IWC Big Pilot flies high!

By egor Wednesday, 06 April 2016 5:43 PM

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Celebrating the 80th anniversary of its renowned Pilot’s watch collection first presented in 1936, renowned Swiss watchmaker IWC launched new models at SIHH 2016. The Aviamost team headed by Editor-in-Chief, Rita Boustany spoke to IWC’s Regional Brand Director for the Middle East and India, Luc Rochereau during his visit to Dubai to know more about the brand’s novelties and its plans this milestone year especially for its Chinese and Russian clients. He gave a fascinating account of the legendary brand’s iconic collections and their origins 

We are aware that it is the 80th anniversary of IWC’s Pilot watch collection. Please tell us something about its history. 

It’s part of the brand’s family history. The first pilot watch of the collection was first produced at the request of the two sons of the founder who were then studying in Eton in England. Piloting then was an interest of the socialites and aristocracy, just like playing golf and hunting.

To be an efficient pilot then, you would need two instruments in your plane: a compass and a watch as there were no electronics. So they asked him to build a pilot watch from the collection. At that time, the most accurate watch within the Manufacture was a pocket watch. The movements used in the rectangular and square watches were not very reliable. So we had to use the big movement in it. In 1936 it was a big one.

The second movement was in 1940 and it was a big 55mm diameter and so the two watches were together at SIHH was produced for the observer or the man doing the map doing the reconnaissance. The reason it was big was because they need their hands as they were taking pictures and making notes etc so it was on the leg. So it was big to be easy to read. After that we had a long history in Pilot watch as we became a supplier for RAF and all the collections for Mark which was a code name for the sake of confidentiality. And we were probably the first manufacture to transform the Pilot watch as a pure technical instrument as an elegant watch to wear on the wrist.

It now has an extensive line-up ranging from the Big Pilot’s Heritage Watch offered in both 48 and 55 mm sizes to a new Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII and the brand-new Pilot’s Watch Automatic in a 36 mm size presenting something for everyone in a large range of sizes, complications and case materials from stainless steel to gold.

Is this the 18th generation of the Mark collection?

Yes. It is the 18th evolution.

IWC is known for Technical innovation. How does technology affect the mechanism of a watch these days as compared to previous days? 

The decision to choose a watch for a client is based on different motivations the design, the look, the technology but what was most imp for the Pilots watch is accuracy.

Any tourbillion models in the Pilot collection?

There are no tourbillions in the Pilot’s collection as the dial needs to be clear and legible as it is a requirement of the pilots. It should also be very big. And you have to refer to the 12 very quick as the pilot will refer to planes close by saying ‘There is a plane at 3 or 5 o’clock etc’. Its case is protected against magnetism.

The 55mm has 100 pieces. All sold out. I had four for Dubai and they were all sold out. They are pre-ordered. And we put a double strap as it has to be very high. Its case is anti-magnetism. We also did a smaller 48mm of the 55mm and at the back we put a little window of glass to see the power reserve. Normally, if you put glass it won’t protect against magnetism. But we found a way. Some don’t have ant-magnetism as they have gold case and completely glass back etc.

One of the watches I like is the Big Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph Edition Le Petit Prince with annual calendar with blue dial in the back and you have a very nice animation on the back. This is the first time we are having an Annual Calendar in the Big Pilot. And the Big Pilot is an iconic piece. Its case is 46mm diameter.

Also a very interesting technology innovation: we produced a new Timezoner for the Big Pilot. The bezel is connected directly to the movement. If you fly and arrive in a new city, you just turn the bezel and the hour hand will also turn. In order to know if it is am or pm, the red arrow is also connected to the movement. If it is 0 – 6 it is AM and if it is 6 and 12 it’s PM. So we are always looking for new technological ideas.

When I came back I had the chance to welcome one of our brand ambassadors, Fabian Cancellara, one of the most top cyclists in the world, he is a 5-time world champions who is a Olympic medallist. He came for Tour Dubai and we invited some friends and prospects, there was a pilot from Emirates and he felt this watch is amazing. What is amazing is you can go forward and backwards with the date.

