International Watch Co, also known as IWC, is a watch manufacturer based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland

IWC is a watch connosieur's brand for several reasons. Not only does it have an illustrious history dating back to 1868, but it has an engineering-focused mentality, Bauhaus design and Swiss hand-made craftmanship. Nowadays, most watches that come out of Switzerland are completely machine-made in an assembly line, but IWC remains one of the few affordable brands that still perform assembly, oiling, timing and finishing by hand. This coupled with their focus on modern "German-style" engineering and innovation makes the brand endearing to collectors.

In 1978, IWC introduced the world's first titanium watch case and bracelet, which at the time was thought impossible because of the difficulty of working with titanium which required an oxygen-free environment. Today, IWC manufacturers the world's most sophisticated bracelet system, which requires neither screws nor pin and bushings to hold the bracelet together. Instead a solid pin is held in each bracelet link by a push-button lock on the underside of each bracelet link - allowing the pin to be totally locked in regardless of any damage that would normally dislodge traditional pin systems. Together with other fanciful mechanical gadgets like mechanical depth gauges, 7 day power reserve automatic movements, and deep-sea (2000 metres water resistant) resistant turning crowns for internal bezels, makes IWC truly a watch manufacturer for the future yet hand-in-hand with traditional hand craftmanship.

Today, IWC is most famous for its Flieger line of watches (literally Pilot in German) whose design date back to World War 2, the beautiful and traditionally made Portugieser line, and has just released a new range of highly engineered sports watches with many new inventions and patents called the Aquatimer line.

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History

In 1868, an American by the name of Florentine Ariosto Jones decided to found a watch factory in Switzerland so that he could supply the USA with movements. At the time Switzerland was a low-wage country and had a ready supply of skilled watchmaking labour mainly carried out by people in their homes. Jones encountered opposition to his plans in French-speaking Switzerland because people feared for their jobs and the work they did at home because Jones wanted to open a factory.

In 1850 the town of Schaffhausen was in danger of being left behind in the Industrial Age. It was at this stage that watch manufacturer and industrialist Johann Heinrich Moser stepped in and did the region a huge service. As a pioneer of white coal, he built Schaffhausen's first hydroelectric plant and laid the cornerstone for future industrialization. He probably met F.A. Jones in Le Locle and showed a great interest in his plans. So it was that the foundations were laid for the first and only watch manufacturers in north-eastern Switzerland: the INTERNATIONAL WATCH CO. in Schaffhausen.

In 1869 F.A. Jones rented the first factory premises in an industrial building owned by J.H. Moser in Rheinstrasse. Very soon he had to rent further rooms in the Oberhaus, one of the oldest buildings in Schaffhausen. By 1874 plans were already being made for a new factory. A site was purchased from Moser's hydroelectric company directly adjacent to the banks of the Rhine called the Baumgarten. Schaffhausen architect G. Meyer won the order to design and build the factory and about a year later, in spring 1875, the construction work was completed. At that point 196 people were working in the 45 meter long factory, which could accommodate up to 300 workplaces.

Johann Rauschenbach-Vogel, Chief Executive Officer and a machine manufacturer from Schaffhausen, took over the INTERNATIONALE UHRENFABRIK on 17 February 1880. This change marked the beginning of the story of INTERNATIONAL WATCH CO., which would last almost one hundred years and four generations, a family-owned company that would be known under various names.

Only a year after the sale, Johannes Rauschenbach died. His son, Johannes Rauschenbach-Schenk, was 25 years old when he took over the UHRENFABRIK VON J. RAUSCHENBACH and ran it successfully until his own death on 2 March 1905.

Another significant role on the way to the company's lasting success was played by Urs Haenggi from Nunningen in the canton of Solothurn. He had got to know the watch business in French-speaking Switzerland and France; in 1883 he joined IWC and stayed with the company for 52 years. He got factory operations up and running smoothly and acquired new customers. He was also responsible for warding off the danger of the factory passing into other hands "in the interest of the noble Rauschenbach family".

