IWC’s Christian Knoop On How He Approached An Iconic Genta Design

As a watch designer, Christian Knoop is no stranger to working with the classics. As Chief Design Officer for IWC Schaffhausen, he is in command of more than a few well-established collections, such as the Pilot’s watches or the Portugieser. One is a bit different, however, and that is the Ingenieur.

It is not because the Ingenieur was, when it was first introduced in 1955, the brand’s first civilian watch with magnetic shielding, or that it held its first in-house self-winding movement developed under Albert Pellaton. It is because of 1976’s Ingenieur SL, otherwise known as Reference 1832, designed by the late, great Gérald Genta. It was one of several of Genta’s paradigm-shifting steel-on-steel sports watches from that decade that practically defined an entirely new genre.

Genta is acknowledged as something of a rock star, a sentiment Knoop shares. “For us as watch designers, Gérald Genta was not only making beautiful designs, but he also was kind of an ambassador for the profession,” Knoop explains. The post-Space Race era was a forward-thinking period for industrial design, exemplified by those such as Dieter Rams—famous for his work with Braun. Genta fit right in and gave watch designers the face they had largely been lacking. “It is much the same as what we do with other collections, but it changes the game a little bit when you know the name of the person—and if this person is such an iconic personality,” Knoop adds. “He was very versatile. He was not only a designer. He was an artist and a painter as well; a driven, creative person who put his ideas down on paper 24/7. Someone who continuously reinvented himself and his style. That’s something I can absolutely respect and admire.”

The Ingenieur was a watch founded on cutting-edge technicality but debuted in a perhaps overly traditional case. Genta’s design thus brought its external sentiment more in-line with its internal mechanics and, as with his many other greatest hits, has stood the test of time in remarkable fashion. “The design is so rich and so dense, and it formulated design codes and recognisable elements that have survived many decades of changes and iterations,” Knoop says, referring specifically to the case shape, the bezel with five recesses, and H-link bracelet. 

Still, Christian Knoop was tasked with updating the Ingenieur for the modern era, resulting in the new collection debuting earlier in the year during Watches & Wonders: slim steel 40mm references in a trio of dial colours (RM50,800) plus one in titanium (RM63,500). Iconic design or not, there is always room for a refinement. “We modified the case proportions and ergonomics to make it more wearable. We changed the entire link and attachment area to improve the transition from the case into the bracelet. We improved the finishing, now working with an elaborate combination of satin-finished and polished surfaces. We re-worked the bezel in the spirit of the five holes, but now gave them functional screws. And we also reworked the dial that is now featuring the modern IWC Schaffhausen logo,” Knoop describes. About the most radical departure from the original is the addition of a crown guard. “I was always a supporter of this idea of a modern crown guard, and I think it integrates perfectly with the design language of the new piece,” he says.

A year before the new Ingenieur’s launch, at the previous edition of Watches & Wonders, the prototypes were ready. As luck would have it, Genta’s long-time spouse Evelyne—who was closely involved in his work throughout much of his career, on the business side of things—was in the same building to open an exhibition featuring her late husband’s work. “We invited her over to introduce her to the new interpretation of the Ingenieur. I was a bit nervous presenting the watch to her, because I didn’t know what to expect—maybe she likes it, maybe she hates it!” Christian Knoop recalls. “But luckily, she was very kind, and absolutely embraced the new design. In that conversation, she also confirmed to me that questioning the status quo and evolving on this design would have been very much in the spirit of her husband, who never looked back, and wanted to change and evolve and create something new.”


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