Inspiration, motivation and passion keep executives like Walter Volpers excited about every new challenge they encounter as they grow with a company like IWC Schaffhausen, which sets no limits for its people or products, striving for perfection in everything they do.
Walter joined IWC in 2009 as Head of Supply Chain Management Movement Parts before becoming Associate Director Product Management in 2015. At Watches and Wonders Geneva, a few weeks after his promotion to Director of Manufacturing, Walter’s enthusiasm for the task ahead was palpable because “every day there’s a new challenge – so it’s cool, it’s amazing, I love it. I had that same feeling in 2015 when I started in product management. It’s inspiring and motivating at the same time. There is so much potential and many things to learn and do.”
We chatted further about the launch of the Ingenieur Automatic 40 and company and career milestones.
What excites you about the new Ingenieur?
Oh, many things are exciting about this watch. Much like the FORM UND TECHNIK of the 70s, when technique and design worked together, we tried to do the same with the new Ingenieur. (In using the German words for ‘form and technology’, IWC refers to its roots in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and hints at a specific period in German industrial design with a progressive and technical character.)
We have a new case construction that goes beyond design, with functional screws that fix the bezel in place, making the case more complex. Being water resistant to 10 bar also makes it more complicated to produce. The integrated H-link bracelet is a little thinner, and the butterfly folding clasp is less bulky, which increases the ergonomics. It’s a sculptural design. We have many polished and shining facets; and inside, we have the IWC-manufactured 32111 calibre, which builds up a power reserve of 120 hours. It’s anti-magnetic, so the case back is closed. We’re very proud; it’s a fantastic watch.
Will women go for this as well?
Definitely. The watch is 40mm in diameter, and the bracelet falls very gently, so it will have better ergonomics on a thin wrist.
What are the most significant achievements in product development at IWC since you joined the company?
On the one hand, it’s the movement itself. On the other, it’s the materials. In 2000, we introduced the Calibre 50000, and now we’re at the proprietary Calibre 52000, which is very accurate. The newest iteration has two barrels, so it’s a technical piece for me. It’s in the Big Pilot and the Portugieser, and powers our perpetual calendars. The chronograph movement, Calibre 69000, is another significant achievement. It was at least three years in development before we launched it. We’ve been optimising it ever since and now have an excellent chronograph. (The movement drives the Portugieser Chronograph and the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “Woodland”, among others.)
It’s an amazing timepiece. If you can own a chronograph, I would recommend that. And recently, we’ve also been pushing the Calibre 32000, which is in the Ingenieur. So, to mark a milestone, I would say it’s this strategic move to have a fully integrated state-of-the-art manufacture (inaugurated in 2018) to produce all those magnificent movements in-house.
In terms of materials, we introduced titanium and ceramics to our watches in the 80s, but combining the two to create a new proprietary material, Ceratanium, in 2018, is a big achievement too.
What is your favourite IWC watch?
Anything with Ceratanium, especially if it has a manufacture movement. But the new Ingenieur Automatic 40 Titanium is one of my all-time favourites.
What are some of the highlights of your career at IWC?
One of my favourite moments was in 2016 when I introduced the IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII as a product manager. When I moved to Switzerland from Venezuela I fell in love with the Mark XII, but they were discontinued when I had the money to buy one. Since XIII and XIV are considered unlucky numbers in some cultures, the next one was the Mark XV, but the price had increased so much that I couldn’t afford it. Fourteen years later, I joined the company and eventually produced the Mark XVIII after falling in love with the Mark XII almost 20 years earlier. What a privilege.
What will a day in your life look like in your new role?
Of course, I have an industrial engineering background and understand production and processes (I love new technologies). Still, it is more of a leadership role, focusing on staff development, leading rather than instructing. They are the experts. I’m here to listen, to see that they can implement their expertise directly and immediately so that we can have the best outcome possible, and to motivate them to find solutions and push boundaries – that’s very important for IWC. And getting together with all the mates in the IWC family – not forgetting to have fun. Those are the main things.
Your staff must feed off your energy, too; being so invested in their performance must inspire them to work harder.
Exactly. I had only been in manufacturing for two or three days, and they were already coming to me with questions and opening up the communication. That’s when you have trust – as long as the information flow is sound. The team has been great. If you see what we’ve achieved over the last few years, taking over a team like that is such an honour, and I look at it with great respect. It’s not an easy challenge, but it’s motivating. It keeps me young.