Technician Johann Vogel from Wangen on the Aare in Solothurn likewise played an important role as technical director. He designed and developed IWC calibres until 1919.

IWC's manufactured its first digital watch in 1885, based on a patent from an Austrian by the name of Pallweber. A work of genius, the design was incredibly simple but was unable to replace the more practical analogue form of display. Today the Pallwebers, with their little apertures for the hours and minutes, are extremely rare and much sought-after collector's items.

In 1888 electricity began to take over at the watch factory. J. Rauschenbach had a power line installed which supplied it with electricity. During the first few years the electrical power was probably used only for lighting purposes and the galvanic gold-plating of watch movement parts. Shortly before the turn of the century, the company started converting its production machines to electricity. An electric motor made by Brown, Boveri & Co. from Baden powered the engines in the factory, transmitting the energy via a complicated arrangement of shafts and drive belts in the factory workshops.

It was not until the 1930s that these noisy, energy-consuming and high-maintenance power sources were replaced by machines with their own dedicated electric motors.

In Germany, the largest market for IWC watches, sales rose between 1895 and 1900 from 553 500 to 805 000 francs; in Austria from 121 300 to 261 920 francs during the same period and in Russia from 29 400 to 182 300 francs. These impressive figures were due largely to the acumen of the company's management as well as the discipline and reliability of its employees. The enormous demands placed upon them can be seen from the official working times in February 1880: "The usual working time is 11 hours, between 6 am and 7 pm. The owner is free to determine the starting and finishing times." And that included Saturdays.

From 1912 working regulations were slightly different. The working week was down to just 58.5 hours and on Saturday afternoons, workers could look forward to finishing at 5 pm.

Probus Scafusia - Good solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen. That was the motto and the new product philosophy introduced for IWC watches in 1903. Despite machine-based series manufacture and higher productivity, it guaranteed pocket watches of consistently good quality and reliability.

After the death of J. Rauschenbach-Schenk in 1905, his wife, two daughters and their husbands, Ernst Jakob Homberger (director of G. Fischer AG in Schaffhausen) and Dr. Carl Gustav Jung (psychologist and psychiatrist), took over the watch factory as an open trading company by the name of the UHRENFABRIK VON J. RAUSCHENBACH'S ERBEN. E.J. Homberger was the only authorized signatory, Haenggi and Vogel were directors.

Following the death of his father-in-law, Ernst Jakob Homberger had a considerable influence on the Schaffhausen watchmaking company's affairs and guided it through one of the most turbulent epochs in Europe's history. Just before the world economic crisis, he took over as sole proprietor and renamed the company UHRENFABRIK VON ERNST HOMBERGER-RAUSCHENBACH, formerly INTERNATIONAL WATCH CO. His contribution was honoured in 1952, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of St. Gallen. He died in 1955, aged 85 years.

During the period just before and after the First World War, E.J. Homberger devoted himself to devising and setting up social institutions. He extended the living quarters for factory employees and established a fund for widows and orphans. In 1929, the name of the fund was changed to the J.Rauschenbach Foundation and in 1949 he founded the Watch Company Welfare Foundation.

On 1 April 1 1944, as a result of a fatal error, Schaffhausen was bombed by the American Airforce. The watch factory was hit by a bomb which, fortunately, failed to detonate after crashing through the rafters. The flames from incendiaries exploding nearby penetrated the building through the broken windows but were extinguished by the company's own fire brigade.

After World War 2 a change of direction was called for because the markets of Eastern Europe were lost completely following the descent of the Iron Curtain. Germany, too, was in ruins and could be written off as a market until its economic revival. As a result, old contacts and connections with other countries in Europe and the Americas as well as Australia and the Far East were revived and intensified or established. The period of global economic growth that began in the late 1940s and lasted for several decades was also the economic heyday of the watch factory in Schaffhausen and the entire Swiss watch industry.

Hans Ernst Homberger was the third and last of the Rauschenbach heirs to run the factory as a sole proprietor. He had joined his father's company in 1934 and took control after his death in April 1955. In 1957 he added a new wing to the factory and in the same year set up a modern pension fund for the staff. Always a forward-looking entrepreneur, he bought new machines to meet new demands and continuously brought his production technology up to the very latest standards. He died in 1986 at the age of 77.

