During Watches and Wonders 2015 I had the opportunity to interview IWC’s Creative Director Mr. Christian Knoop. Amongst the various topics we discussed was one that I’d also asked of Mr. Hannes Pantli about IWC and its branding/ direction, but
Q: You have been at IWC since 2008 and were an industrial designer working in other industries before ending up at IWC – could you tell us a bit about how your experiences in those have informed your work at IWC, especially in light of IWC being your first foray into the watch world.
What it has helped is twofold : I worked on lots of industrial products, very technical products, so this helps to understand the product but also to integrate it within the development team. We have a team of at least ten disciplines; designers, engineers, product managers, marketing, sales, the industrialisation department (purchases vs in-house, testing labs)… It is a multi-disciplinary team like in any industrial product.
I am also trained as a craftsman (carpenter) so this has helped me with craftsmen because in the end it’s a hand crafted product. My background has helped.
Q: I believe that you are a team of 15 designers, with half on watches and the rest on boutiques, packaging, and all the other visual elements of the brand. Some people might be surprised that the balance leans this way to the non-watch elements of the brand?
Watches are the most central thing for us, but also corporate design is also important. We even do the storyboards for films etc. We have rendering/ CGI people who work on the watches, films, marketing and catalogues.
With regards to the proportion. If you compare IWC with design teams in other brands then the split is quite normal, they just work differently. We have in-house designers and visual people inside, instead of using external agencies like othe brands (e.g. on boutiques). IWC prefers to keep it in-house because we can control it, get people who understand what the brand needs and is. Also, working with our own people means that we are much more reactive to short notice briefs, shorter timelines.
Q: Is your section responsible for the concept and realisation of IWC’s monumental, much-anticipated and much talked-about SIHH booths? How long does it take for them to go from conception to the finished booth, and how many are involved in the team behind them?
Chris Grainger is the person working with architectural team who works on them. We work together – as soon as the year’s theme has been idnetified we work on how to bing it to life in the architecture, the visual components of the campaign, key visuals of campaign, and how to integrate all of these.
Q: Could you share with us an outline of the process by which a new collection comes into being – what the first step is, who is involved at which points, how long it takes on average for a new collection to go from conception to release.
It is typically two years from sketches to marketing and production but only when there are no movement developments. It is 4-5 years if a new movement is involved. The team works in two stages : definition of the movement or complication. The engineers ask where you want indicators, the layout of dial. They explore that with visualisations and dial layout. They will work on that for years and involve the creative team at a latter stage.
When we talk about the watch as such it is one year of pure development (prototypes, design) until we have reached a reliable design which works in terms of economics and construction. There is then one year for industrialiation – long term quality testing, preparation of tools, involvement of suppliers, pre-production for the product launch. There are two years of lead time.
Q: Your job, your team, is a lot about branding. On a general level – in this day and age where in a way branding seems more prominent and dominant than ever but by the same token, a business or a corporation’s ‘brand’ can also get tarnished much more quickly (for e.g. failures of social media campaigns or the use of social media to quickly circulate negative experiences, which are at risk of going viral), what are your thoughts about the challenges this places on someone trying to maintain or communicate, a particular ‘brand message’?
The challenging part is that in our industry you’ve got new products every day. There are many new watches, and the overall quality of design is high. What determines commercial success is the visibility of the product and the ablity of the customer to identify the product and brand. A clear recognisable differentiating identity is crucial. There are many brands now trying capture people’s attention. It is not just the quality but the consisency of the message that is needed to stand out, a clear character.
Q: Do you personally try to keep an eye on social media with regards to coverage of IWC? Does it influence you or the brand in any way?
I am always interested the conversation with collectors but I am not personally active on social media. We have a social media team (within the digital team) of three people. It’s important to follow what’s going on; any relevant feedback goes into improvement of products and helps us improve on our offerings.
Q: IWC has quite solid and recognisable collections and designs and isn’t as trend-driven as some other watch brands might be; you can generally see a progresion, a development, but I guess that like everyone else, you still look at other brands and their new products?
With trends it is a difficult thing. We take two years, so we are not in the fashion industry. There, you can jump on-trend. For our type of product it doesn’t make sense to follow new trends. But what we see with many of our customers is that they are interested in the longevity of a mechanical luxury watch and they like timeless aesthetics. You invest in a product and hope you will like in ten or thirty years.
Many collectors don’t want products to change, especially if they have saved up for for a long time to get it.
Q: This is a question that I’m asking by request from a reader – what are you plans for the Da Vinci line?
We are reviewing it at the moment.
Q: IWC is known for big watches, but last year you introduced the Portofino mid-sized collection. Do you thinks smaller and more classic-sized watches are coming back in?
IWC represents big watches because of the pocket watch movement history. Historically we have also had ladies’ watches, the focus on men’s watches has only been in recent times. It is logical to reintroduce smaller pieces. We still have large pieces but with the the product launches of the last couple of years it has been more balanced size wise – a 40mm was introduced a bit even before the Portofino.
Q: 2015’s topic – smartwatches. Will IWC pursue this beyond the IWC Connect, which is really more like an add-on?
We believe in the future of the mechanical watch. Customers expect it. People will buy mechanical watches, collect them, charge them with emotions. However, we are convinced connectivity will gain importance and relevance in the future and wish to allow customers to find an elegant compromise between the both – mechanical but still have access to industry standards with connectivity. The strap is disposable as we believe that there are life cycles of an electronic product – the strap is perfect place so that you can still have the mechanical watch and the modern connectivity.
Q: A thought about IWC’s tagline of ‘Engineered for men’. The Portofino was launched here last year. Whether by design or not, there are some who refer to them as your women’s watches, even though there are clearly women who wear watches from your other collections. What do you think about a new tagline – ‘Engineered for you’?
The power of ‘engineered for men’ has been part of many years of IWC to differentiate it as a pure masculine brand… [followed by a few jokes about what might happen if IWC takes up my suggestion…]
My thanks to Mr. Christian Knoop and Natalia Eller of IWC Australia for the opportunity to chat to Mr Knoop in Hong Kong.
[Horologium attended Watches & Wonders 2015 by invitation of Richemont Austalia]