July 14, 2020

In Conversation with IWC’s Christian Knoop

IWC Christian Knoop - In Conversation with IWC's Christian Knoop

In line with this month’s theme – Watchmaking and Design – we have had the opportunity to engage with a host of creative minds, including one of the finest in the world of watchmaking, Christian Knoop, who wears the Creative Director’s hat for IWC Schaffhausen. German by nationality, Knoop studied industrial design at the University and went on to infuse his sense and understanding of design into companies making an array of products, from domestic appliances to planes. For over a decade, he has been with IWC and admits that watches were the “most emotional product” he had ever worked with. With a keen eye for design, Knoop is a man of varied interests, including architecture, sailing and golf. Here are excerpts from an interview with Vishawatch’s Vijaya Rathore. Read On.


Vishawatch: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Knoop : As a designer, you look at the things around you with a different eye, and you take inspiration from various fields, industries and products. I draw a lot of inspiration from travelling, architecture, fashion, but also museums and exhibitions. I am a trained industrial designer and have worked on vastly different products, ranging from consumer electronics to furniture to industrial and medical products to aircraft interiors. It’s quite a coincidence that I ended up joining IWC almost 12 years ago because I had no track record in watch design in particular. But looking back, this move was a game-changer and a start of a new passion.


Vishawatch: Which are your personal favourites from the IWC Portugieser portfolio. Your top three picks?

Knoop : My first pick is the new Portugieser Automatic 40. It was inspired by the Reference 325, the first Portugieser from the late 1930s. We took this timelessly modern design with the small seconds at “6 o’clock” and explicitly no date indication as a basis while introducing some modernity in the details and finishes. The watch, powered by the IWC-manufactured 82200 calibre movement, reminds us of one of the most iconic designs our brand has ever created, but also appears incredibly crisp and modern and truly is a watch of our times.

My second pick is the Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph. This watch will always hold a special place because it was one of the first watches I got to work on after I joined IWC. We introduced it as a part of our 2010 collection to add a sporty interpretation of the Portugieser. Now, we are launching the third generation of the Portugieser Yacht Club in a 44-millimetre case with reworked proportions, a carefully refined dial layout as well as a newly developed and beautifully detailed metal bracelet.

My third pick is the Portugieser Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph, which combines a flying minute tourbillon at “6 o’clock” with a retrograde date display at “9 o’clock” and a chronograph. It’s the first time we are presenting the IWC-manufactured 89900 calibre in the Portugieser family. The pallet lever and the escape wheel have been treated with IWC diamond shell technology, giving it an extremely tough surface that reduces friction and improves the flow of energy in the movement. We present this masterpiece of Haute Horlogerie in 18-carat Armor Gold® or platinum.


Vishawatch : While developing new designs, how do you maintain a balance between these three – market dynamics, legacy & heritage of IWC and your heart’s voice?

Knoop : If you have an iconic design like the Portugieser, the task of updating it needs to be handled with a lot of respect. You have to carefully study the history of this line, while still trying to introduce something new. With the new collection, we wanted to create a bridge between the past and the future; to surprise our customers with new functions and models, while making sure they instantly recognise the collection as the IWC Portugieser. An excellent example of how you can respect the history and DNA of a watch family and still come up with something astonishing is the Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide. If you look at the design, it has all the elements that have made the Portugieser Yacht Club a success since 2010. Taking the iconic double moon indication of our legendary perpetual calendar as a starting point, we have developed a mechanical tide indication which informs you about the approximate time for the next high and low water. This complication is on the spot with the nautical heritage of the Portugieser, it’s respectful of the DNA of this line, yet it’s something completely new.


Vishawatch : In an interview with a watch magazine, you have shared that watches are the most emotional products you have ever worked with. Can you elaborate on that please?

