At the beginning of this year, at SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, a really big and important Swiss watch convention), IWC introduced the updated Ingenieur line of watches. The Ingenieur to IWC is what the Milgauss is to Rolex- a watch to repel the magnetic fields that could wreak havoc on the mechanical movement of the watch. It was intended, like the Milgauss, for engineers whose jobs would take them near extreme magnetic fields.
When the Car Association Began...
The mission for the Ingenieur first changed with the Mercedes CLS55 AMG “IWC Ingenieur” that debuted in 2005, along with an AMG-branded Ingenieur wristwatch that emulated the font of the numbering on the AMG gauge cluster. The later higher-end AMG models (S-Class and CL-Class) also got an IWC clock in the dashboard (I remember seeing one in a 2008 CL63). Nowadays, all AMG models have an IWC clock in the dash.
IWC and its "Established" Connection to Racing
The company made sure to stress the connection to racing with its booth at SIHH. It contained, as described by the watch blog Hodinkee, “Formula 1 technical lab, complete with faux wind tunnel turbines, stacks of tires, disembodied engines, and…cars.” This is very cool, and I would have been all over the exhibit, but only because of the racing memorabilia (including a beautiful 300SLR driven by Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1955 Mille Miglia). Also cool was the Mercedes F1 car brought by the team.
IWC then debuted numerous different Ingenieurs, from the special edition Ingenieur Chronograph Silberpfeil (meant to remind us of the Mercedes Silver Arrow W25 with its likeness on the caseback) and the aptly named Ingenieur Chronograph Racer. On top of that came the Automatic Carbon Performance and the AMG Black Series Ceramic editions of the watch. This is seriously overdoing it just to prove an association to racing that never existed in the first place.
But the webpage...
The part that irritates me the most about IWC is on the dedicated webpage for the Ingenieur. There are pictures of the Mercedes F1 cars throughout the page with the background having an outline of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. The problem is that the details make sense for a watch named Monaco or Daytona, but not for an Ingenieur. A watch named as such should have the graphics explain what it can do, rather than paragraphs associating why a particular watch should suddenly be associated with motor racing. The site, though it does explain the engineering that went into the original Ingenieur, instead wants the customer’s mind to associate the watch with motor racing. I would think associating the watch with engineering would be enough, as it’s also a cool profession too.
I understand that IWC wants to stress its partnership with the “MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team.” However, Rolex sponsors Formula One as the “official timepiece of F1” and it has not gone all out to promote its association with racing (the Australian Grand Prix being the exception). TAG Heuer already has the association from years past with racing, so they are exempt from using motor racing in their advertising. (I also may be biased.)
An Example From When It Didn't Work
On the other hand, Hublot tried very hard to be associated with gearheads with the King Power F1. It didn’t work (probably because of how gaudy they were) and Hublot didn’t renew its sponsorship contract with F1 (instead they became the official timepiece of Ferrari).
The problem I have is not with the Ingenieur. It’s a fantastic and very well-built watch (if not a bit large for the wrist). IWC has crammed so many complications into that case that it is a solid choice for anyone. In fact, I would recommend it as an excellent watch for anyone as long as they have large wrists (with a 45mm diameter for the chronograph and 46mm for the non-chrono special editions, it's big). But IWC doesn’t really have to try that hard at all. The tie-up with Mercedes should be enough but they should not have to go to great lengths to prove that their Ingenieur is a gearhead watch. That's already implied by the name "Ingenieur." IWC is capable of great watches, with their Ingenieur Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month a prime example.
At the end of the day, the marketing people should still sponsor the “MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team” (any company that sponsors F1 is beneficial to the sport in my book), but IWC should stop milking the sponsorship for all it's worth. I don’t generally recommend investing in watches, but the strategy degrades the value of the Ingenieurs associated with Mercedes and its racing team, much like how Ferrari-branded Panerais and Bentley-branded Breitlings have suffered in recent years in terms of resale value. If you do choose to buy an Ingenieur, buy one that is not associated with the racing or AMG on the dial, and you will love the watch, gearhead or not. It can withstand plenty of magnetic fields and it keeps excellent time too.
Do you think IWC is trying too hard to market its watches to gearheads?
Photos of IWC watches and SIHH booth courtesy IWC. Mercedes gauge cluster photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz. Hublot watch photo courtesy of Hublot. Special thanks to seriouswheels.com for containing the old IWC CLS55 press release and Hodinkee for their details on the IWC booth at SIHH.