When the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak was celebrated in 2022, it was accompanied by a renewed focus on the work of Gerald Genta, the Swiss designer whose 1970s designs ushered in the dawn of the luxury stainless steel sports watch. Stories abound about how he came to father not only the Royal Oak but the Nautilus as well, two models that would survive almost unchanged for 40+ years in the offerings of the companies who produce them. But another equally important model that is often mentioned only in passing, if mentioned at all, was the IWC 1832 Ingenieur SL.
As an IWC collector, it has long frustrated me that the 1832 Ingenieur SL lived its short life as a mostly obscure model unknown to all but the most serious collectors of the brand. Designed by Genta in 1974 and released by IWC in 1976, it enjoyed a relatively short production life before it was discontinued after only 8-years.
The Birth of an Icon
Few watch companies can boast of creating multiple industry icons from such low production numbers as IWC. Be it the B-Uhr from 1940 at 1,000 pieces, the 690 original Portugiesers sold over a 42-year period, or even the Mark 11, whose relatively small production was also scattered over several decades, these models went on to define not only IWC but a genre of watches that have since been copied by many.
The Road to Change
If the 1950s represented a post-war economic boom, the 1960s were characterized by the growing influence of a youthful population ready to define their own music, fashion, and politics. By the end of the decade, social change was so prolific that it spawned its own unique design code and watches became elevated as objects of style.
Saving the Flagship
According to David Seyffer, IWC’s Museum Director, the need to completely modernize the Ingenieur was recognized as early as 1969 as evidenced by his discovery in the archives of a “Neue Ingenieur” project with the directive for five prototypes with blue and white dials. The designer in charge at the time, Frank Böttger, produced the following drawing, but the project never progressed, the five prototypes went missing, and Böttger left the company early in 1972. Ultimately, IWC would look outside for a new design.
The Genta “Jumbo” Ingenieur
The 1832 Ingenieur would be the first of several new steel watches in a new “SL” line intended to modernize the company’s offerings. The responsibility for this project fell to Hannes Pantli who had just joined the company in 1972 as IWC’s newest salesman in charge of Northern Europe and he quickly recognized the need to lower product costs and increase factory utilization. The price of gold would more than triple due to the end of the Bretton Woods system that had capped prices at $35/oz, crippling IWC’s exports and creating an existential threat to the company.
The 8541ES, with “ES” designating the inclusion of several new anti-magnetic components, a stop seconds function and rubber cushions, was at its pinnacle of accuracy and reliability but at 5.9mm high, it cased out at 12.5mm, almost double that of the Royal Oak and Nautilus.
While Pantli saw the need to have several new steel watches to compliment the 1811 Yacht Club, the initial focus was on the Ingenieur due to its history in the market. With the company in something of a state of flux, the design responsibility for the new Ingenieur was awarded to Genta, the only known independent watch designer at the time. Two other notable watches in the SL line were the Golf Club and Polo Club, neither of which were designed by Genta.
Pantli met with Genta in 1973 and communicated IWC’s stipulations: the watch had to be round with an integrated bracelet and it had to maintain the double case and accommodate the 8541ES movement. It was already known that the 8541ES was too thick, but it was the only movement IWC had. There had been a project to release a new family of thinner movements for IWC’s 100th Anniversary in 1968, but the project was abandoned when the movements failed to meet IWC’s reliability standards.
The 1832 “Jumbo” was also expensive, costing more than 2,000 Swiss francs upon its release, though less than its competition. Truth be told, all these watches were a shock to the market due to their size and use of steel at a premium price point and they did not sell well. The industry was changing rapidly, and quartz watches led the race to thinness, economy, and hard times for the Swiss watch industry.
During the life of the “Jumbo”, IWC did its best to accommodate customer requests and eventually produced models in six different references in varying combinations of metals, offering both automatic and quartz movements. Due to changing tastes and poor economies of scale, the Jumbo was discontinued in 1983.
A decade later, the 1832 “Jumbo” would become a sought-after model, greatly increasing in value, and defining yet another iconic watch within the IWC family. Since 1983, this Ingenieur has emerged from relative obscurity and taken on numerous forms, but these 40-years later we collectors still dream of its eventual return and the assumption of its rightful place among the historic work of its talented designer.
For those models that came later, we must add the Ingenieur. Released in 1955 to address the needs of modern life, this first series Ingenieur, designated as the reference 666, included Albert Pellaton’s extraordinary automatic calibre 852 as well as protection from the growing risk of strong electromagnetic fields in the daily work of scientists and engineers. This flagship model would remain a staple of IWC for more than a decade.
It would not sell as well as the reference 666 in part due to the concurrent release of the Yacht Club which was perhaps considered a more modern design. By 1975, the 866 had faded from IWC’s offerings
It was during this time that IWC decided to refresh the Ingenieur and in 1967 the reference 866 was launched. It contained a new 852 derivative, the calibre 8541, and a new case to accommodate this slightly thinner movement. Other changes included sunburst dials, white gold markers, a paddle seconds hand and some with applied “IWC” logos.
A Rightful Place
The IWC 1832 SL INGENIEUR
Auto-Amag Ref. 1832 C.8541B 1976
Designer: G. Genta Author: T. Russell
P.1 - 8541ES
P.2 - soft iron double case
P.3 - integrated bracelet
As for the original Genta drawing of the “Jumbo”, the search continues…
P.4 - Jumbo 1832 Ingenieur
I'd like to thank Dr. David Seyffer, IWC Museum Director, for his inspiration and research assistance in the development of this article.
I'd also like to thank Hannes Pantli, IWC Board Member and long-time IWC executive, for his time and invaluable input in providing the necessary context and details regarding the history of this watch. IWC remains with us today thanks in large part to his leadership during the turbulent times in which this watch was introduced.