watches & wonders 29, Apr 2021 02:44pm
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Tête-à-tête with Christian Knoop, Creative Director, IWC

From talking about his inspiration to tracing the journey of a particular timepiece, Christian Knoop bares it all at an exclusive interview with WatchTime India.

Just before the second edition of the digital version of the Watches and Wonders exhibition kicked off, WatchTime India spent some time talk to Christian Knoop, Creative Director of IWC Schaffhausen.

Excerpts from the interview:

WTI: Watches & Wonders 2021 is beginning tomorrow, so how are you doing?

CK: We are at the last hours before the launch of the digital Watches and Wonders. There is still a lot of things to work on and to finalise for the digital launch. We have already introduced a couple of teasers of the new releases to come tomorrow and we are very excited to unveil our 2021 collection to everyone.

WTI: Last year, IWC's main focus was the Portugeiser, this time around, IWC brings us new watches in the Big Pilot's line, can you tell us the inspiration behind this? How difficult or easy is it to reinvent or evolve an established collection like this?

CK: With six collection that are deeply rooted in the brands history, our mission at IWC and as a brand is to provide with every new launch we want to dedicate it to one of the six collections by giving it a new and fresh perspective. This means to understand and respect what has been done in the past but still surprise our customers with something new and unexpected. So what we did with Portugeiser last year was to give it a very contemporary and complication heavy new look. With the Spitfire in 2019, we wanted to provide a vintage theme enhanced with a unique flight around the world with the Silver Spitfire which showcased a very different story. This year we want to go to the essence of the product, we don't want to have planes, we don't want adventurers travelling around the world, we really want to go back to the essence of what we are and what our product is. And we believe that the Pilot collection is not only one of the most emblematic collection for IWC but it represents our key values. So we want to really stay close to our product but at the same time offer a fresh view on the Pilots collection as a contemporary sports collection of watches.

WTI: What has been the most challenging stage of creating the 2021 novelties?

CK: We already have a well-established collection in the market, we have one of the biggest Pilots collection watches in the world of pilots watches ranging from 36mm to 46mm, we have all complications covered from the pure three-hands, to chronographs, annual calendars to perpetual calendars and tourbillons, we have almost every single colour covered too so the challenge is more of what we can add to this collection to instil surprise. We wanted to focus on the essence of the collection which is its very recognisable design and a clear DNA which is immediately identifiable. This is a product that will be preferred when people decide to buy into the brand for the first time. So we focused on the product, the sizes that we could offer that would make a first time buyer happy. The case sizes of 41mm and 43mm formed the essence or the sweet spot to work on. Along with this, we also offer manufacture movements with the Chrono 41mm and the new Big Pilot's 43mm are powered by recent manufacture calibres. This speaks to the Manufacture strategy we have adopted in the last couple of years.

WTI: When it comes to your creative process where do you start? Do you focus more on what the audience wants or are you designing first and then thinking about the customer reaction later?

CK: Yeah, I think it is both. We want to give this freshness, this maturity and this manufacture aspect to this collection so this was definitely our vision. However, we have a very close relationship with our customers. The interaction with many of our collectors who I know and interact in person and meet every couple of months is very good. We exchange ideas and thoughts either over the phone now or physical meetings like the good old times. Our incredible retail network also brings us close to our customers and help us understand what they want. So there are a coupe of aspects in the new collection which have been raised in various conversations in the last couple of years. A few examples is the idea of having a three-hands Big Pilot's watch which really reminds us of the purity of the original. The idea of a strap exchange system to be included in the timepieces was also something which came out of these conversations. Sometimes we also have to watch what our customers are doing like we launched the 41mm Chrono in our in-house calibre 69 in 2019. We saw the success of the watch with stable figures. The 41mm chronograph is in high demand in the market and is a very complimentary product to the 43mm Chrono. This made us think and we continued this story and build the second size of chronograph in the Pilot's range.

I think we cannot really separate what we are doing here in-house and what our customers want because in the recent years we have developed so many tools and format to stay in close contact. We carefully listen to what our customers are thinking, how they react on the product, what is their purchase behaviour and so on. This is not only data driven but partly also based on one-to-one conversations and on a good exchange between passionate IWC customers.

WTI: What was the inspiration behind the two “Mojave Desert” Big Pilot's watches released this year? As ceramic is pretty popular currently, can you tell us about the new material (sand-coloured ceramic) used for the watch?

