A Swiss watchmaker steeped in prestige and heritage, IWC Schaffhausen (International Watch Company) recently celebrated 150 years of manufacturing horological masterpieces for aficionados. In celebration of this, we speak to Mehdi Rajan, brand director of IWC for the Middle East, India and Africa, who visited Sri Lanka recently to present their Jubilee collection to a few select local clientele.

How has IWC managed to preserve its heritage over 150 years?
We constantly ask ourselves: How can we stay relevant? It’s due to the uniqueness of our foundations that we have lasted so long, and it is our job to lay the foundation for the next 150 years. Every IWC watch was made with a purpose and due to demand – for example, for the Pilot Mark series, which was commissioned by the British Royal Air Force. A key feature is the large, yet impressive, crown that allowed pilots of the time to adjust their watches with ease while wearing gloves.

hhEven the IWC Portugieser was made at the request of two Portuguese merchants who wanted watches with chronometers that were exceptionally accurate and precise. If you compare a Portugieser from 1939 with one from today, of course the movements have changed drastically, but the aesthetic codes are very similar. This is what makes us successful: being true to our heritage and keeping with the unique DNA and storytelling of each collection over the years.

Why do watches like these garner the attention of collectors and aficionados alike?
It is again to do with our aesthetic codes. Over the decades, the watches will have improved movements, but will still look similar to its ancestor, or at the very least, easily recognisable. It’s this timelessness in a watch that makes the longevity of a collection, as well as the story behind it. If a watch has very little depth, it will only be fashionable, and that is the last thing you want. IWC is a brand that has always appealed to the businessmen of this world, people who are very discerning and have an affinity for understated luxury.

The Jubilee collection, which was unveiled at SIHH, has 29 references. What is the collection’s unique feature?
For one, they are all limited run pieces (with different limitations). Second, the dials are completely unique; we wanted to pay homage to the IWC dials of the past, which were enamelled. To achieve that, we lacquered the dials several times to achieve a finish that is quite exceptional, and every watch will have a mark, embossing or medallion, depending on the type of movement, that marks the 150th anniversary.

Since some of the watches in the collection was limited to a mere 50 pieces, this is where the process became fun, so to speak. We had clients travelling from Sydney to London just to get a specific numbered watch, and we’ve witnessed it all around the world: from New York all the way to Dubai, from India to Singapore.

There is increased demand and fascination for watches of this calibre in Sri Lanka. Why the sudden interest?
Sri Lanka is a very interesting market. From the little experience I have had with your beautiful country, it is very much in tune with what IWC is. Now there is no one type of client, and that is the beauty of it. You have such a variety of tastes, but we are seeing a great education over the last 10 years, one where Sri Lankan customers have educated themselves.

The media obviously plays an important role in this, with the internet and social media granting easy access to information, as well as the work on the ground of our partners much like Chatham Luxury Watches. We see a lot more questions these days. Typically, we used to see an interaction follow the form: ‘what’s new’, ‘what’s the price’, and so on. It was a very transactional interaction, but today, we have clients coming in and asking more about the watch, more details on its movement, the story behind it, more about the collections, etc. You now have this desire and appetite for understanding the story behind the watch, and we as an organisation have so many beautiful stories with the brand and are glad to be able to share them with our clients.