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Interview: Christian Knoop, IWC Creative Director On 2020 US IWC Novelties

Early this year, on a special preview of 2020 IWC novelties, we took the chance to talk watch design, perfect fake IWC heritage and future, and all things watchmaking with Christian Knoop, IWC’s Creative Director. At the time, all novelties had been under strict embargo — since then the covers have been lifted and you can re-familiarize yourself with them by visiting our IWC page. Without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Christian Knoop: The Portugieser is, as you know, one of our most renowned collections, dating back to the 1930s, building on our reputation in marine chronometers. We actually started with the Royal Navy in 1917-1918, and the technology of these accurate movements have started the history of the Portugieser. A pocket watch movement was built into a wristwatch, which opened the way for us to really build our most prestigious line of the collection, dedicating it to our manufacture movements. We are excited to have the entire Portugieser collection with in-house movements with a re-design of the Portugieser Chronograph and its caliber 69. We were very cautious with the overall design with some minor changes to the case and the dial, including the addition of a new logo that we originally debuted in 2013.
Christian Knoop: It is new in the sense that the old logo had a serif in the Schaffhausen, and the new logo that now everyone sees as the current logo was a minor change based on enhanced readability. By bringing the Schaffhausen into something a bit more compact, with a sans serif font, and placing it closer to IWC, we improved the readability in applications such as sponsorships, boutiques, and so on. We also enhanced the readability of technical prints on dials, because once you don’t have the little serifs, it is better for legibility and the accuracy of printing on select surfaces. It looks crisper and more modern, which was the whole idea behind that. The new replica Portugieser Chronograph was among the last to receive this change.

Christian Knoop

In terms of functions, it’s a proper replica IWC Perpetual. It’s based on the Kurt Klaus design, it’s programmed to 2499, and it’s fully synchronized across its indications without any corrector pushers in the case. We decided to have a smaller moon phase, lower the power reserve to 48 hours from seven days, and a leap year display in place of a four-digit year display. These modifications show that the Portugieser Perpetual 42 is not competing with the 44, but rather complements it.
The hierarchy really shows when you have all these novelties next to each other: the Automatic with one, the Chrono with two, the Perpetual 42 with three, and the big Perpetual 44 with four sub-dials. Price-wise, the Perpetual 42 is also offered in steel, which is not something that we do with the big Perpetual, so this comes just below £20,000 ($22,900).
Christian Knoop: There are three key drivers behind this new line. First, the manufacture calibers. We want to have all the watches featuring crystal backs showing off our manufacture movements — except for special editions, of course. We really have an assortment of movements — with the 69 chronograph, with the 82 automatic, with the 52 Big Automatic 7 Days, with Caliber 89 flyback chrono — that is extremely strong and is on a level to allow us to provide this eight-year warranty. That’s a major achievement.
Secondly, we really wanted to make the Portugieser a contemporary line, emphasizing the fact that a watch like this has a design inspired by the past, but it nevertheless looks modern and contemporary. The yachting and brand partnership pieces (to be launched later this year) further stress this, as they are not just pointing back to the past, but make a contemporary sailing statement. It’s really about being modern with timeless aesthetics to fall back on.
Third, we have identified some strategic gaps in the collection for a small automatic. We had similar designs but in hand-wound pieces that were all-around 43mm, thus limiting the clientèle. We clearly identified what the range should be, how the larger and smaller perpetuals fit in, and how the Portugieser Automatic 40 adds beautifully to that. When you see these all sitting together, you appreciate how they all blend seamlessly with the core DNA of the Portugieser collection.