CK: Ceramic is very popular right now but I would like to mention that IWC are the pioneers in ceramic watches. We have been producing ceramic watches since the 1980s and over the last 40 years, we have been innovating in the field of ceramics. We have expanded our ceramics expertise from the case to the movement and now all recent in-house calibres feature ceramic components like the automatic wheels or the clicks or certain hard wearing components of the movement. So ceramic is really a core component of IWC materials. What we are presenting with the Mojave Desert is the sand-coloured ceramic thats is a combination of zorconium oxide material mixed with other oxides to achieve this sand colour. This coloured ceramic blends very nicely wth the other components of the watch and we have introduced a subdued and monochromatic look for the watch dial and the strap. This ceramic material is sandblasted to have a very precise and matt finish and it plays well together with the subdued dial print and the titanium components like the crown or the case ring that holds the sapphire glass.

WTI: IWC is a brand with definitive pillars like the Pilots, Portugeiser to the Da Vinci. While these flagship collections do work with a new or long-time watch collector, how do you see the brand going forward now? Do you see more of a reinvention of core collections or an influx of new watches altogether? What is your strategy?

CK: We don't see the need of launching new collections. We as IWC have a very wide portfolio of six collections with three of our core collections like the Pilots, Portugeiser and Portofino and the other three collections gives us sufficient room to manoeuvre. However, I still foresee the collection evolving ,for the future.This is what we have done in the past, we have renewed every collection every now and then so that we are very sensitive about these market situations of these collections and also the situation in our brand portfolio. So we always aim to keep them up to date and to keep them complementary and relevant for ours customers.

When we look at the watch industry, we see a very crowded market and there are new products every week. The number of new collections is enormous and I think the only way to be successful in this market is to be recognisable as a brand and a product. In that sense it will get very difficult to get to this place of recognisability with a new product because there are so many other brands with well-established collections that have been informing the market for many years. So today it will be very difficult and will require an enormous amount of money to launch a completely new additional collection.

WTI: When it comes to complications, where do you see the brand going in the coming years?

CK: With complications too, the market is very crowded with so many exclusive and create solutions. But we as IWC want to mark a very clear territory. There is no point to launch random new materials in the same way there is not point in launching random complications. Our story on complications is always to create very functional watches that come from professional watches which have been designed for professional applications like divers, navigators and aviators. This is our history.

So when it comes to complications, we see two strong territories that we have traditionally covered and where we will innovate and evolve in the future. One of them is the chronograph; we are absolutely a chronograph brand. We are one of the brand's that is probably selling the most chronographs in our price segment. We now have three more in-house chronograph movements in the current portfolio. The pan for the future is to definitely strengthen this position with variations like a rattrapante or chronograph with additional complications and so on. This is our core territory as IWC.

The other core territory is our calendars. We are known for our perpetual calendars – the famous invention from Kurt Klaus in the 80s. Many of the perpetual calendars that we now have in the portfolio have been developed based on the invention of Kurt Klaus which is a kind of fully programmed and fully synchronised perpetual calendars. But also in the context of calendars, we see a lot of opportunity. Another core territory that we see for IWC is annual calendars, moonphase, complete calendars, UTC and GMT watches, and timezoners etc. So these are all watches we see in the wider context of calendars and this is the second territory when it comes to complications for IWC. So this is also how product pipeline has been built up and we are looking into these ideas that will be supporting the unique position that the IWC brand holds.

WTI: From the 2021 novelties, which one is your personal favourite and why?

CK: I must say, I personally always wanted to do with that pure three-hand Big Pilot. And when we had the year of the heritage watches in 2016 with the Pilot's watches we didn't have the right movement and hands. We didn't have the insights on sizing that we have now, so personally I am very excited to see the new Big pilot's come to life as a very wearable and a very recognisable and iconic watch. And we continue to adhere to the very pure value of the Portugeiser 40mm so for me this is a fantastic watch and I am very proud to see this come to life.

WTI: As the Creative Director of IWC, you have your fingers on the pulse of emerging trends in the watch industry, what aspect of design do you think is going to “explode” in the coming years?

CK: I think the industry goes through an enormous transformation. As the times get more difficult, it also releases a lot of creativity. What I see is the power of creativity and the mind and the rhythm of new watches has increased incredibly in the last few years. This makes it difficult for us to defend our position and keep a handle on the rest. Having said that, we are ready to take on this challenge as we are confident that we have the right collection, the historical assets and credibility. But first and foremost, we at IWC have the right talent and passionate watch guys and girls who will drive IWC forward.

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