So the mechanism is a great complication by itself.

True. It is.

In your stand at SIHH to celebrate the 80th anniversary, you had many celebrities. So what are your plans to promote the collection?

Yes. But you know the aim of a celebrity is they have agenda. And we can do something for a special event or promotion. But it’s a crazy thing to organise. As you know we are one of the main partners of DIFF and BFF. So we try to have them then.

But do you use celebrities in ad campaigns?

We never use in ad campaigns. We are a powerful brand and we are not in a rush and are in it for the long term. So we want motivated peoplel who understand who we are and who are on the same wavelength. This is the most important. 

How much do you benefit from Kurkova as a Russian icon?

We have two brand Russian ambassadors: the three times Olympic winner Russian gymnast Alexei Nemov, who is Vice President of the Olympic Committee as well as ambassador of the charity organisation for Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. And the second is Konstantin Khabensky one of the top three actors in Russia. Both are very well known on the international level. Maybe for DIFF we may ask him to come this year.

IWC is well known as a masculine brand. How much is the women’s line improving?

Now women want to wear sport watches for day and elegant watches for the evening which are elegant and set with diamonds. I can not give you exact perecentage but I can tell you we sold double the amount we expected to sell. For this, for the first time we created Portofino last year, 37mm and it was a great success.

How did the name Portugeiser come about?

Last year we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Portugieser. 76 years ago, two Portugese businessmen came to the Schauffhaussen manufacture and said they want to place an order for a very accurate watch for naval officers. Then there were only two instruments on a boat: a compass and a watch and then you look at the stars, for you need to know the tide, current direction. So we decided to launch a big round watch with big Arabic numbers. At thattime they Before we used to use Roman letters. And it was a big success.

This year at SIHH 2016 we launched a beautiful Perpetual Digital Calendar watch with blue dial. In it, you need all the discs to jump together as this will jump from 29th to 1st directly, passing  two days - 30 and 31 - which requires a lot of energy. It’s a very unique movement. At 6 o’ clock it has a leap year too, a moonphase, the date and the month.

So this year people with this watch benefitted from it as they would have said, ‘Ahh! Finally I made use of it!’  

As it comes once every four years and for only one second, it’s a very precious moment for our clients. The calendar’s extraordinary complexity, which is simple for the user to operate, was developed at IWC by our legendary watchmaker Kurt Klaus who is 82 years. He invented this movement in the 1980’s when there was no computer, just his brain, a paper and a pencil.

It includes two other complications. One is a chronograph, which tells elapsed time and the supreme complication: a minute repeater which audibly chimes the hours, quarter hours and minutes by depressing a pusher on the side of the case.

And the uniqueness of the Perpetual Calendar is you can set all this with just one crown and not have to push any buttons. The year is t 8 o clock, the month, day, date, double moonphase,  Northern and Southern hemisphere, Purely mechanical it has a power reserve of 7 days.

The iPhone has 24 hours power reserve and it is the finest technology. But the Portofino has 8 days power reserve. We also have the Portugieser automatic with 7 days power reserve.

How many years have you been in the Russian market and what do they prefer?

We are there for over 60 yrs. We have archives indicating that Russian clients came to  to buy our watches as each of our watches is numbered. So every 4 - 5 years you have to service it like a car to remove the dust and change the oil just like a car. So when you bring it we identify the watch. So we know the history of each watch worldwide. Our boutiques are doing very well there.

We have a big flashy boutique in the heart of Moscow which is doing well. So we have a variety of clients from across the country which is very big with 12 time zones. What they like about IWC is our brand is of Swiss German origin, they like the technology, reliability and the engineering part of the movement. They like the iconic complications like the Portugese Grande  Complication which has a chronograph, minute repeater and a perpetual calendar in one watch.

They also want super limited editions.

