IWC Schaffhausen revisits an icon with the new Ingenieur Automatic 40

Gerald Genta's design returns to the spotlight with a faithful but more sophisticated look.

The Ingenieur Automatic 40 in titanium (All photos: IWC Schaffhausen)

The fascination with technology took on a riveting guise during the post-war boom. Engineering achievements catapulted innovation and progress and the rapid expansion of knowledge accelerated these. The 1950s and 1960s were decades that saw exponential growth in development. There was the successful broadcasting of colour television, which ushered in its golden age; Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, was sent into orbit; and Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon. Bold, powerful design defined the decade that followed.

Stepping into the IWC Schaffhausen booth at the Watches & Wonders fair in Geneva was akin to being transported to a different era, one that sits between retro and futuristic. There was a buzzing energy in the lab-like space, anchored by the legendary Mercedes-Benz C 111-III, an experimental turbocharged diesel car meant for research. The theme for the booth was Form and Technik, the spelling a nod to the German-speaking part of Switzerland and a hint to a specific period in German industrial design when progression was at its peak.

In 1955, IWC launched the Ingenieur — it translates to “engineer” in both French and German — a watch that embodied the brand’s engineering spirit. Powered by the calibre 8531, the first model, referenced with a devilish 666, was a technical milestone. It was the first automatic movement developed in-house with the highly efficient Pellaton winding system. There was a soft-iron inner case that effectively shielded the movement from magnetic fields. Hence, the timepiece was often found on the wrists of engineers, physicists and doctors. The design was rather inconspicuous, however, with a modest, round case that was repeated in its second generation, referenced 866.


The IWC booth at Watches & Wonders 2023

The idea for a new, heavy steel model was circulating among IWC’s management. It needed to be more robust to emphasise its technical character. The maison subsequently went in search of an external designer and touched base with Gérald Genta, who was already an industry icon by then.

The Ingenieur was given new life in 1976 by the eminent watch designer, who was also responsible for the now-legendary designs of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus. The facelift included a screw-on bezel with five recesses, a chequerboard-pattern dial and an integrated bracelet with H-links. Named the Ingenieur SL, the timepiece was not only imbued with a new character, but also a new DNA. Oh, and did we mention it was nicknamed “Jumbo”? Forty millimetres were not de rigueur back then.

Despite lying low for years, a comeback was never really out of the question. In fact, fans and industry observers call for its return year after year. The Ingenieur would eventually resurface. It was worth the wait, though — its homecoming this year was a grand one.

Let us get this out of the way first. It is not a reissue. It is not in IWC’s blood to cling to old designs and the contemporary interpretation that was borne of this look-back proved that it made the right decision to move forward.


Volpers reveals small details about the watch

The new Ingenieur Automatic 40 comes in three steel models, each sporting a different colour on its dial, as well as a titanium model. There was a keen focus to enhance ergonomics. The original H-link bracelet with narrow, nose-shaped horns was swapped with new middle-link attachments that provide a better fit on the wrist. Closed links on the upper parts of the bracelet accentuate its outstanding craftsmanship. And a slight curve in the case ring further improves ergonomics.

One of the most striking changes to the new model is the introduction of polygonal screws on its bezel, which secure it to the case. “It is good to see that they’re functional. It makes the case more complicated to produce so that’s why it is more elaborate, with more process steps and everything,” says Walter Volpers, IWC associate director of product management technics. The dial features a distinctive grid motif with small lines that offset perpendicular to each other.

“The complexity of the dial is an amazing thing. It’s printed, so you stamp it and you get the colour, but it’s also elaborated in the sense that you have the indices filled with Super-LumiNova.”

The dials are galvanised with black, silver and aqua for the steel and cool grey for the titanium reference. The titanium was a unanimous favourite, though the aqua, which inched closer to green, came a close second.


Two of the three steel models

Volpers reveals another small detail that even eagled-eye connoisseurs might have missed. “There’s a small window around the date that is very cool. And what’s special about it is that on the first day of the month, it’s indicated as ‘01’. On all the other watches we have, it’s just ‘1’. ”

However, you do not have to look closely to realise the Ingenieur Automatic 40’s impeccable finishing. The case, bezel and bracelet are elaborately done using a combination of polished and satin-finished surfaces.

In terms of performance, the sports watch is powered by the in-house manufactured calibre 32111 with an automatic pawl winding system and a power reserve of 72 hours. In keeping with the tradition of the Ingenieur, the movement is still protected from the effects of magnetic fields, thanks to the soft-iron inner case. It is also water-resistant to 100m.

“One thing that might surprise you is our butterfly buckle, because it positions the watch right in the middle [of the wrist],” says Volpers. “I was most impressed by how [the watch] feels on the wrist. Once you wear it and the steel adjusts to the temperature of the body, you don’t feel it. That is what I wanted also … this comfort where you have something very valuable but you don’t feel it. It transports you to a different state of mind, I would say.”

With the reintroduction of the Ingenieur, IWC has been given new cards to play. Looking at a timepiece that successfully straddles the past and present, we are curious to see how the collection will develop in the future.


This article first appeared on June 12, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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