New IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40 Is A Masterclass In Remaking A Classic
The IWC Ingenieur is Schaffhausen’s first anti-magnetic wristwatch for civilian use. Specially developed for professionals in the aftermath of the great technological bounds in the 1950s, the resulting strong magnetic fields from the new mass consumer electronic devices like television sets and radios, and imaging machines in technical fields like engineering and medicine, meant that everyone encountered the effects of magnetism in their daily lives. A soft iron inner case effectively protected the movement against magnetic fields. Ever the visionary, IWC had developed the soft iron inner case which effectively protected the movement against magnetic fields a few years earlier for the Pilot’s Watch Mark 11.
The first Ingenieur, Reference 666, was launched in 1955 with a modest, round case and it was followed up with another classic if inconspicuous design in 1967 with the second generation, Reference 866. By the end of the 60s, the brand was already considering the next iteration of the Ingenieur. It was to incorporate an integrated shock protection system and to emphasise its new robustness and technicality, they turned to an external designer and it was none other than Gérald Genta. By 1974, the Geneva watch designer presented a striking watch with an integrated steel bracelet and a structured dial. Its most important design feature, however, was the screw-on bezel with five recesses ushering in a new era for luxury steel sports watches.
With strong aesthetic codes like that distinctive screw-on bezel with its five recesses, the unique grid pattern dial and the integrated H-link bracelet, the Ingenieur SL reflects essential elements of Gérald Genta’s artistic signature. For Watches & Wonders 2023, IWC revisits one of the designer’s most important creations with the Ingenieur Automatic 40.
The newly re-engineered IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40 is faithful to the aesthetics of the original right down to that signature bezel but makes serious tweaks to the watch both inside and out. “We invested a lot of time and effort into engineering a new automatic model with perfect case proportions and ergonomics, a high level of detail and finishing, and equipped with modern movement technology. The new Ingenieur Automatic 40 is a versatile luxury sports watch for the 21st century,” says Chris Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen.
Indeed, the dimensions of the case have been reworked and improved down to the smallest detail. It is thinner now, just over 10mm instead of its predecessor’s 13.5mm. The lug-to-lug distance of 45.7 millimetres also ensures perfect ergonomics and excellent wearability for those with slender wrists and while the Ingenieur SL from the 1970s had nose-shaped horns, the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 features a newly engineered middle-link attachment which looks aesthetically similar but provides an even better fit on the wrist.
IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40: a masterclass on improving a classic
“It is not everyday a designer gets to work on an icon like the Ingenieur SL. We were aware of the enormous responsibility this task entailed and proceeded very cautiously. Nevertheless, we believe we succeeded in creating a new and contemporary interpretation, perfected down to the smallest detail. While keeping faithful to the original design signature, the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 is a perfect embodiment of IWC’s engineering excellence,” adds Christian Knoop, Chief Design Officer of IWC Schaffhausen.
Indeed, one of the most impressive updates sees the introduction of functional, polygonal screws on its bezel. On the original Ingenieur SL, its bezel with signature recesses was merely screwed onto the case ring; as a result, the recesses ended up in a different position on each watch. With the new Ingenieur Automatic 40, the five screws now have a technical function – securing the bezel to the case. Furthermore, the functional screws also mean that in terms of aesthetics, the five point recesses are now always in the same position.
Additionally, the dial features a distinctive “Grid” structure, creating a balance to the technical and very sculptural case design. Consisting of small lines offset by 90 degrees to each other, it is stamped into the soft iron blank before it is galvanised. Finally, appliques with luminescence add additional depth and ensure easy legibility, even at night.
Most impressively, the thinner Ingenieur Automatic 40 retains the magnetically resistant feature of the original Ingenieur via soft-iron inner case while still remaining only 10.8mm thin – quite the technical coup. Furthermore, it is powered by the IWC- manufactured 32111 calibre with an automatic pawl winding system and a power reserve of 120 hours. The Ingenieur Automatic 40 is available in three references in stainless steel: black, silver plated and aqua dial.
New IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40 Price & Specs
Case 40mm stainless steel with 100 metres water resistance
Movement Automatic Calibre 32111 with 120 hours power reserve
IWC’s Chief Design Officer Christian Knoop discusses Remaking the beloved IWC Ingenieur
What is the significance of the Ingenieur?