In the 1970s and 80s, the Swiss watchmaking industry underwent a phase of far-reaching technological change. Following in the wake of the use of miniaturized electric batteries as a source of energy for wristwatches from the late 1940s onwards and the invention of the transistor in 1947, purely mechanical watch technology developed into a hybrid discipline of precision mechanics and electronics.

IWC read the signs of technological progress very well and managed to avoid investing heavily in expensive and misguided technologies, such as the electronically controlled balance. The UHRENFABRIK H. E. HOMBERGER co-founded and was a shareholder in the ""Centre Electronique l'Horlogerie Suisse"" (CEH) in Neuch�tel and was financially involved in the development of the Beta 21 quartz wristwatch movement, which was first presented to the public at the 1969 Industrial Fair in Basel. In actual value terms, this movement accounted for about 5-6% of total sales of quartz watches. Parallel to this, the company expanded its collection of jewellery watches to include ladies watches with mechanical movements. The year 1973 was IWC's most successful of the post-war period.

The cataclysmic rise in gold prices in 1974 had grave consequences for the watch exporting industry. Between 1970 and 1974 the price of gold rose from 4850 to 18 000 francs and the value of the dollar against the Swiss currency plummeted by up to 40%. As a result, the price of watch exports rose by as much as 250%. At the same time Japan was flooding the market with cheap quartz watches.

A change of direction was necessary and this led to the adoption of a number of measures. IWC continued to uphold the values of traditional watchmaking but at the same time surprised the market with one innovation after another. It built up a line of top-quality pocket watches and, apart from setting up its own modern wristwatch and case manufacturing facilities began working closely with Ferdinand A. Porsche as an external designer. In 1978 the company launched its first compass watch and this was followed by the ground-breaking introduction of titanium as a material for use in watches and cases.

The man responsible for this epochal change of direction was Otto Heller, Director and Chief Executive Officer.

For its new plans IWC required a high level of venture capital. With the help of the Swiss Banking Corporation, the company was put in contact with VDO Adolf Schindling AG, which took a majority interest in IWC in 1978

At the same time, IWC reacquired the name it had originally been given by its founder F.A. Jones (INTERNATIONAL WATCH CO. AG), which regained its original significance as a result of the change.

In 1981, Otto Heller succeeded H.E. Homberger as general manager following the latter's retirement on age grounds. The new director, G�nter Bl�mlein, pushed for rapid implementation of planned changes, put the existing advertising campaign to work, built up a young and free-spending customer base and put the company firmly back on the road to success.

In 1991 IWC director G�nter Bl�mlein founded the LMH Group with its headquarters in Schaffhausen. With a 100% stake in IWC, 60% in Jaeger-LeCoultre and 90% in the Saxony-based watchmaking company of A. Lange & S�hne, the Group employs some 1440 persons.

in 1993 IWC's 300 employees celebrate the company's 125th anniversary. And IWC does something special for devotees of its products: 1000 Portuguese watches with the 982 calibre pocket watch movement are made in stainless steel, 500 in gold and 250 in platinum to mark the occasion.

In July 2000, LMH was acquired by Richemont, a Zug-based luxury goods group, for CHF 2.8 bn. the takeover by Richemont guaranteed the independence and continuity of the LMH brands as a closed unit under the current management. At the same time, the two Swiss watch brands, IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, remained largely in Swiss hands.

This major strategic step strengthens IWC's position and gave it the potential to extend its market shares in the USA. IWC currently holds its largest market shares in the Far East, Switzerland and Germany. Worldwide, the company has around 700 sales outlets.

In the year 2001 IWC goes online with the Collectors Forum, the first brand-related forum for fans of fine watchmaking. Visit now the forum at [1] to share with other IWC aficionados.

The year 2001 saw the death of G�nter Bl�mlein, the man who had led IWC out of the Swiss watchmaking crisis of the 70s to new successes.

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