Gerald Genta’s influence on modern watch design can hardly be overstated. Our man Rivoira penned an excellent history of the watchmaker’s work, focusing on the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus. Franz’s post skips over this watch: the 1976 Genta-designed IWC Ingenieur. A timepiece that started life in 1955 as an anti-magnetic watch for scientists. Which was just as well as . . .
IWC assigned it reference 666. The Ingenieur’s engineers may not have been religious types, but they approached the task of shielding a mechanical watch from harmful magnetism with scientific zeal.
They constructed the watch’s case out of soft iron – a horological Farady cage – protecting the movement against magnetic fields up to [a then-astounding] 80,000 amperes per meter (A/m). The design team fitted the watch with the world’s first bi-directional automatic movement and sealed the deal with 100m water resistance.
IWC wasn’t alone in its pursuit of an anti-magnetic mechanical watch. The similarly shielded Rolex Milgauss predates the first Ingenieur by a year. The biggest difference between the two: style.
As always, Hans Wilsdorf’s Rolex had the edge on both wrist appeal and marketing muscle – the Milgauss’ name and the electric bolt seconds hand expressed the watch’s mission profile in no uncertain terms. Not to mention the Rolex’s unmistakable Rolexness.
It’s not known if any English-speaking buyers were put off by the similarity between “Ingenieur” and “ingénue,” but the IWC’s moniker didn’t have quite same oomph as the Milgauss. Despite its this-way-and-that logo, the IWC Ingenieur looked like . . . a watch.
In 1967, IWC revamped the design. According to the watchmaker’s modern-day product page, the refresh “mostly retained the basic concept of a rugged, water-resistant and absolutely anti-magnetic watch with a round case, but it had a fresher, sportier and more contemporary touch with different dials and hands.”
The ’67 Ingenieur was still round-faced, still attached to the same bracelet. But it ditched dress watch elegance for a field/pilot watch vibe. No surprise there: IWC was enjoying success with watches in both genres.
If a mechanical watch becomes magnetized, it has to be demagnetized before it will keep accurate time. A quartz watch isn’t anti-magnetic per se, but it “recovers” from strong magnetism as soon as the force is gone. Walk away, reset the time and Bob’s your uncle.
In the 70’s, nerdy people who had good cause to fear magnetism’s effect on their watch (e.g., scientists, engineers and performers of close-in magic) could buy an inexpensive quartz watch and not worry about getting amped-up. Meanwhile, anti-magnetic tool watch flexers flocked to the Rolex Milgauss. Other mechanical watchmakers added anti-magnetic protection at no extra charge.
The Ingenieur’s unique selling point was not so unique.
In 1976, the German watchmaker turned to Gerald Genta to breathe new life into the moribund line.
Genta penned the 40mm IWC Ingenieur four years after he imagined the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1972) and the same year he convinced Patek Philippe to launch the Nautilus (1976).
You’d be forgiven for thinking the 1976 IWC Ingenieur is the AP and Patek’s love child. The Ingenieur got mother AP’s rivets, checkerboard dial and “Jumbo” cushion case, and papa Patek’s H-link integrated bracelet and flattened bezel.
Unlike the Royal Oak or the Nautilus, the Ingenieur’s design failed to ignite public adulation or condemnation. It was aggressively inoffensive. Or inoffensively aggressive. Either way, IWC made the model in anti-magnetic, non-anti-magnetic and quartz editions.
In other words, IWC tossed the Ingenieur’s raison d’etre out the window – in much the same way the recently released 40mm Portugieser turns its back on the original model’s defining size and pocket-watch derived movement.
All three flavors of the “new” Ingenieur flopped. All-in, IWC made only a thousand Genta-designed versions.
In 1989, IWC went back to the drawing board again, deploying exotic materials (e.g., niobium-zirconium 25) to create an watch that could withstand a world record 3.7m A/m. But not for long – reliability was an issue. IWC sold three thousand examples, many of which boomeranged back to base.
In 2013 . . . nah. Let’s skip the rest of the updates with their tourbillons, perpetual calendars, chronographs and other trinkety bits. Let’s fast forward to the $6139 modern day IW357002 above – the watch that “most closely resembles the Ingenieur models of the 1950s.”
The IWC product page doesn’t contain any mention of the 40mm watch’s anti-magnetic capability. What does that tell you? It tells me that Gerald Genta’s design outlived whatever usefulness it once had. It was not the Italian/Swiss horologist’s most electrifying work, nor his finest hour.