IWC Schaffhausen’s Chief Design Officer, Christian Knoop, shares the process behind the revival of the iconic Ingenieur.

By Debbie Hathway

German-born industrial engineer Christian Knoop began shaping the future of IWC Schaffhausen when he joined the brand as Chief Design Officer in 2008. Guided by his eye for detail and unique vision, IWC continues to craft state-of-the-art watches that celebrate its heritage, inspire the industry and surprise and delight customers through new stories and innovations.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – MARCH 26: A general view of the IWC booth ahead Watches and Wonders 2023 on March 26, 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo by Remy Steiner/Getty Images for IWC)

Christian’s knack for striking the perfect balance between past and future is evident in the Ingenieur Automatic 40 inspired by the Ingenieur SL from the 1970s, which bears the creative genius of the late Swiss watchmaking pioneer Gérald Genta. The newly engineered Ingenieur was launched at Watches and Wonders Geneva 2023 under the motto FORM UND TECHNIK as a nod to the era noted for a reduced and technical approach to design. It is a revival that remains faithful to the line’s design signature, with subtle adjustments making all the difference to fit and form.

Filling a gap in the portfolio

The Ingenieur Automatic 40 reflects the bold aesthetic codes of Genta’s Ingenieur SL, Reference 1832 while meeting the highest ergonomics, finishing, and technology standards. It’s all in the detail.

“We wanted to reintroduce the Ingenieur because it’s an integral part of the brand. It says so much about us as engineers and designers, and therefore it has its place in our portfolio. However, we were missing a compact, medium-sized, premium, automatic watch that is steel on steel,” he says.

The Ingenieur was first introduced in 1955, powered by the first automatic movement developed in Schaffhausen and enclosed in a soft-iron inner case for magnetic field protection. The watch marked a technical milestone for IWC. “It is not every day that a designer gets to work on an icon like the Ingenieur SL. We were aware of the enormous responsibility of this task and proceeded very cautiously. Nevertheless, we succeeded in creating a new and contemporary interpretation, perfected down to the smallest detail. While keeping faithful to the original design signature, the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 perfectly embodies IWC’s engineering excellence,” says Knoop.

Enhanced ergonomics and wearability

The overall dimensions of the case have been carefully reworked to improve ergonomics and wearability, even on a slender wrist, assisted by the curved casing ring and a newly engineered middle-link attachment to replace the nose-shaped horns of the 1970s model. “One of the big challenges was to get the attachment right because the historic one had this attachment that resulted in a very long case and complicated geometry. Finding the solution with the moving middle link was fantastic because it solved all the problems and delivered the same visual identity in a much cleaner and more sober technical execution. We also discussed the crown protection, because the historic one didn’t have it. I believe it perfectly integrates with the overall design language and again emphasises the character of a proper sports watch,” he says.

One of the significant and most challenging changes immediately evident in the new model is the polygonal screws on the bezel. For the historic watch, a bezel with five recesses was screwed onto the case ring, which meant the recesses were in a different position on each timepiece. While fans found that “charming”, Christian wanted to avoid a situation he couldn’t control from a design perspective and found a solution by using individual screws to hold the position. “It did not make our lives easy. I think five different screw head designs underwent prototyping before the final selection.”

Engineering excellence

The new dial features a distinctive “grid” structure, comprising tiny lines offset by 90 degrees to each other, stamped into the soft iron blank before being galvanised. Appliques with luminescence add depth and ensure easy legibility, even at night. “This is where new production methods come into play. The historic piece had a smooth, soft satin finish, but today we can create super-precise lines and polished edges that emphasise the case’s character and sculptural qualities. The 70s model had a stamped dial, but we added a kind of grinding process to sharpen the texture on the top level, give precise lines, and create a reflection like a sunburst dial that plays with the light very nicely.”

Integrating the modern IWC logo also meant reworking the dial design to balance the position and scaling of the grid so as not to create visual interference with the logo or graphics and individual letters. For example, they could not have the ‘I’ of the IWC right next to a line. “There’s a lot of micro typographic and detail work to do in building the right integration and contrast.”

A gender-neutral 40mm, what IWC considers the most wearable size, the Ingenieur Automatic 40 is presented in three dial colours – black, silver-plated and aqua – and grey for the titanium model. The team wanted one colour with a more unexpected character that would serve as a talking piece for this collection, the rest of which Christian describes as “very calm and modest”. The blue-green shade is similar to the Petronas green used on the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 Edition Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One™ Team, which was an incredible success for the brand. So, it’s not exactly the same, it has this metallic finish, but it’s the right complementary colour in the range.

Evelyne Genta at Watches and Wonders Geneva-Photo credit Richard Wilson

Time to celebrate

How do they celebrate each new launch? As designers, they get excited about positive feedback, says Knoop, but their reality is focused on the products coming out in the next few years. “This keeps the team going in Schaffhausen and what I have in mind when I sit here. Sometimes it’s a bit unfair because when someone asks me what my favourite watch is I usually answer that it is the one coming out in two years because that’s where my attention is. Of course, I am proud of what the team has achieved with the Ingenieur but as a designer, I am very much in the future.”

He reflects on a conversation with Genta’s widow, Evelyne, who said her husband was similar, “challenging the status quo, never really looking back on what he’d done in the past, always busy with the next thing. We have just mapped out a 10-year product pipeline and development plan, and we’re not running dry on ideas. That’s maybe typical of how designers think.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and don’t miss out on regular updates from the YourLuxury Africa team on all things luxurious, beautiful and inspiring.