Knoop : A mechanical watch is not just a beautifully designed and handcrafted object but also something that touches people on a deeply emotional level. The watch you wear every day is much more than an instrument to tell time. You attach a particular story or a memory to it. Maybe you have received it as an inheritance, or it was a gift you made to yourself to celebrate a milestone in your private life or your career. This individual emotional component is something very few other products have. When you look at IWC, many of our collections are rooted in authentic and evocative universes that tell stories of sailing, diving, motorsport, or flying. IWC’s pilot’s watches go back to the early days of aviation. From the 1930s onwards, pilots used them for celestial navigation in the cockpit. Their initial purpose also led to their distinctive design in the style of an easy-to-read cockpit instrument. When you wear a pilot’s watch today, maybe you are aware of the history and function of these timepieces, and you attach an emotional value to it. Many of us, including myself, had dreamt of becoming pilots when we were kids. The pilot’s watch you wear as an adult has the unique ability to remind you of this childhood dream every day.


Vishawatch: You have also been quoted saying that the “secret of a successful makeover is to have the right idea at the right time.” In the current times when the world is going through a challenge which will have a long term impact on the economies, including the luxury market, do you think watchmakers will need to make some shift in their design perceptions and philosophies to be more relevant in the future? What’s your personal take on it as an artist?

Knoop : The desire and fascination for luxury products is part of human history and existence, and will probably remain. But we can observe that a crisis like this changes our behaviour towards more conscious purchasing decisions. Possibly we will ‘consume’ less, and instead, invest in products that are physically and aesthetically long-lasting and represent real emotional value for us. Well-established brands and responsibly made products will benefit from this phenomenon. Many of our product lines were created several decades ago. For example, the Portugieser or the Pilot’s Watches were developed over 80 years ago – and their iconic design appears just as fresh and contemporary today as it did back then. This is what makes our brand authentic and credible, and these are the qualities that consumers will be looking for when choosing a luxury product in the future. I am curious to find out if – and how – the current situation will influence the creative processes and works in different industries.


Vishawatch: Working with a brand like IWC, which has such a rich and strong history and reputation to live up to, how much personal creative freedom do you get to experience in your job?

Knoop : I like to work in this field of tension between the history and the future of an established brand. I find it hugely rewarding to be in charge of developing and evolving the iconic designs that our brand has created. Nowadays, there are so many new watch designs every week, and the average level is very high, but only a few of them get the attention of a broader audience. What’s important is that a timepiece tells a story that speaks to people. I believe that character and identity created within the boundaries of an established brand’s DNA and aesthetic framework tend to stick to people’s minds for longer and will be relevant even when the “flavour of today” will have been replaced by a new trend.


Vishawatch : You have created designs for different product categories in the past, what makes your experience with watches different from the past?

Knoop : Watch design is very different from other industries. The process of designing a watch, especially when you are working for an established brand, is highly specific. As opposed to, for example, furniture or car design, we create products that are made to last for generations. Because of this extreme durability and longevity, we choose a more modest design approach. A designer needs to examine the history of the brand and deal with its heritage very thoughtfully. In the end, it is about creating something which will remain aesthetically relevant for a very long time. While there may be some rather extravagant watches, most established brands focus on quality, longevity, and a certain degree of understatement.


Vishawatch : What do you think about ‘Time’ as a dimension of the human experience and the role a watch plays in the same?

Knoop : Time is the fourth dimension, and the astonishing thing about it is its relativity. In the context of our “TIME WELL SHARED” initiative, I recently had the opportunity to discuss with architect Hani Rashid and our CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr. We noted that the absence of all the distractions of modern life during the current lockdown had also dramatically impacted our perceptions of time. Even though the mechanical watch on your wrist will reliably divide every day into 86400 seconds, you perceive every second differently. There are the moments that go by very quickly, and then there are moments that seem to drag on forever. Your watch gives you orientation every day, with much more precision and detail than the sunrise or the sunset.


Vishawatch: Which are the brands other than IWC that you admire for their creative and design approach?

Knoop : Mies van der Rohe and Charles Eames are among the creative minds I look up to. I’m still fascinated with the combination of reduced shapes combined with refined materials and crafted details these architects and designers worked with. Similar qualities I find with two contemporary designers like Antonio Citterio and Naoto Fukasawa, which I admire for their works.