Perpetual Motion

IWC Schaffhausen CEO George Kern on success

In this year’s iteration of its iconic Portugieser, IWC Schaffhausen had a ‘difficult and dangerous task’ says its CEO, Georges Kern. “To touch a product that is so well established with 75 years of history is not easy.” The resulting timepiece collection was best summed up in a sentence: “nothing changed and everything changed.”

This reference traces its provenance to the late 1930s, when the marine chronometer precision of a 74-calibre hunter pocket watch movement was merged into a large wristwatch case. Thus the first-ever Portugieser arrived at a time of petite art deco wristwatches.

In the  Portugieser collection of 2015, functional and design updates include shortening of the lugs, lengthening of the strap and installation of an arched-edged glass across a reworked dial. The newly developed in-house 52,000-calibre can also be found in four of the eight models in the 2015 family.

“Individually taken, these efforts are nothing – but putting six to seven elements together makes the line feel entirely new,” Kern points out. The 75th anniversary piece, the Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month Edition, features a significantly large digital display for date and month, once again harking back to the Portugieser’s pocket-watch ancestry. While only a few hundred have ever been produced up to the early ‘80s, 1993’s launch saw the Portugieser return to the consciousness of the watch-making cognoscenti.

Kern, who has spent 13 years helming IWC Schaffhausen, credits great communication, hard work, clear strategy and sustainability in helping the watchmaker hit such great heights, from this year’s successful Portugieser launch to 2016’s unveiling of two base in-house movements (an achievement which he says is far more difficult than making a high-end movement by virtue of the much greater price pressure on entry-level calibres). For IWC Schaffhausen to arrive at this inflection point is phenomenal, given that only two to three percent of IWC’s timepieces were powered by in-house calibres a decade or so ago.

Beyond its business expansion, the watchmaker continues its ebullient philanthropic engagements. These initiatives include conservation efforts in the Galapagos to building and stocking libraries in Indochina under the Antoine de Saint Exupery Youth Foundation. “Our involvement with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation together with Mercedes-Benz across a decade has covered over 100 projects, integrating millions of children into the programmes with involvement from the great sporting stars.”

In retrospect, Kern sees that solving the challenges in his early CEO years helped develop the products and the vision of the watchmaker today. “Today, I know my responsibilities better than 13 years ago – and I have time to reflect on what we did then,” he says. “The thing about success is it calms you down – you are not desperate anymore to be a world champion because in your mind, you have self-confidence, and realism in expecting success,” he continues, adding, “This gives you the balance to enjoy every moment and this, is very much, my idea of happiness.”

IWC Schaffhausen

Sign up for our Newsletters

Stay up to date with our latest series