IWC: A Classic Reinvented

by Jamie Tan

The legendary Ingenieur SL Ref. 1832 returns in a new guise with various updates for the contemporary connoisseur.

IWC has unveiled a new time-only Ingenieur model: the Ingenieur Automatic 40. Sized at 40 millimetres like its inspiration, the Ingenieur SL Ref. 1832, the model marks the return of the archetypal luxury steel sports watch to IWC’s portfolio. This is the strongest throwback to Ref. 1832 in quite some time, with a total of four references available – three in steel and the final one in titanium.

Ingenieur Ref. 666 from 1956

An IWC Icon

Less a monolithic icon and more a line that’s been constantly evolving, the Ingenieur has seen continual updates through a series of iterations, with each serving as a reflection of its respective zeitgeist. The very first Ingenieur timepiece, Ref. 666, was introduced in 1955 as IWC’s first anti-magnetic wristwatch for civilian use.

Conceived for professionals such as engineers, Ref. 666 was equipped with a soft iron inner case to protect its movement from strong magnetic fields that its wearers were routinely expected to face. Design wise, the watch had a modest round case, which would also be seen in the second-generation Ingenieur, 1967’s Ref. 866.

Towards the end of the 1960s, IWC’s management began mulling the idea of developing a “new, heavy Ingenieur Steel model”. The project to create such a watch was launched in 1969, with the new Ingenieur slated to feature a shock protection system that would make it even more robust than before. At the same time, a new case design to further emphasise the model’s technical nature was also being explored, albeit with little headway in the early 1970s due to the prototypes’ failure to withstand impact tests.

Ingenieur SL Ref. 1832

IWC subsequently sought the expertise of Gérald Genta – then a freelance watch designer – who delivered his concept in 1974. Genta envisioned a bold steel watch that conveyed its technical slant variously through features such as a sporty integrated bracelet, as well as a rugged bezel with five evenly-spaced recesses.

As it turned out, his involvement in the project coincided with broader shifts in the Swiss watch market, which was then facing both the Quartz Crisis and rising gold prices. These factors prompted IWC to develop the SL line of steel timepieces in that same period, with Genta’s design realised as the Ingenieur SL Ref. 1832 to serve as the new collection’s flagship model.

Launched in 1976, Ref. 1832 was big and bold at 40 millimetres, which quickly earned it the nickname of “Jumbo”. Unfortunately, it would prove to be too far ahead of its time – fewer than 1,000 pieces were sold between 1976 and 1983. Interest in this watch, however, spiked in the 1990s, and Ref. 1832 is one of the most sought-after IWC watches today.

A Landmark Reinterpreted

Ref. IW328902: Stainless steel case, silver-plated dial, rhodium-plated hands and appliques, integrated stainless steel bracelet with butterfly folding clasp.

In retrospect, Genta’s design work for IWC turned out to be the watershed that would define the Ingenieur as a line. “Genta thus achieved something we might refer to today as strategic development of the product’s DNA,” opines Christian Knoop, IWC’s Chief Design Officer.

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.

Christian Knoop, Chief Design Officer of IWC Schaffhausen

Ref. IW328901: Stainless steel case, black dial, rhodium-plated hands and appliques, integrated stainless steel bracelet with butterfly folding clasp.

Indeed, Genta’s design language for Ref. 1832 would go on to inform IWC’s approach towards the Ingenieur since. From dressier variants that appeared in the mid-1990s to the more motoring-focused models of the early 2010s, Ingenieur timepieces remain centred on the precedent set by Genta. In this respect, the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 is much like its predecessors. It adheres far more closely to Ref. 1832’s design than any recent reference though. Still, rather than reissuing the original timepiece, IWC’s design and technical teams have worked to improve on it, to present a contemporary version of Genta’s original vision.

As the spiritual successor to Ref. 1832, the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 maintains more than just the size and bold aesthetic codes of the original. Note the bezel, for a start. On Ref. 1832, the bezel was screwed into the case middle, and its five recesses’ positions would vary from watch to watch. The Ingenieur Automatic 40, however, uses actual screws to secure the bezel to the case middle. The same five elements on the bezel are now functional – and their positions remain consistent across every watch.

Ref. IW328903: Stainless steel case, aqua dial, rhodium-plated hands and appliques, integrated stainless steel bracelet with polished centre links and butterfly folding clasp.

Ref. IW328904

Elsewhere, the case middle, lugs, and integrated bracelet have been tweaked as well, to ensure a more comfortable fit on the wrist. To create a more robust timepiece, the Ingenieur Automatic 40’s right case flank now has gently sloping crown “guards” too. While this feature was seen in some Ingenieur models in the past, it was not a part of Ref. 1832’s design, and is thus another detail that has evolved from the original.

The Ingenieur Automatic 40 is available in steel with three dial colourways: black, silver, and aqua. With their matching integrated bracelets, these timepieces symbolise IWC’s return to Ref. 1832’s spirit and aesthetic.

The brand has taken things further with a fourth reference in Grade 5 Titanium, which comes with a grey dial. Arguably a more technical material than good ol’ steel, titanium confers the familiar benefits of being lighter yet stronger, while also being hypoallergenic and quickly adapting to its wearer’s body temperature. Consider this variant an update to the classic – that will quickly win fans over, naturally.

Related Links:

Understanding the Luxury Steel Sports Watch

IWC Schaffhausen: Band of Gold

IWC Schaffhausen: A New Dawn

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