In March, in partnership with IWC, we hosted a dinner for our VIP clients, at which the guest speaker was IWC Schaffhausen watchmaker Kurt Klaus. During his 60-year career, he created the ground-breaking Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar, which had a calendar that could be adjusted simply by turning the crown.
Calibre: Kurt, you’ve worked for IWC for almost six decades. For many collectors such as our guests here this evening, the 1950s is their favourite era of sports watches. Remarkably, you began your career at IWC in 1957, under the great technical director Albert Pellaton. How would you describe your training under Albert, and what was the watchmaking industry like at the time?
Kurt Klaus: After my studies in the French part of Switzerland, I wanted to go back to the northeastern part of the country, where I was born. At the time, IWC was the only horology manufacturer in that region, so I went there to ask, ‘Do you need a young watchmaker?’ I was interviewed by Mr Pellaton, a famous name in the watch industry, and I’ll never forget that first encounter. I showed him my documents from school and he said, ‘Yes, good, but I don’t only need a watchmaker – this job requires taking the next step.’ This was my very first conversation and his approach remained the same throughout all the years I was working with him – he was a great teacher and I learnt such a lot from him.
Calibre: Thank you, Kurt. What a fascinating story. So, on to the ’60s. IWC is famous for its diver’s watches. In 1967, you launched the Aquatimer. From a watchmaker’s perspective, what were the challenges of developing such a timepiece and how did you test its capabilities?
Kurt Klaus:At the time, IWC didn’t produce watch cases – that started later. A case factory would develop them for us instead, and they incorporated very strong features. We had to be certain the Aquatimer would be waterproof 300 metres underwater, so the factory had to create a new machine to check this, and that was quite a challenge! The movement inside was exactly the same as always, but it was in this special case. During the 1980s and ’90s, IWC constructed its own case using titanium, which was made in Schaffhausen.
Calibre:In 1969, we saw the first IWC Da Vinci Quartz Electronic, and this was followed by your legendary creation, the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar in 1985 – an incredibly successful timepiece.
Kurt Klaus:That’s correct. I thought to myself, yes, I now have enough experience in constructing mechanisms to make this perpetual calendar. But there were already well-equipped perpetual calendars, even in wristwatches, so I thought IWC should go further – it had to be something completely new, that had never before existed. I wanted to try to construct a perpetual calendar that was easy to adjust, making it easy to use. The wristwatches with perpetual calendars I’d seen were so complicated, with all their push buttons and so on, when they should really be simple to use.
Calibre:Thank you. So, Kurt, let’s move on into the 90s. One of my favourite watches from that decade was released in ’93 – the Il Destriero Scafusia.
Kurt Klaus:We presented that watch, a grand complication, to mark our 125th jubilee. Destriero Scafusia translates [from medieval Italian] as ‘the warhorse from Schaffhausen’ and we chose the name because we fight against our competitors! That year, it was the most complicated wristwatch in the world. Only 125 pieces were produced. Its creation took us several years, but it was pretty special.
Calibre: You’ve certainly been involved in some fantastic pieces! In 2007, IWC launched a limited-edition watch in your honour: the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Edition Kurt Klaus. What did that mean to you?
Kurt Klaus: That was an honour bestowed on me by our then new CEO, Georges Kern. He said, ‘22 years of Da Vinci is a very long time’ – and it was! He decided we should do something new for the special edition, so we opted for a rectangular shape. That was the first time IWC had developed and produced an in-house chronograph movement and it was so impressive. Of course, we thought the Da Vinci should also have a perpetual calendar, but there was no capacity to fit both the new movement and a new perpetual calendar, so my job was to reconstruct and integrate the perpetual calendar from 1985. I’m proud that the functions of the new calendar are all exactly the same as the originals.
Calibre: Thank you, Kurt. So, we’ve passed the point of 150 years of IWC, and you yourself have been at IWC for 60 years. What do you think the future holds for the company?
Kurt Klaus: Maybe some of you will visit our new manufacturer in Schaffhausen – that represents the future of IWC. When you see the building and its interior, and how we are working there with our new machines, it will explain everything.
Calibre: A round of applause, please, for Kurt Klaus, who we are privileged to have here as a pioneer and an icon of the watch world. And, now, if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask them.
Audience member: How many of the 2007 Da Vinci Perpetual special edition were made, Klaus?
Kurt Klaus: We made 500 pieces in yellow gold, 50 in platinum and 50 in white gold.
Calibre: You’ve passed the test – well remembered!
Kurt Klaus: Yes! Its success was good for us, but not so good for all of the customers who wanted it, because, of course, it soon sold out. It was then decided that we should make 1,000 of a new edition in red gold with a black dial – a new look, but with all the same mechanisms. This quickly sold out, too, so – and I was not very happy about this – it was decided to make a final edition of 3,000 in stainless steel. And I know that these also soon sold out!
Audience member: Of all the watches you’ve created, what has been your favourite?
Kurt Klaus: Hmm, perhaps the Portugieser Tourbillon Mystère. Over the years, I have had many favourites. With every new presentation, I think, this is now my favourite!
Discover our IWC Schaffhausen collection at Watches of Switzerland, Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths