In Conversation With Christian Knoop, Chief Design Officer of IWC Schaffhausen
We spoke with Christian Knoop about his day-to-day in office, design as a whole and, of course, the IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40.
IWC Schaffhausen ended Watches and Wonders Geneva on a high, thanks to the IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40. The watch captured the hearts of fans as it is the contemporary embodiment of the much beloved IWC Ingenieur SL, the very brainchild of Gérald Genta from 47 years ago. Of the many reissues or revivals across the watch industry, the IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40 was one in the making for a considerable amount of time, and the man behind it is Christian Knoop, chief design officer of IWC Schaffhausen. Men’s Folio was in Geneva to chat with Christian Knoop about his day-to-day in office, design as a whole and, of course, the IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40.
As chief design officer of IWC Schaffhausen, what are your responsibilities, and what is your typical day like?
Christian Knoop: My responsibility is to look after the creative and design expression of the brand. Together with my team, we work 360° on all visual and static aspects of the brand, and my core responsibility is obviously in products. We also work on all other visible expressions of the brand. It can be corporate design, print or digital, advertising and social media. It can be packaging, brochures and catalogues. It can be menu cards, branding, boutiques, mobile displays and popups. There’s an interdisciplinary team working in Schaffhausen on all this, and we have design talents from all over the world with different design backgrounds to support that.
You mentioned so many things earlier, and design, in general, is such a broad spectrum. How would you appraise what good design is?
Good design is always relevant in that it’s not just random and for the sake of design. Design always serves a purpose and comes in a functional project or product. It gives you some functions in a product, a piece of furniture or architecture, for example. It gives you information and orientation in terms of communication design or talks about the character or the value of a brand.
Mr Dieter Rams has 10 famous philosophies for good design. What are some of yours when designing watches and products for IWC?
I knew he formulated these 10 rules of good design, but before we developed this campaign and this communication angle, I’ve never read them. Reading into it now, I was surprised at how relevant this is in modern days and as part of our daily work as creatives. Examples such as “good design is innovative”, “good design is easy to use”, “good design is sustainable”, or “good design is long-lasting” are things we take into consideration when we design new watches. In that sense, he was very forward-looking and created something relevant to our daily work as creatives, whether working on the watches or other expressions of the brand.
This year’s Watches and Wonders sees the launch of the Ingenieur Automatic 40. How significant is this launch for IWC as far as history and heritage are concerned?
The Ingenieur is important for us because it’s not only a beautiful watch, but it’s also a watch that — by its name — also represents a couple of core values of IWC Schaffhausen when it comes to engineering spirits and timeless and progressive design. This is what we stand for in the world of fine watchmaking. Also, the Ingenieur is a good representation when you look at our commercial products as a portfolio that is very much dominated by the Pilot, Portugieser and Portofino at the moment. We believe that the Ingenieur has its place in that portfolio, and what we started with — especially the 40mm, very compact, premium automatic watch, is something we don’t cover in any other collection. All three collections (Pilot, Portugieser and Portofino) are predominantly on leather or soft strap watches, where we also have metal bracelets. This steel-on-steel integrated bracelet design is what we needed in our portfolio.
Each passing year is met with optimism that the Ingenieur SL will return with a contemporary update. How do you think the Ingenieur Automatic 40 will sit among the fans?
The current four references we are presenting here form a reset or foundation for the Ingenieur. We’ve seen lots of very extreme expressions and also very innovative products in the Ingenieur collection in the past. Revisiting its original design codes, we had to reset the foundation of the entire collection. The foundation of the Ingenieur is a 40mm, automatic, three-hand watch. We present three steel references this year and one in titanium. If this resonates well with our customers, we will build the future collection from there.
Which design element of the Ingenieur Automatic 40 would you consider the watch’s soul?
It’s definitely the bezel. It’s one of the strongest elements of the product that is not short of recognition elements. It has a remarkable case, a very distinguishing dial and this characteristic H-link bracelet. The bezel is the signature element, and where we spent a lot of time getting the design right because we wanted to make it a functional bezel again. The original had five boreholes and was screwed in, so you couldn’t control the orientation of the screws. With the new solution, we can control the position and have a function, so we spent a lot of time exploring different aesthetics. We prototyped five or six different screw head shapes; there were quite some options on the table which helped us then select the best solution.
My next question is about timelines. How long did it take the team to go from the drawing board for prototyping to the finish?
Working on this collection took over five years, with several very different design concepts in the beginning and more than 1500 renderings in total. We worked with an unseen high number of prototypes that helped us evaluate to an extremely high level of detail. I believe, in the end, this happened out of respect for Gérald Genta and the consciousness of this collection being essential for the brand.
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Do you want to take more time because of how important this piece will be?
Yeah, I think that is also something that resulted in a longer development time because everyone in Schaffhausen was aware of the relevance of this collection. Everyone was doing their very best to get it right, and there was an incredible willingness to get it right. People were not at all annoyed when they did the extra design rounds because they believed this was a joint effort of the entire development team; no matter if you were a designer, an engineer or working on prototypes, we had to get this right as a team effort because the Ingenieur is so precious to the brand.
Lastly, in terms of line extension, what are the limitations of the new Ingenieur Automatic 40?
That’s a tricky question. There are plenty of ideas to extend this line if it turns out to be a success. However, we also have a full portfolio of watches with complications, different sizes, materials and colours in the three other collections. That’s what we then would need to balance out with the Ingenieur. But the Ingenieur, as such, can definitely have a few very interesting additions.
This article first appeared on Men’s Folio.
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