The excellent IWC with the excellent Portifino back drop. The wrong IWC to wear in this town but also the right IWC to wear in this town.
When my father's 50th birthday was approaching, my mother called me up and explained that she wanted to get him a new sports watch and that, obviously, I'm the one to talk to. Now with a budget of about 5k, and my father's other watch being a IWC Big Pilot, you can imagine the kind of watch I was looking for. Therefore, I initially was looking for a Rolex GMT. Two watches that perfectly complement each other. However, dad has a very "been there done that" attitude with watches and for some reason felt the years he had a bi-metal blue submariner were sufficient to rule out any Rolex with a bezel. His watch, his choice, who am I to judge. Next I started looking for a second hand Panerai submersible or a Panerai PAM 104. Big, manly, rugged but still luxury. He was very interested so the plan seemed set in stone for me to source a Panerai. Then one day after work, I frequented the Watches of Switzerland on Oxford Street, to check out the new IWC Aquatimers. Dad is an avid IWC fan having owned the portugese chronograph and currently, and forever, owning the Big Pilot. I fell in love with the Aquatimer Chronograph the minute i put it on my wrist so immediately suggested to my parents. The rest is history. Next thing I am on holiday with my family in Crete, Dad is wearing his aquatimer snorkeling off the boat and then with a shirt for a beach side dinner. So why is this watch so great and why had it not been on my radar when looking for a luxury sports watch in the 5k range?
Well the first question is easy to answer.
Firstly, the ergonomics of the case are such that it fits and hugs the wrist much in the same way an AP offshore or a Richard Mille does, making the watch feel extremely well fitted and balanced, even though its a 44mm steel case. This very balanced feel on the wrist is achieved through having short, sharp down turned lugs that flows perfectly into the high quality silicone strap, which in turn has angled pin holes so that the buckle fits round the wrist instead of flat on the wrist. Also because the strap is thick but sculpted its takes the weight off your wrist, again much in the sam way that an Offshore or a Mille does.
Secondly, the strap its self has the new easy remove button release on the underside of the strap. This allows the wearer to remove the strap completely with two easy clicks. No more using a tool for 5 minutes, whilst scratching the shit out of the inside of your lugs. Now this is a feature previously found on the Hublot Big Bang Unico models but is seldom seen in any other brands even though, in my opinion, this is a brilliant and innovative idea. I believe the idea behind this on the IWC was to allow the wearer to swap out the steel bracelet, for the rubber, as they dive off their yacht, for some afternoon swimming, and then put the steal strap back on with their white linen shirt and lofas for cocktails in the evening. All jokes aside, as a serious watch lover I think this is a truly brilliant and under appreciated idea.
Thirdly, all the new Aquatimer models have a new ratcheting, unidirectional bezel. This makes turning the bezel so easy and so crisp, again adding to the practicality of this watch as a legitimate dive watch. The thinking behind this being that turning the bezel in a ratcheting fashion is easier underwater than a traditional bezel. This feature that I don't know to have been used in recent years by any of the big names in Swiss watch making, again making the IWC Aquatimer quite an innovative watch.
Thirdly, the dial is just fantastic. The slightly domed, anti-reflective, sapphire crystal encloses a multi tiered with a great deal of depth. On the particular model I have spent time with, the white dial chronograph, the white is so rich that is has an almost enamel look to it. The center second hand is subtly, yet cleverly, accented with a yellow triangle at the tip, with the small second hand in the 9 o'clock register, acting as mini-me. This is a very nice feature as it bridges the gap between practicality and luxury, just like the Rolex explorer II's orange hand. This is actually quite a fitting encapsulation of the watch: highly practical luxury.
This photo shows the cacophony of layers on the dial as well as the cool, yet functional, yellow arrows on the second hands. You can also appreciate the sharpness of the lugs here which create that very balanced feel on the wrist.
(Same on the inside but not on the outside. The Aquatimer next to my Aquaracer [the names aren't that original anymore]. A big dive watch made to look small by a bigger, yet exceptionally designed, dive watch.)
