The coolest thing about the IWC Manufakturzentrum in Shaffhausen, Switzerland is not its sleek modern facade, cutting-edge fabrication equipment or the centuries-old know-how possessed by its legion of watchmakers. Instead, the most impressive thing about IWC’s new Swiss headquarters is the fact that it remains safely open for tours in 2021.
In-person tours, of course, are on hold for the moment, but IWC isn’t letting a little pandemic stop fans from getting a closer look at its shiny new facility. Instead, would-be visitors are encouraged to take a virtual walkthrough from the comfort of their own homes. Unlike your standard canned virtual tour, this one is actually hosted by a real member of IWC’s team in real time, who is available to answer visitors’ questions and offer additional insight throughout the tour.
“With these newly developed virtual tours, visitors will go on an interactive, personalized, and memorable journey of discovery, bringing them as close as possible to our home in Schaffhausen, no matter where they may be,” says Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC. “Not only will they gain exciting insights into our history and the complex engineering behind our timepieces, but they will also be immersed into the world of IWC in a completely new way,”
Opened in 2018 to coincide with IWC’s 150th anniversary, the new 13,500 square metre Manufakturzentrum features a dramatic horizontal glass facade framed in black and contrasted against its long white rooflines. The tour begins just inside the main doors, in a soaring lobby area with a window overlooking the movement-component production workshop. Here, raw materials are transformed into some 1,500 components, some of which have tolerances of just a few thousandths of a millimetre.
Next, at the nearby electroplating shop, components are coated in nickel and rhodium to prevent corrosion and tarnishing, before being transferred to the movement assembly area. Located in a “clean room,” this is the part of the tour that allows visitors to literally look over the shoulder of watchmakers at their benches. Clad in regulation lab coats and white Birkenstock sandals, each watchmaker sits in front of an array of tools, monitors and component trays as they intently focus on the task of assembling a single movement. Thanks to IWC’s “Cyberloupe” technology, visitors can literally get a watchmaker’s eye view as they use finely calibrated tools to place mainsprings and attach bridges. It’s as close as you can get to a watchmaker’s bench without actually being there, and provides a totally unique perspective on the work of these master craftspeople.
In the case production department, where bars of stainless steel, titanium, platinum, red gold, white gold, and bronze are transformed into cases, bezels and pushers for IWC watches. After being selected from specialized racks along one wall, these metre-long bars are turned and milled into up to 50 individual cases each. Depending on the watch design and the material, this process can take hours. Creating a platinum case for the Portugieser Grande Complication, for example, is particularly time-consuming due to the material’s unique properties and the case’s complex geometry.
From here, components are taken to the surface finishing stage, where they are polished, cleaned and inspected before being united with their movements, exhaustively tested and shipped to eagerly waiting customers around the world. If you’ve read this far, chances are you are already a member of this elite ownership club, or have a notion of becoming one. If that’s the case – or even if you just want to see how the movement of a Portugieser is assembled – this tour will be time well spent.
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