A masterclass from IWC in the art of watchmaking

Watch newbie Alex Dymoke visited an F1 team HQ to try his hand with tweezers and loupe

Shortly after my grandfather died, my dad told me I was to inherit something. He handed me a small wooden box, which contained an elegant watch with a black leather strap. I knew nothing about watches, but no such knowledge was necessary to recognize the five-tipped crown on the black face. “Wow,” I said, turning it over in my palm. “How much is it worth?”

“A lot.” my dad said. “Which is why you can only wear it for a very special occasion.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know… your wedding day perhaps.”

Alas that day is yet to arrive, and I’ve remained watchless. As a result, I never learned my bezel from my ratchet wheel and if you’d asked me on what device a barrel bridge is found I’d have assumed it was a gun.

That was until I had the chance to participate in a watchmaking masterclass held by IWC Schaffhausen for some of its favoured clients. The idea is to allow those who have bought watches to see first-hand the craftsmanship and engineering that goes into each piece.

Major added bonus: since IWC is a commercial partner of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1, the classes take place at the team’s HQ in Brackley. That means things start with an engrossing tour of the factory, from the aerodynamics wind tunnel to the area where Louis Hamilton tries the new cars for size. Finally we “pit” in a kind of classroom, where we don white coats. Watchmakers dress like scientists but Christian Bressan, master watchmaker and our teacher for the day, insists watchmaking is an art. As he guides me through the equipment, I see why. We have tweezers, tiny screwdrivers, a small tray full of components, and an eyeglass without which the work would be impossible. Before me lies what I’m told is one of IWC’s most basic historic movements, known as Calibre 89. Basic maybe, but to my eye it’s an impossibly intricate knot of wheels, springs and jewels.

Even with Christian’s clear instructions, deconstructing and reconstructing the movement requires a meditative level of concentration. It’s absorbing work. Using the slender tongs to nudge the cogs into place is a fiddly business, but the soft click as the components come together is a thing to behold. It’s beguiling, this watch stuff, after all. Now to find a wife…