More than any other watch, the Ingenieur embodies IWC’s engineering spirit and the brand’s strictly technical and design-oriented approach. It was initially developed for professionals such as engineers, physicists and doctors, whose work exposed them to strong magnetic fields. The first Ingenieur, Reference 666, was a technical milestone. It was powered by the 8531 calibre, the first automatic movement developed in-house by IWC with the highly efficient Pellaton winding system. A soft- iron inner cage effectively shielded the movement from magnetic fields. This technology had originally been developed for the Pilot’s Watch Mark 11, a professional navigation watch engineered in 1948 for the British Royal Air Force.
In 1976, IWC unveiled the Ingenieur SL – a new, completely revised version of the Ingenieur, designed by the well- known Geneva watch designer Gérald Genta. What was so outstanding about his achievement?
The first Ingenieur, launched in the 1950s, had a round and rather understated case. Thanks to Gérald Genta’s inspired contribution, the watch finally had a face. For the Ingenieur SL, Reference 1832, he relied on bold aesthetic cues such as a screw-on bezel with five recesses, a checkerboard-pattern dial and an integrated bracelet with H-links. These gave the watch its distinctive character and made it instantly recognisable. Genta thus achieved something we might refer to today as strategic development of the product’s DNA. Using these pronounced, recognisable design cues, IWC has been able to vary the Ingenieur slightly again and again over many decades without sacrificing Gérald Genta’s artistic signature.
Why didn’t IWC simply reissue the original?
Initially, we discussed that idea but quickly discarded it because merely reissuing a historical design does not fit in with our aspirations for the Ingenieur collection. As engineers and designers, continuously improving and perfecting something that already exists is our DNA. Evelyne Genta, Gérald Genta’s long-time spouse, business partner and founder of the Gérald Genta Heritage Association, told us her husband was constantly developing his ideas and refused to cling to old designs. Ultimately, that encouraged us to take the Ingenieur SL as the starting point for a new and contemporary interpretation.
And where did this journey lead?
The result is the Ingenieur Automatic 40. The new automatic model reflects the unique character of the iconic design from the 1970s while meeting the highest possible ergonomic and aesthetic demands. We’ve spent years fine-tuning the proportions of the case and perfecting it down to the tiniest detail. And we must remember that manufacturing techniques have made huge strides forward since the 1970s. The new Ingenieur has an astonishingly high level of detail and outstanding quality in processing and finishing – evidenced, among other things, by the combination of polished and satin- finished surfaces.
How did you set about improving the ergonomics of the Ingenieur?
Our aim was to make a perfectly proportioned 40-millimetre case that would ensure the watch fitted snugly even on a slim wrist. So, over the years, we have produced countless prototypes in steel, continually checking how they feel on the wrist and further improving the case proportions. The Ingenieur SL had a relatively wide bracelet and nose-shaped horns that increased the length of the case. That is why we developed a new middle-link attachment, which is aesthetically comparable but more ergonomic, providing a better fit on the wrist. Another factor is the slight curve in the case ring, which further improves the ergonomics.
The distinctive bezel is one of the central features of Genta’s design. How did IWC adapt it for the new Ingenieur?
We spent a lot of time tweaking the bezel’s proportions and finishing. The most obvious difference, however, is that we have used genuine polygonal screws. For the Ingenieur SL, the bezel with the five recesses was simply screwed onto the case ring. The position of the recesses was purely random, and they were never in the same place. I’m a perfectionist, so that always bothered me. With the Ingenieur Automatic 40, five screws now secure the bezel to the case ring. The screws have a technical function and, as a result, are always in the same position.
One of the striking features of the Ingenieur is the dial with its relief-like structure. How did you enhance this part?
Similar to Reference 1832, the Ingenieur Automatic 40 features a dial with a structure that we now call “grid”. The pattern consists of lines offset by 90 degrees to each other and stamped into the soft-iron blank before it is galvanised. It covers the entire inner area of the dial, while the outer area around the chapter ring remains smooth. We also painstakingly balanced the proportions of the IWC logo and its position on the dial and alignment with the Grid down to thousandths of a millimetre. Finally, appliques with luminescence ensure great legibility, even at night.
