Swiss brand IWC has announced the opening of its new state-of-the-art manufacture or Manufakturzentrum on the outskirts of Schaffhausen. Completed in just 21 months, the opening of the Manufakturzentrum coincides with the company's 150th anniversary this year.
In a major milestone for the company, IWC brings together the production of movement components, manufacture movements and cases all under one roof now. It gives the brand the opportunity to better control the entire production process. "For example, the entire process of creating value - from the raw material to the individual movement component and on to the finished manufacture movement - progresses in a logical order on a single storey. I have been dreaming of this ever since I started at IWC back in 2007," says Andreas Voll, COO of IWC Schaffhausen.
The 9-metre high entrance lobby of the new manufacture leads directly to the movement-component production workshop. Here, around 1,500 components are produced, including components for the automatic movements of 52 and 82 Caliber families, the handwound movements of Caliber 59 family, and the chronograph movements of Calibre 69 family.
Components machined here include base plates, bridges and winding rotors. Also smaller components like switching levers, springs and latching elements. Components used in complicated movements such as perpetual calendars, annual calendars and tourbillons are also produced in this department.
Since these components need to be extremely precise, most of the steps involved in producing movement components are automated. "At the end of the milling process, a bottom plate for the Calibre 52, for example, must have around 400 geometric features. It must be produced with minimal tolerances in the region of a few thousandths of a millimetre," explains Voll.
The milled components are finished in the electroplating shop. Surfaces are treated to protect against corrosion and for aesthetic reasons as well. For example, nickel and rhodium plating prevents brass components from tarnishing and developing a patina over time.
While the production of components is largely automated, assembling the movement is a task that requires manual intervention. At the pre-assembly stage, plates and bridges – which together form the ébauche – along with a number of other components, are assembled to form a unit. These finished units are sent to the assembly lines where skilled hands bring to life the beating heart of the watch.
The company’s founder F. A. Jones was among the first to bring the concept of industrialized production to the Swiss watch industry. And in line with his vision, a line concept has been developed for assembling the movements. The assembly process is broken down into multiple sub-processes, which allows a specialist to be assigned to each individual step. "Having the assembly process for our different caliber families organised into dedicated lines enables us to maximise the quality standards," says Voll.
The case production department is housed in the basement of the Manufakturzentrum. IWC makes its own stainless steel, titanium, platinum, red gold, white gold and bronze cases. The latest case material being produced here is Ceratanium, a new alloy that combines the strength and lightness of titanium with the scratch-resistant properties of ceramic.
Even a simple case comprises many individual parts. Factor in details likes a a rotating bezel or chronograph pushers and the number of components rises rapidly. The cases are machined from blanks using computer-controlled turning and milling centres. Depending on the material and case type, between 30 and 50 cases can be made from a meter-long bar. The milling process alone can take hours.
The raw machined cases are sent to the surface finishing stage where they are polished. The final cleaning and inspection takes place in a cleanroom atmosphere. In addition to machine engraving and etching, laser engraving is also used to engrave the caseback.
"The building has more to offer than just optimal conditions for production and excellent working conditions for our employees. It allows visitors from all over the world to see up close how our manufacture movements and cases are produced," says CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr.