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Watches & Wonders 2023: IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40 – The Long-Awaited Return

Watches & Wonders 2023: IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40 – The Long-Awaited Return

10. April 2023

Looking back on the past is a habit that mankind has grown fond of. Because the future is always uncertain, because the experiences of the past have shaped us, and because once familiar times begin to fade from memory over the years. Moreover, we live in a time in which the designs of Gérald Genta are considered ground-breaking. The word ‘icon’ is sometimes overused, but Genta has undeniably designed several such icons in watchmaking history. There’s the Royal Oak from Audemars Piguet (1972) and the Nautilus from Patek Philippe (1976). In addition to their enormous prestige, they have both brought the respective manufacturers huge profits. The fact that the IWC Ingenieur, with its unmistakably Genta aesthetic from 1976, longer existed was therefore difficult to comprehend.

It was a bit like Porsche Design and its Chronograph 1: you once had a model that had a profound impact on the brand, yet you decided not to keep it in your range. But just as with Porsche Design, it is fair to say that IWC never forgot the watch. Which is why the return of ‘the Jumbo’ is finally being celebrated in 2023, and in no less than four variations. The Ingenieur Automatic 40 will no doubt delight fans of the original model with its familiar appearance, while simultaneously taking on a new identity as a completely different, contemporary watch.

A piece of IWC history: nothing too difficult for the Ingenieur

In the here and now, the Ingenieur SL Reference 1832, designed by Gérald Genta and presented in 1976, appears to be pretty typical IWC. Incidentally, the abbreviation ‘SL’ can be traced back to the words ‘steel’ and ‘luxury’, or reinterpreted as ‘super luxe’ in French. But the company and its range of watches were not always managed as cleanly and stringently as they are today under CEO Chris Grainger-Herr. Today, core collections such as the Portugieser and Portofino and also the pilot’s watches are perfectly positioned, and the differences between each model series is clear, making it easy to market effectively. In the past, however, the design and brand philosophy was not quite as sophisticated – and not only at IWC.

The Genta Ingenieur shown in this story is therefore only one of several rather different Ingenieur variants. The first Ingenieur ever launched in 1955, for example, was a fairly classic three-hand watch with a leather strap. Or as Christian Knoop, IWC’s current Chief Design Officer, says: ‘It had a round, discreet and rather unobtrusive case.’ The Ingenieur did not lend aesthetic distinction to Gérald Genta until some twenty years later. Knoop: ‘For the Ingenieur SL, Reference 1832, he relied on powerful aesthetic codes such as a screw-on bezel with five recesses, a chessboard patterned dial and an integrated bracelet with H-links. These gave the watch an independent character and very high recognition value. With this, Genta achieved what today would be called a strategic development of the product DNA.’

At the time, however, even the Genta Ingenieur was just another new design, albeit an extremely successful one within the Ingenieur SL family, and the era of hype watches was still a long way off. That’s why, allegedly, just over 500 examples of the Reference 1832 were produced between 1976 and 1984. These are models that today are traded for tens of times their former selling price of around 2,800 German marks – if one ever comes onto the vintage market. At the same time, the Ingenieur collection has played a rather niche role in the IWC cosmos. Only four models – two three-hand watches with leather straps, a chronograph and a chronograph with a digital perpetual calendar in red gold – were in the range until the presentation of the new Ingenieur Automatic 40. The Ingenieur in general and ‘the Jumbo’, in particular, have much of the product DNA mentioned by Knoop that is so characteristic of IWC. On the one hand, the name ‘Ingenieur’ describes the target group of the economic miracle achievers, the engineers, doctors and physicists to whom the watch was to be sold and for whom the movement was equipped with an inner cage made of soft iron to protect it from magnetic fields. But it is also an expression of the technical-perfectionist engineering approach with which watches are fundamentally conceived at IWC: namely, engineer-driven, with a high degree of functionality and reliability, and a drive for progress included. In Schaffhausen, more artistic manoeuvres are gladly left to the aesthetes of the Vallée de Joux.

Four timepieces for the future: the Ingenieur Automatic 40 editions

Naturally, IWC did not simply dig out the plans from the archives and recreate the past. For this new Ingenieur, nothing was too tricky for the team. Rather, it was clear: the new interpretation of a Genta design must also be in keeping with the original. At first glance, the new ones are therefore typical Genta. Like the Ingenieur SL, the current model has a diameter of 40 mm. The typical design codes have of course been retained. In terms of detail, however, the Genta design has been brought visually and technically into the year 2023. While the historical bracelet of the Ingenieur was satin-finished, the surfaces are now deliberately both satin-finished and polished. For the dials, on the other hand, the focus has been entirely on the grid pattern with high recognition value, while the Genta-Ingenieur was also available with a plain black dial. The pattern is stamped into the metal dial blank before undergoing galvanic treatment. In future, customers will be able to choose between three variants, the pattern being either black, silver or ‘aqua’, which is the name of a green-blue hue that is perhaps downright fashionable compared to the other two models, but gives the watch a very fresh, summery appearance.