All collectors worldwide, be it Russians or Chinese or any international client who buy from all over the world want limited and exclusive collections. And we are an international brand, so we seek to give them the same experience, same collections and the same level of service wherever they buy an IWC watch.

How important are the Russian and Chinese clients here in the UAE?

It is very important. As you know Dubai’s tourism sector is very important so we welcome both a lot.

IWC is powerful in Russia and it is one of the top three brands in China, so we have very well trained people. Less Russians because of the economic situation which is slowly getting better. But the Chinese flow is the same. They know exactly what they want. We have well trained sales people. Three in The Dubai Mall one in Abu Dhabi. We have same sales people as it’s very important for us to have same people as we have very loyal Chinese clients who visit us whenever they come.

Watches and Wonders is one of the most important horology events in Asia. Tell us about your participation in it.

We are one of the main brands at Watches & Wonders. But IWC also have very nice boutiques in China, in Beijing we have an amazing flagship boutiques and Shanghai. In Heritage Hong Kong we have a very nice boutique. Everyone knows IWC. They travel all over the world and also visit our Manufacture in . It is just 30 minutes from Zurich. So we welcome  Chinese clients on a regular basis at our Manufacture.

Tell us about your participationin the International Beijing Film Festival. Last year you launched a new collection. Are you going to launch any collection this year?

This I don’t know, I will have to ask my Chinese colleague. Last year was a great success.

Tell us about the Chinese brand ambassador. What do you see in her that represents the brand?

She is very elegant person. If you speak to her you will find she has this class and elegance which is important to IWC. If you see this year’s Pilot collection you will see it is a very elegant collection of watches. Before it was a very technical instrument but now it is a very elegant collection of watches. 

How would you compare Russian and Chinese markets?

IWC has Chinese clients in Eurpoe for many years maybe not as many as Russia. But we are selling watches in Hong Kong for many many years. It has a huge tradition of Swiss watches and especially IWC.

What are your strategies?

Our strategy is exactly what I explained. We are an international brand and we have clients all over the world. Our market is not one country but all the countries is we have clients all over the world.

Do you have any specific collection for Chinese taste?

The Chinese embrace IWC collections and they like old brands. Some people say you should do small watches for Chinese but I know a lot of Chinese they like big watches. And we are selling big IWC watches. Our aim is to propose the IWC experience to all our clients.

We are an international brand and we have clients from all over the world. This is 100%. So one thing common is all our clients travel worldwide whether they are Russians, Lebanese or Chinese.

They are global citizens.

Correct. They travel. So they want to have the same experience to find good people and good locations we need to bring the same experience as that at the Manufacture. You know the easiest thing to do is to bring them all to our Manufacture. Where you have the perception of value of the work of our watchmakers who are located there.

Our watches are all purely mechanical, all are made by hand inside and it takes hours to make. As a watchmaker you need to go to school for four years, if you want to work on your first complicated watch it is another four years, if you are selected by our Manufacture. So its eight  years.

So the job of our team is to tell client’s this and it helps if you have a nice boutique. So we are very proud of our boutique in The Dubai Mall which has one of the biggest collections worldwide, a big window, skylight and a very nice lounge too. We have one of our most exceptional pieces, the Portugieser Sidérale Scafusia. It is the most exclusive and complicated mechanical watch ever made by IWC. On the back of the watch you have a Perpetual Calendar with a map of the stars that you decide. You have to give the GPS position of the stars of the place where you come from at 15 meters precise.

We will design, actually it’s a professor from the University of Zurich who will design a map of the stars at the back of the watch. And it will give the exact time and position of the stars in your place. We are the only Manufacture to do this. It took the project team at IWC  10 years to develop and build this spectacular masterpiece. On its reverse is a fabulous astrolabe calculated precisely to reflect the owner’s wishes.

You can choose platinum or white gold and the dial colour on order. Only one watchmaker in our Manufacture does it and he is a superstar. It houses a unique movement and takes one year to produce by order. So you can have a whole new experience.

Thank you.