The Movement inside is the IWC caliber 79320 which is essentially a Valjoux 7750 with a day function and some IWC tweaks. Although this is a great, workhorse movement, it is also the same movement found in my Tag Heuer Aquaracer, which costs half the price, and many other watches at much lower prices. But this is something many watch brands are guilty of. At the end of the day it is a great movement and is so widely used for a reason. Furthermore, we are going to see less of this in the future now that Swatch have announced they are restricting the output of their ETA movements, forcing brands to manufacture lower priced in house movements........... just like Seiko have been doing for decades..........
There is another negative I feel I must mention, one of which you don't think about for high quality swiss watches and that is that the quality control on the specific watch we bought appeared not to be that great. Now, as Ilkay rightly pointed out to me, the chances are that dad was just extremely unlucky and got the 1/10,000 watch that slipped through quality control. But non the less it is still something you would never even worry about with a £5,000 timepiece. First of all the day and date function stopped changing with the time, suggesting a pretty serious problem in the mechanism linking the day date function to the mechanism. We sent it back to IWC as it was under guarantee as this was in the first few months of owning the watch, and they said this was damage caused by user error! My dad has luxury mechanical waches since the 80s so I found this very hard to swallow. Eventually, Dad negotiated to only pay the cost to repair and not the unavoidable service they always charge on top. Pain the arse still but these things happen. Then, actually a few weeks ago, my parents were in a supermarket and the watch fell off his wrist as the strap and just simply come off on its own accord. Luckily it feel onto a carpeted area so there was little damage. Luckily I had been staying with my parents at the time so they brought it to me where i discovered the spring bar was bent slightly, essentially causing the strap locking mechanism to not fully lock. This meant that it just wiggled free. Luckily this hadn't happened whilst he was swimming in Portofino a few weeks earlier! Now this wasn't a normal. blatantly Chinese spring bar but a much thicker screw in IWC spring bar. Therefore, i strongly doubt Dad was able to bend it accidentally, suggesting it was another quality control error out of the factory. This was a simple fix, as I essentially just bent it back using some tools. But the worrying feeling remains as this watch slipped through the IWC rigorous quality control programs, begging the question how many others do and is it just IWC?
Here you can see the spring bars and the very clever push lock contraption on the end of the strap. One of the spring bars you can see in that photo, was bent out of the box, before i fixed it.
The second question is harder to answer. why had it not been on my radar when looking for a luxury sports watch in the 5k range?
The first thing that comes to mind for me is marketing and the product placement that IWC has compared to competitors. The world of mechanical watch is now a fight for survival and although brand loyality is another to cary some brands, for others it is not enough. Mr Jean Claude Biver, whatever you may think of him, is a business genius. Hublot and TAG are outperforming most competition on sales due to the aggressive marketing. Yes, alright, I know IWC and TAG's brand imagine is very different but hear me out. TAG's advertisements are everywhere from premiership football to formula 1 to mainstream media. They also have very cleverly placed celebrity ambassadors for every one of their collections. For example, Cristiano Ronaldo represents the F1 collection with his own model, Cara Delevigne also has her own model, Leonardo Di Caprio represents the Carerras, Tiger woods represents the Link Family and so on and so on. This means that every collection gets attention, obviously some more than others but not a great deal. My point here? I am not saying IWC do not market their brand well. They have the likes of Kevin Spacey, Robert De Niro, Rosamund Pike, the entire Maclaren F1 team and sponsor the Cannes Film Festival. What I am saying is IWC do not market each collection as strongly as the likes of TAG do. Lewis Hamilton sort of represents the Big Pilot Complications but also sometimes the Ingenieurs. Rosamund Pike represents pretty much any women's watch in their whole collection. But I can not recall of a specific ambassador, or even advert, specifically for the Aquatimer collection. I appreciate that the Aquatimer is obviously much cheaper to produce than the other collections so would warrant less priority when it comes to sales, but this is not a market when shortcuts can be taken. With the likes of Omega and Rolex, their dive watches have well known heritage and they can therefore maybe priorities other collections slightly, but the Aquatimer doesn't have that strong heritage or recognition so therefore needs as much marketing as possible. The Big Pilot model is almost synonyms with THE Pilot watch, so why is it still the collection most heavily marketed?
This Aquatimer is an excellent watch with truly innovative features and almost flawless design, but I, known locally as The Young Horologist, didn't even consider it as an option in this highly competitive price range. I blame the marketing.
This photo perfectly demonstrates two things- How this piece has created one ultimately happy customer and that this watch also looks great in The Med.