It was precisely this color that was particularly popular after the presentation at Watches & Wonders in Geneva, and was only surpassed by the fourth Ingenieur variant: In addition to the steel variants, IWC also presented an Ingenieur made of titanium with a light gray dial, which is around 40 percent lighter. Titanium watches have a certain history at IWC, which presented the world’s first titanium wristwatch, the IWC Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph, in 1980. The new Titan Ingenieur is fully in keeping with this tradition and features outstanding finishing and a highly comfortable feel.

According to Christian Knoop, a lot of time has been invested into refining the proportions and finishing of the design-defining bezel, as well as in improving the watch’s ergonomics in general. The new Ingenieur Automatic 40, for example, uses real polygonal screws to fix the bezel to the case ring. Unlike in the past, the alignment of the screws can be carefully controlled, giving the watch a more harmonious overall appearance. In addition, the case ring is slightly curved, which should make the watch more snug on the wrist, and thanks to a new middle-link lug that replaces the ones on the Ingenieur SL, the new Jumbo now fits better and should also be easy to wear on narrower wrists.

The engine: Calibre 32111

The Ingenieur Automatic 40 is equipped with calibre 32111, a manufacture calibre from the 32000 series family. This caliber is also found in the much smaller Portofino Automatic 37, for example, and variants of this caliber are also used in models of other corporate brands from Cartier to Panerai. Especially in view of the Ingenieur‘s rather high retail price, fans of the Ingenieur had hoped for something of higher quality here. Like the original Ingenieur from the 1950s, this modern movement has an inner case made of soft iron. Key term: magnetic field protection. It has a power reserve of five days. The new case in which the calibre 32111 is installed is 10.8 mm high and the distance between the lugs is 45.7 mm, according to IWC. It is water-resistant to 10 bar, similar to what the Genta Ingenieur already offered.

Why is this Ingenieur so important for IWC?

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that the Gérald Genta history alone is likely to boost sales. What is certain is that the designer created watches as early as the 1970s that are more in demand than ever in the 21st century. The category of the sporty as well as elegant watch with metal bracelet fits better with the casual, streetwear-influenced fashion of today. That’s why the Ingenieur Automatic 40 fills a gap in the IWC repertoire with a model that would be convincing even without a reference to the past.

But for whom is the new one the right one? For Genta disciples, the IWC will join Royal Oak and Nautilus in completing the trio of great steel luxury sports watches of the 1970s in their respective contemporary interpretations. Assuming that this type of collecting approach is the exception rather than the rule, one can be sure that, with a retail price of 12,900 euros for the steel models and even 15,900 euros for the titanium variant, this Ingenieur is a very confidently priced offer to all those who appreciate a steel, dynamic three-hand watch with a distinctive design and great elegance. Sure, other Genta watches are even more expensive, but for comparison, Rolex’s new titanium Yachtmaster sells for 13,800 euros list price.
With a silver dial, this Ingenieur is the classiest, with black it is the most dynamic, and in “Aqua”, on the other hand, it sets itself off the most and is likely to sparkle most beautifully on the beach in the sunlight. The titanium version, on the other hand, is the most unusual; it has the most technical look and feel.

It is a watch that lives up to its name, ‘Ingenieur’. It convinces with its quality, and is not interested in showmanship. If it were a human being, it would probably be one of those happy creatures who can fall out of bed in the morning and look flawlessly radiant without much effort, and who already looks better in jeans and a white T-shirt than most of those who go to great lengths to make themselves look extra chic. These robust natural beauties are available exclusively in selected IWC boutiques, as are other particularly attractive models from the manufacture’s recent history. So here, too, the classic concessionaires will be looked to in vain. Instead, IWC maintains an allocation list that is reportedly already well filled with orders until next year.

Evelyne Genta, the widow of the prolific designer, sees her husband’s work honoured by the new edition. In an interview, she says: ‘I think the watch is very true to Gérald’s design – I’m sure my husband would like it.’ IWC is delighted with this compliment – because what Genta would like tends to be liked by many, many others.