The butch brand’s most esoteric line of watches has been reborn in a much more approachable form, with a strong emphasis on ladies’ watches
by Chris Hall
IWC’s Da Vinci collection may not be at the forefront of the collective consciousness of watch fans. In fact that’s sugar-coating it a little; these days, Da Vinci is almost certainly the least well known set of watches that IWC puts its name to. The brand’s focus for the majority of the last decade on watches that were “engineered for men” (a slogan that has quietly moved on) didn’t really fit with a collection of slightly fussy tonneau-shaped watches. The Da Vinci family missed out on an update when it seemed due – IWC tends to revamp one line of watches per year, and a couple of years ago it looked like being the turn of the Da Vinci, only for it to be passed over in favour of the Portugieser and Pilot’s families. It was looking a little unloved.
Consequently, if you’ve come to watches any time in the last ten years or so, you could be forgiven for not thinking very much about the Da Vinci range at all. But its roots are interesting and innovative (which goes some way towards justifying the name). It was introduced in the late 1960s as IWC’s contribution to the Beta-21 project, and housed the Swiss quartz movement in a futuristic integrated case.
Then, a decade and a half later, as the industry was picking itself back up after the Quartz Crisis, the Da Vinci came to the fore with what is still its greatest moment (indeed, one of IWC’s signature achievements in the modern age of watchmaking). In 1985, now in a very classical round case with thick, grooved lines (derived from an architectural sketch of Leonardo Da Vinci’s for a fort), IWC presented the world’s first perpetual calendar that could be controlled entirely from the crown. Much has been written about this watch – and rightly so – so for now it will suffice to say that it was an enormous accomplishment. It was followed by the first coloured ceramic-cased watch the year after.
In innovation terms, the Da Vinci line has lived in that shadow ever since; in the 1990s a retrograde chronograph reference and a tourbillon piece were added to the family. In 2007 it moved into a tonneau case that had neither the 70s cool of the original nor the classical purity of the 1985 set, and the technical improvements, while not absent, have been of the diminishing variety. Of the introduction of the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Digital Date Month, IWC’s website remarks that it was “a watchmaking tour de force that has been genuinely worth the effort.” This third generation of the Da Vinci also saw the introduction of an entry-level piece, the Big Date Automatic.
Now, with overt masculinity less central to the marketing message, and perhaps mindful of the somewhat niche appeal of that big tonneau shape, IWC has given the Da Vinci its most drastic change of direction yet. It’s now a family of watches with male and female-oriented models, a perpetual calendar chronograph that’s very close to the pioneering piece from 1985, and a Da Vinci Tourbillon Retrograde Chronograph that reprises both of the 1990s additions.
At the lower end, we have the Da Vinci Automatic 36 and Automatic Moon Phase. These are the explicitly feminine watches and as such, come with a scattering of diamonds, a very prominent moon phase dial and a wide-ish range of coloured leather straps (each polished with a variety of different pastes to achieve a “patina-like-shimmer”).
There will be three moon phase pieces, one in red gold, one in steel with diamonds and one in steel. We don’t have prices for these at the moment but it’s fair to say that IWC has seen what Jaeger-LeCoultre has achieved with the Rendez-Vous, and Montblanc with the Boheme, and we would guess, pitched this squarely inbetween the two.
Above these in the range we can expect to see a larger three-hander aimed at both men and women, occupying roughly the same terrain as the 40mm Portofino mid-size. More detail on this when we have it. We can tell you a bit about the watch at the top of the Da Vinci tree, however: the new perpetual calendar chronograph. As we’ve written elsewhere, perpetual calendar chronographs are a rare breed, and high complications aren’t necessarily flying off the shelves right now, so it’s heartening to see IWC sticking to its guns.
The new watch is visually very close to the 1985 original, with an update of that round, grooved case, and modified pushers and crown. The lugs, too, have been tweaked (they’re still hinged at the point they meet the case, like the original). The date subdial is at three o’clock, day of the week at nine o’clock and the months co-habit with the running seconds at six o’clock. It’s a flyback chronograph, based on IWC calibre 89360, and in common with that movement, it has a co-axial hours and minutes chronograph subdial at twelve o’clock. Here, though, IWC has also added the moon phase (and what looks like a large aventurine disc), which is accurate to one day in 577.5 years.
Unlike a lot of perpetual calendars, this can display the time right up until the year 2299, at which point the owner – one’s great-to-the-power-of-ten-grandson, hopefully – will need to replace the second two digits of the four-digit year display with a new slide. Handily this is included, preserved for posterity in a small glass vial (we like to think that it says on the side “in case of emergency time travel, break here”). The watch is cased in red gold, measures 43.5mm, has a 68 hour power reserve and will also be released in stainless steel. Prices are TBA at this point.