What else have you perfected?
We have optimised countless details you would hardly notice at first glance. For instance, the upper parts of the bracelet now contain closed links without visible pins. This feature not only enhances its overall quality but also underscores the superb finish. The integration of a clean, simple butterfly folding clasp gives full rein to the beauty of the bracelet. Another example is the slightly curved front glass. It is even more finely tuned to the overall proportions of the watch, underscoring its value and sophistication.
What was the creative process was like for you and your team?
It’s not every day that a designer gets the chance to work on reinterpreting an icon like the Ingenieur SL. Gérald Genta’s achievement deserves the utmost respect. We were aware of the enormous responsibility it entailed and proceeded very cautiously. We discussed every visible change intensively and asked ourselves whether we could justify certain specific interventions. But when Evelyne Genta told us her husband would certainly have approved of the new Ingenieur Automatic 40, it felt like a well-deserved reward for all the passion and hard work that had gone into the project.
IWC’s Sales and Marketing Director Hannes Pantli on collaborating with Genta for the Ingenieur SL
How did you start working with Gérald Genta on the Ingenieur SL?
The “new Ingenieur” project was underway in the late 1960s. The plan was to use a new case that would underscore the technical characteristics of the Ingenieur even more sharply. Gérald Genta was working as a freelance watch designer at the time and IWC approached him in the early 1970s with a request to redesign the Ingenieur. After a development phase of around four years, we finally unveiled the new Ingenieur SL at the 1976 Basel Watch Fair. It became the flagship of the SL Collection, which also included models like the Polo Club and the Golf Club.
What did the initials “SL” stand for?
They did not have any specific meaning. For the Italians, it meant “Super Lusso”, for the French “Super Luxe”. But you could also have interpreted it as “steel” and “luxury”. To be honest, we never actually committed ourselves, and that is why there’s never been an official answer to the question. The truth is that we were inspired by a well-known model produced by a German car manufacturer.
Was the Ingenieur SL the success you’d hoped for?
From a design point of view, the Ingenieur SL was a totally new departure. But it was never a commercial success. The fact we’d used our 8541-calibre movement made the watch too bulky for the time. That is the reason why it was also nicknamed “Jumbo”. Another factor was the relatively high price of 2000 Francs. We later produced a bicolored version of the Ingenieur SL in stainless steel and gold, as well as a model with a quartz movement. Altogether, we made just under 1000 of them. The Ingenieur SL was unquestionably ahead of its time.
How would you assess Gérald Genta’s work and the Ingenieur SL today?
The famous steel sports watches designed by Genta in the 1970s, of which the Ingenieur SL is one, represent a new era in watch design. On the one hand, he created a new and independent formal idiom. On the other, luxury sports watches made of steel were an entirely new product category for the Swiss watch industry. Never before had stainless-steel models been selling at such high prices. It took a good bit of nerve for us, as watch manufacturers, to offer something like that.
How would you sum up the 1970s?
It was an exciting time, and lots of changes were taking place. But it was also a constant struggle for survival. We did everything we could and clutched at any straw to keep IWC alive. We had good ideas but often no money. And without finance, it is difficult to implement a strategy properly, especially when you need to keep a company with 150 employees afloat. Although we were also manufacturing quartz watches back then, it gradually became clear to management that IWC could only guarantee its long-term future with high-quality mechanics.
What happened next at IWC Schaffhausen?
Following the takeover by VDO Adolf Schindling and the appointment of Günter Blümlein as CEO, IWC had an experienced man at the helm. In 1985, we launched the perpetual calendar, developed by our master watchmaker Kurt Klaus. And in 1990, with the “Grande Complication”, we had reached the pinnacle of Haute Horlogerie. By the late 1970s already, I had also been working with our then Technical Director to pave the way for the cooperation with Ferdinand Alexander Porsche. This helped us to make better use of the company’s production capacity. The collaboration with Porsche Design finally led to the development of our first wristwatch in titanium and marked the foundation of the unique expertise in case materials that remains the hallmark of IWC Schaffhausen to this day.