limited edition timepieces are generally commercial successes, they are sold almost exclusively to the group they were made for, which generally includes neither people like me, who are hyper selective about what they buy due to budgetary restrictions, nor the general public, who still need to be convinced that mechanical watches are not useless gimmicks.
However, IWC’s Chronograph Edition “Rudolf Caracciola” is an example of the contrary. It’s a timepiece celebrating a partnership, yes; but it’s also a well-made watch with an interesting and understated design, with a brand new in-house automatic chronograph movement which increases the company’s portfolio in the right direction – and which ought to impress value-minded watch lovers, as well as have appeal well beyond the world of motorsports enthusiasts.
That’s right, in a move which Christian Knoop, the manufacture’s creative director, admits is “rather unusual,” IWC have decided to introduce their new chronograph movement, Calibre 69370, which was originally announced last March, in a limited edition paying tribute to one of the less well known automobile rallies. Calibre 69370 is also being introduced in two other limited editions, the “74th Member’s Meeting at Goodwood” and the “W 125” (which commemorates the Mercedes-Benz W 125 Silver Arrow) which were announced, along with the Rudolf Caracciola, last March as well.
IWC has no lack of high-profile partnerships, and could have easily turned to one of them to mark this important news. Instead, they chose the start of the Passione Caracciola, a vintage automobile rally featuring some of Europe’s finest vintage cars (with a focus on Mercedes-Benz), to present the first commercially available renditions of Calibre 69370.
The new movement is IWC’s latest push toward independence, and is in direct response to Swatch’s decision to gradually phase out the supply of ETA movements. The Valjoux/ETA 7750 had been a mainstay of IWC’s chronograph production for many years, and was and is used, in various forms, in everything from the Portuguiser Chronograph to the ultra-complicated Il Destriero Scafusia (a tourbillon with perpetual calendar, rattrapante chronograph, and minute repeater, release as a limited edition in 1993). However, in recent years, IWC has been shifting more and more towards the use of in-house movements. The new movement is also a small concession towards more affordable luxury – a limited edition with an in-house chronograph sounds like an expensive proposition.
In terms of release dates, IWC has sandwiched the new 69000-calibre family between two other manufacture-made movements, Calibre 52000 (housed inside the new Portugiesers, including the Annual Calendar, introduced in 2015) and Calibre 42000 (which is planned for 2017), which will also be built in the company’s new manufacturing building.
While the “Rudolf Caracciola,” and the two other limited editions will be made in series of less than one thousand, the chronograph movement will be produced in much larger quantities, and of course, in general-release timepieces, and sets up what IWC’s museum curator, David Seyffer, calls, “one of the most important decades for IWC.”
The new chronograph’s external design is inspired in part by the very first Ingenieur – Reference 666A, from 1955 – and re-introduces such elements as the rectangular indexes and the lumed dots around the dial, to the Ingenieur family (all of which had been lost after Gérald Genta’s revamped SL edition of 1976 that became the guiding design of the collection).
However, it houses a much larger and more contemporary movement which beats at 4Hz. The new “workhorse” features a bi-directional rotor – the Ingenieur was the first IWC watch to offer the automatic winding system designed by Albert Pellaton (Calibre 852) – but it will be industrially rather than hand-decorated, in order to remain competitively priced.
Equally as important as what the new chronograph has, is what is does not have. In this case, no sign of Rudolf Caracciola – neither in portrait nor signature – and no hint of the partnership with the rally that carries his legacy. This is a watch that will outlive the champion’s memory, especially if it is to have the desired impact on IWC’s immediate future.