IWC CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr Shares the Inside Story of the New Ingenieur 40 at Watches & Wonders 2023
The redesigned Ingenieur Automatic 40 timepiece was one of the most eagerly anticipated product debuts from the recent Watches & Wonders conclave in Geneva. So, we caught up with Christoph Grainger-Herr, the brand’s CEO, to get the inside scoop on the latest version of this legendary timepiece.
Providing a kind of “tool watch” for the booming post-war enterprise of engineering and technical/scientific work, Schaffhausen-based watchmaker IWC launched the first Ingenieur timepiece (Ref. 666) in 1955.
It was a no-frills, straightforward, almost modest timepiece that was compact enough not to get in the way of technical activities. At the same time, it was also robust, featuring a soft-iron inner case that protected the movement from the detrimental effects of magnetic fields generated by other equipment on a workbench. Fun Fact: The Ingenieur Ref. 666 also beat the Rolex Milgauss to the anti-magnetic punch by a year or so.
But it wasn’t until the Gérald Genta-designed Ingenieur SL (Ref. 1832) with a 40mm case size, giving it the nickname “Jumbo,” came out in 1976 that the timepiece solidified its enduring heritage and collector appeal in the watch world.
At the time, Genta was a gun-for-hire watch designer and had already proposed a steel manual chronograph design for the company in 1967. Unfortunately, that design – which predated the invention of the automatic chronograph movement by two years, the prototype design for the Royal by five years, and the prototype design for the Nautilus – was never realized.
However, with its automatic calibre 8541 movement mounted on rubber buffers and the anti-magnetic benefits of the soft-iron inner case, the SL 1832 Jumbo brought the Ingenieur into the realm of a very modern steel sports watch, a milieu wherein Genta is a recognized past-master.
Interview with Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC
Watchonista: What was your mindset when you started the redesign of such a beloved timepiece?
Christoph Grainger-Herr: [The Ingenieur SL designed by Gérald Genta] is an extremely important model for both our history and for the future of IWC Schaffhausen, so you don’t approach a project like this without an abundance of respect and reverence for what came before. Plus, we knew there was already tremendous demand.
The question was: How do you honor and reflect the essence, the codes of an iconic design and empower modernity and innovation? How do you inject contemporary style and retain an already perfect sense of balance?
When you look at the new Ingenieur Automatic 40, where do you see that modernity coming through?
CG-H: Modern materials, processes, and finishing have progressed over the decades, of course, but I’d point out several things that seem perhaps small but add up to a more contemporary watch presentation:
• Smoothing and elevating the heads on the signature five bezel screws, which were threaded and recessed earlier;
• The addition of crown protectors;
• Larger, bolder indices and hands; and,
• The nice cross-hatched grid pattern on the dials.
They all work well together.
It seems like a lot of effort was put into wrist fit. Does the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 have a snug, proper fit for many wrist sizes?
CG-H: Absolutely. We produced multiple prototypes and design approaches to cover that aspect. The Ingenieur has always had “big shoulders,” and we didn’t want to change that impact.
The previous bracelet integration presented an extended connection tab that was technically part of the case. We changed that connection to become a center link on the bracelet and re-established side lugs. So now, even on slimmer wrists, you get a better visual sense of the integrated bracelet feeding into the case without a hard fall off the edge of the case.
We produced, I think, 16 versions of that new center link to get it just right. But that’s just one example of the processes we went through.
When in the design process did the 1967 Genta sketch of the unrealized IWC steel chronograph “re-appear”? It definitely caused speculation as to whether some of that design would make its way into a new Ingenieur when it resurfaced at an auction in June 2022.
CG-H: I can certainly appreciate the possibility of speculation, but by the time IWC board member Hannes Pantli and IWC museum curator Dr. David Seyffer did the work to re-introduce the world to that sketch, we were already 85 to 90% set on the new Ingenieur design.
It was an honor to put some focus on that “missing link” story, to be sure, and a Genta sketch carries Genta DNA, but I would chalk the timing of that up to a “happy coincidence.”