Steel Replica IWC Portugieser Watch

Christian Knoop: Yes, the best replica Yacht Club is now also revised, you could call it a third generation. I’m still wearing the 1st generation Yacht Club, one of the first watches I got my hands on when I joined IWC 12 years ago. We launched the first-gen in 2010, and we’ve now revised the design to make it slightly (1mm) smaller, improving wearability without losing the character. We also reviewed its proportions — to make the bezel slightly slimmer, the dial has its date moved to the 6 o’clock, producing better balance with the Yacht Club logo at 9. We also removed the big red stop hand [chronograph hand] and just installed a small red seconds hand; we believe this adds up to something that looks even classier.
Christian Knoop: Absolutely. We created this bracelet because we believe there is a potential for steel bracelet watches from IWC. Again, wearability was a key concern for us: it is a steel bracelet with a fine adjustment system that offers 5mm of travel, making this bold watch sit very comfortable on the wrist.
Christian Knoop: That’s a good question and one that I’m not able to answer to the full extent. We had 12 bar with the Ingenieurs of the time, and this sat between those and the 3 bar we had on the rest of the watches. What we found is that 6 bar, which is 60-meter equivalent is a solid level of resistance to use it for swimming, snorkeling, even for easy diving. Especially in this yachting environment, where it is designed for jumping in the water and not have to worry about the piece. It’s a robust watch.

Fake IWC Portugieser Watch With Tourbillon

Christian Knoop: Yeah, that’s a great-looking piece. The thing is that this look is so popular and so visible at the moment. For sure, we have thought about bringing the Ingenieur back, but this maybe is not the ideal point in time. This will appear like a kind of AP-copy to most of the people who are not that familiar with the history, and that even includes some of our customers who have been fans and connoisseurs of our other designs. We are watching this and we think about a historic Ingenieur a lot, but I don’t think it’s the right time to come up with something like this.
Christian Knoop: Yeah. As we discussed a few minutes ago, we have addressed the absence of bracelet watches and we are to be bringing out bracelets on all core collections. But we rather introduce something like the Yacht Club, than to try and go with all the others on the all-steel watches from the seventies.
Christian Knoop: Yes, we are going with two-tone for now. Titanium — we’ll have to see, as the Portugieser is not a titanium collection, but on other technical collections, I certainly wouldn’t exclude that.
Christian Knoop: When you look at our Portugieser 2020 collection, it really shows how we work. We are very serious about respecting our DNA, however, we have been able to add interesting elements to it. We create a new look, new partnerships, new movements, new complications such as the Moon & Tide — all this is within the realms of Portugieser, but with all these additions. This was exactly one of the challenges, we saw how well-established the Portugieser had already been from simple chronograph to high-end complications…. “What shall we do with that?” When you look closer, you see that we have nevertheless been able to improve upon these as individual products, where everyone thought it had already been perfect. We enhance wearability — as the size was an issue with some models — and we fill strategic gaps in terms of pricing, and then we add new design flavors with the bracelets, redesigned dials, and collabs such as that with Orlebar Brown or limited lines and boutique editions.

Fake IWC Portugieser Watch With Moon Phase

Christian Knoop: When you look at what IWC stands for in watchmaking, you see that we have a very strong track record of all kinds of chronographs. We are probably one of the brands selling the most chronographs in this segment, we have variations like the double and split chronographs — and so this is one thing that we built on with the Portugieser. The other major thing is, of course, calendars. We are famous for the Kurt Klaus calendar from the 1980s and since then we have continuously expanded the calendar variations that we offered and that applies to the new Portugieser Perpetual Calendar with its triple subdials.
Then you have a very interesting piece with the new Yacht Club that combines our moon phase with a moon and tide function. You have the iconic IWC moon display with both hemispheres, which is an IWC patent, and we enhanced this with spring and neap tide displays. Then at the 6 o’clock position, you have the tide display with a little rotating disc with the tide cycle of about 12 hours and 25 minutes — and when you adjust it to your current location or port location, this will run automatically and show you the next high tide. So now (see image above) the high tide would be at 06:30.
Christian Knoop: Yes, you do only use the crown to adjust all the functionalities of the Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide — a nod towards the renowned crown-only setting of IWC perpetual calendars. And yes, the tide is separate from the date and the phase of the moon. The reason for that is the moon and date being intertwined — but the tide display you will want to adjust according to your current location without interfering with any other function of the watch.
Personally, I’m super excited about this piece because it connects the history of sailing and navigation from the very beginning into something that is a tangible yachting and sailing instrument. We never had this before and we do this in a very recognizable way — because I am not aware of any other watch on the market that combined the moon and the tide this way.