IWC Yacht Club, circa 1970s

In the early 1970s, the domination of the industry by quartz-controled wristwatches presented an interesting crossroads for the International Watch Company, and like almost every other Swiss manufacture, IWC coped with these titanic changes in ways that ranged from apparently prophetic to clearly (in hindsight) misguided. They revived the production of pocketwatches, even encasing the 1920s-vintage caliber 9521 as a wristwatch, the huge (and untra-thin and unexpectedly beautiful...) giant Portofino, and IWC was an early client of the great Gerald Genta, commissioning a revolutionary redesign (which survives even today, three decades later!) for their flagship Ingenieur. The balance of their line consisted of a "stylish" Aquatimer dive watch, an ever-shrinking supply of traditional thin dress watches, and the sports-oriented Yacht Club.

The present watch is of this latter model, and its niche in IWC's market would be between the various dress watches and the ultra- -waterproof Aquatimer and -rugged Ingenieur. In the contemporary segmented market such a watch is easily understood, but my impression is that almost 40 years ago the Yacht Club was rather lost. Launched in the late 1960s, it was stainless steel, and too large for business attire, not as prestigous and historic as the Ingenieur, and within a few years far too staid (and probably pricey) for casual/sport use. Perhaps it was rightly named; a stylish and expensive but durable weekend watch for affluent men.

Today this Yacht club is a sporty, mid-sized (36x42mm tonneau) steel watch, tough enough for daily wear but thinner and far more elegant than most modern competitors. Although neither dive-rated nor an Ingenieur, being an IWC it is no wimp, and it is sufficiently water- and shock-resistant to enjoy without much concern despite its vintage status. Unusually, this particular watch provides no date function, suggesting the special surprise inside...

The top and flanks of the lozenge-shaped case are nicely brushed, with only the bezel brightly polished.

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Despite its monochrome layout this is an easy watch to read; the faceted hands and applied markers provide high-contrast reflections from almost any angle. Discrete luminous inserts and traditional silver sunburst dial and embossed minute markers complete the low-key package.

This is the view rarely seen in any Yacht Club: a classic 12-ligne, handwinding caliber 89, conceived by the great Albert Pellaton in 1946 and by the 1970s in its very last days of production. While the caliber 89 powered a couple-hundred-thousand simple dress watches over its three-decade run, and is famed for its use in the original Mark 11 aviators' watches, virtually every tough/sporty/tool IWC had for several decades instead contained some version of Pellaton's revered 85Xx automatic movement.

Much like its contemporaneous competitor, the various Omega 30mm movements (but twenty times less common!), the '89 is intended for reliable long-term daily use and easy servicability. It was apparently Mr. Pellaton's initial design for IWC, and the history and workings of this great movement are beautifully explored by John Davis and Terry Russell in this article.

Although obviously simple in function, there are some unique touches: The center wheel is dish-shaped inside the spokes, allowing the wheel which drives the indirect center-seconds to reside underneath the main bridges rather than on top of the movement. Besides saving several parts and their attendant friction, it allows a significantly thinner movement. This also allows that a special alloy spring, tucked into a covered recess in the bridge, presses against the seconds-hand shaft to provide tensioning, rather than the usual simple steel spring covering the shaft-end.

For a factory-production movement, the finish is excellent, certainly to a high-functional standard, and by no means without considerable beauty. I especially like the mirror-polished anchor and escape wheel

The serial number would place production in the latter part of the 1970s:

Thick, no-nonsense screw-in back; the underside shows the elegant, long curve of the case:

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I hope you enjoyed this!

April 17, 2007

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