When I was invited to London with IWC for a pre-Watches & Wonders sneak peek at its newest timepieces, I was thrilled. After all, I have been a fan of the brand since the mid-1980’s. I’ve traveled with IWC on some of my greatest adventures (think trap landing and catapulting off of the USS Ronald Regan in the Pacific), and I’ve worked closely on breaking news and top-secret articles. Going to London promised more secrets and excitement. IWC didn’t disappoint, especially as the brand unveiled its huge 2023 focus: the regeneration of the Ingenieur SL watches – first designed by the late, great Gerald Genta.
In addition to touring the wonderful city of London, listening as the recently restored Big Ben chimed the time, and indulging in some famed British fish and chips, I was treated to a great individual interview with Mrs. Evelyne Genta, and got a hands-on look at some of Genta’s original drawings and the first Ingenieur SL watch.
Mrs. Genta has established the Gerald Genta Heritage Association, whose efforts were thwarted by the pandemic, but are back on track for later this year (more to come on that front soon). She also spoke of her husband’s love of watches and his design for IWC. (Here, again, this article will be forthcoming soon.)
Back to the IWC event, though. The brand transformed the open space to reflect the 1950’s era of the original Ingenieur watches, and the 1970’s – the era in which Genta redesigned the Ingenieur – breathing new life into the collection and unveiling the Ingenieur SL.
The ’70’s was a period of change and innovation, of technological progress, of the advent of punk and disco and bell bottoms. It was the era that saw the smiley face and big movies like Grease. It was also a time of economic upheaval and inflation – causing the prices of gold to skyrocket. At the same time, IWC Schaffhausen was looking to unveil a sportier stainless steel watch that was more affordable than gold, that could house its recently developed anti-magnetic capabilities (using a soft iron inner case) and that could breathe new life into the Ingenieur.
Interestingly enough, at the same time, in the early 1970’s, Genta –a designer of many watches for other brands, and of his own collection of watches, approached IWC suggesting a redesign of the Ingenieur. Genta valued the importance of the watch bezel and had an affinity for the round case shape – which was, at the time, all the rage. He turned his sites onto the Ingenieur, created a new case, flattened the bezel, added screws, imagined a structured dial and essentially created an all-new Ingenieur.
In 1974, he presented his paintings and sketches to IWC and in 1976 the Ingenieur SL “Jumbo” Reference 1832 watch with new integrated H-link bracelet in steel was born. The 40mm watch retailed for a steep 2,000 Swiss Francs, and was powered by IWC’s automatic movement, caliber 8541 developed by Albert Pellaton, the brand’s technical director. Somehow the Jumbo, as it was lovingly referred to, just didn’t catch on in mainstream popularity and less than 1,000 were made between 1976 and 1983.In the 1990’s, though, when larger watches were trending, the Jumbo got its due. The Ingenieur gained popularity and became a new notch in the proverbial belt for Genta.
“From a design point of view, the Ingenieur SL was a totally new departure. But it was never a commercial success. The fact we’d used our 8541-calibre movement made the watch too bulky for the time. That is the reason why it was also nicknamed ‘Jumbo.’ Another factor was the relatively high price of 2000 Francs,” says Hannes Pantli, then a young sales and marketing employee with IWC and today has a seat on the board. “The Ingenieur SL was unquestionably ahead of its time.”
The New IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40
Now, IWC unveils the newest series of Ingenieur watches – the Ingenieur Automatic 40 — that propels the collection forward now, just as Genta did nearly 50 years ago. The new Ingenieur Automatic 40 is all about ergonomics, modern technology and fine finishings while still reflecting the boldness of Genta’s SL design.
The 40mm watches are powered by the in-house-made IWC 32111 mechanical automatic caliber with a power reserve of 120 hours and a soft-iron inner case to protect it from magnetic fields. Even the case has been reworked for ergonomics with lug-to-lug distance of 45.7mm for comfort and water resistance to 100 meters. The case, the bezel and the bracelet are all finished with a combination of satin and polished surfaces.
Easily one of the striking elements of the new watch is the grid-pattern dial and the fact that the screws on the bezel – a signature of Genta’s original – are functional polygonal screws that screw the bezel to the case. The hands and markers glow in the dark thanks to their luminescent coating. There are several versions of the new stainless steel Ingenieur Automatic 40 watch, including one with a black grid dial, a silver-plated grid dial and a stunning aqua/green dial. The stainless steel watches retail for $11,700. There is also a single titanium version with a silver gray grid dial that sells for $14,600.
According to Christian Knoop, IWC’s Chief Design Officer, the decision to evolve the original design instead of reissuing an historical piece was a conscious one on the part of the brand. “As engineers and designers, continuously improving and perfecting something that already exists is our DNA. Evelyne Genta, Gérald Genta’s long-time spouse, business partner and founder of the Gérald Genta Heritage Association, told us her husband was constantly developing his ideas and refused to cling to old designs. Ultimately, that encouraged us to take the Ingenieur SL as the starting point for a new and contemporary interpretation. … We’ve spent years fine-tuning the proportions of the case and perfecting it down to the tiniest detail.”