Established in Schaffhausen in 1868 by Florentine Ariosto Jones, likes its Richemont stablemates IWC reveals little to nothing about its financial performance, letting its watches do the talking instead… with an opportuneness that reflects a perfectly honed strategy and a capacity to adapt in these peculiar times. For information on the brand’s financial results, we can look to the latest Morgan Stanley report on the Swiss watch industry. IWC is ranked tenth with turnover estimated at CHF 812 million in 2019 and 170,000 units sold at an average retail price of CHF 10,000. Where strategy is concerned, all eyes are on Christoph Grainger-Herr, who replaced Georges Kern as chief executive in 2017.
It’s no secret that the global pandemic has accelerated luxury’s digital transition and IWC has clearly been at the forefront of this transformation, as Christoph Grainger-Herr confirmed in a recent interview on hautetime.com. He notes how “as people have increasingly gained confidence, there has been a huge acceleration in digital interaction with brands. The special circumstances of Covid weren’t that big a transition for us as we had already planned to have a live digital channel during Watches and Wonders 2020. So you can see that we very quickly started to introduce technology that would otherwise have taken longer. This situation is creating habits that are here to stay.” IWC is certainly digitally “well armed” to feed these habits and strengthen ties with an audience that keeps asking for more.
Another example of the brand’s digital shift is the full VR experience it released for last year’s Portugieser launch. This included features for digitally trying on the different models and visualising them on the wrist in three dimensions. Further innovations are personalised virtual tours of the manufacturing facility, regular invitations to online presentations of timepieces and movements, and the Cyberloupe. Developed in-house and based on a traditional watchmaker’s loupe, this digital tool uses a high-resolution camera to capture images as seen by the watchmaker and live-stream them to any device, anywhere. The images can also be saved and viewed at a later time. It premiered at Watches and Wonders Shanghai last September. Also in Asia, this time in Singapore, the brand has launched its first IWC Virtual Boutique, a perfect digital replica of its retail space inside the luxury Ion Orchard shopping mall. Visitors can click on watches to view them close-up, get information on technical specs and consult prices.
Digital isn’t the only area where IWC has been ticking all the right boxes. It’s also making astute choices for its brand ambassadors. In June 2019 the brand announced Tom Brady as Global Brand Ambassador. In February this year the American football legend led his team, Tampa Bay, to a second Super Bowl victory and a seventh championship win for the quarterback. Then there’s the longstanding partnership with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team, which last year secured a record-breaking seventh consecutive Constructors’ World Championship title. The exploit is all the more remarkable knowing that the team is just ten years old. Also that year, star driver Lewis Hamilton, who also wears IWC colours, equalled Michael Schumacher’s record when he achieved his seventh World Drivers’ Championship win.
While the brand has a glittering entourage of über-celebrities, the likes of Bradley Cooper, Dev Patel and Rosamund Pike, gala evenings and red-carpet photo ops are no longer so apropos. “I think that time has passed,” says Christoph Grainger-Herr. “The role of celebrity brand ambassadors at live events has been completely disrupted by Covid.” Instead, brands are focusing on creating content for their digital channels and here too IWC has proved more than capable. Its “Born of a Dream” short film series promotes values of perseverance and determination, personified in one instalment by Tom Brady and in another by IWC founder Florentine Ariosto Jones, played by James Marsden.
As a pioneer in environmental and social responsibility – a strategy reflected in its new manufacturing facility – another film on the brand’s website shows Cate Blanchett deep in conversation with IWC’s chief marketing officer Franziska Gsell, coinciding with the publication in October 2020 of its second Sustainability Report. Glitz and glamour have given way to an ethos that aligns the brand’s image with its watches: products that are designed and made first and foremost as functional mechanical instruments, underpinned by passion and respect for the environment.