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The IWC Da Vinci and the renaissance of the mechanical watch

The IWC Da Vinci and the renaissance of the mechanical watch

Basel fair 1985. IWC's main novelty is creating a lot of buzz among watch enthusiasts and experts.

IWC’s then head watchmaker Kurt Klaus, the genius behind this project, is busy explaining a new perpetual calendar wristwatch which appears to be pretty unusual.

On the caseband, no correction buttons can be found. But the dial displays lot of indications: not only the date, the day of the week, the month and the moon phase but even the year, decade and century!

The iconic Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Ref. 3750 - 1985

It is here worth to mention that in the mid-1980s wristwatches with perpetual calendar complications were not user-friendly. Adjusting the calendar was a tedious business which required to perform various operations with the aid of a stylus or correction buttons. If you add that this kind of timepieces were also very expensive and exposed to the risk of malfunctioning, it is easy to understand why the number of users willing to deal with these inconveniences was pretty limited.

With the new IWC Da Vinci, all the calendar displays, including the moon phase were perfectly synchronized and could be advanced day by day using the crown. For the first time, a perpetual calendar wristwatch could be operated as simply as an ordinary watch.

Also integrating chronograph functions, the perpetual calendar implementation of the Da Vinci was different for another reason: it featured a four-digit year display.

The calendar module designed by Kurt Klaus equipping the Calibre 79261.

In fact, the watch was configured for the next 500 years - 514 years to be exact - and was delivered with a small reserve century advance with the initial figures (22, 23 and 24) of future centuries sealed into a tiny glass tube. This spare part was intended to replace the century advance already built-in after 31 December 2199.

This specific feature contributed to make the Da Vinci one of the most memorable timepieces of its era inspiring headlines like "Eternity rediscovered" or "Eternity lasts longest."

The calendar module designed by Kurt Klaus comprised just 81 individual parts and had the potential to function autonomously, with virtually no correction, until 2499: everything was mechanically programmed to change correctly, even in leap years. The date display jumped forwards correctly to the next first of the month, even in the months with less than 31 days. And at the turn of the year, the final figures of the year number turn forward one position.

The Da Vinci of 1985 became the mechanical watch's answer to the quartz crisis. This is particularly curious if you consider that the first IWC watch bearing the Da Vinci name was powered by a quartz movement.

Launched in 1969, this model was equipped with Switzerland's first quartz movement, the "Beta 21", designated Calibre 2001 by IWC.

The first IWC Da Vinci - 1969

In the late 1960s, the invasion of Japanese quartz watches posed a serious threat to the Swiss watchmaking industry.

The first reaction from a group of Swiss watch companies came in 1962 in the form of tuning-fork watches, as they were called, which were produced according to a patent registered by the Swiss engineer Max Hetzel. On the basis of this development, 16 companies (Borel, Bulova, Cyma, Doxa, Ebel, Eberhard, Elgin, Enicar, Favre-Leuba, IWC, Juvenia, Le Coultre, Longines, Movado, Omega, Patek Philippe, Rado, Rolex, Zenith, Zodiac) jointly founded and financed the Centre Electronique Horloger (EH), which brought to serial production the "Beta 21", the first quartz movement, in 1968.

To underline the innovative technology inside the watch, IWC decided to introduce a bold design characterized by a six-sided case long bar indices converging on the centre of the dial resulting in a very technical look.

IWC stylists designed a high-quality metal bracelet that tapered down to the clasp and formed a unified whole with the watch.

An ambitious name was chosen for the new line: Da Vinci, like the Italian Renaissance genius, a truly disruptive innovator.

In spite of good success, it was not with quartz watches that the Swiss watchmaking industry watch was able to stem the Japanese export offensive.

In fact, a highly efficient production process of thin-film quartz in Japan led to a dramatic fall in watch prices in the 1970s making this battle less and less rewarding. The situation was further complicated by the bad world economic situation, the rising price of gold and the strong Swiss Franc currency affecting export.

In some way, it was the IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar of 1985 that indicated the way to go.

In those years Kurt Klaus was the head watchmaker at IWC. He had joined the company in 1957 finding a great mentor in Albert Pellaton, technical director and inventor, who taught him that, to make progress, one must think the unthinkable.

Kurt Klaus in recent years

While he was working on designing calendar complications for pocket watches, his boss Günter Blumlein, assigned him the challenging and somehow undefined task of developing new wristwatches.

Kurt set himself the ambitious goal of creating the most user-friendly wristwatch calendar ever designed, one that would not require the user to deal with calendar tables and many adjustment buttons.

He had the key idea to couple a calendar to the midnight change-over operation of the 24-hour wheel of a watch-movement so that all the displays could operate in sync and move forwards together at the same moment, just like the date display. He was completely successful in achieving his goal: all the calendar displays were synchronized in such a way that they could be advanced day by day by simply using the crown!

The most complex IWC to date needed a special name. The choice was Da Vinci, thus creating a link to the Da Vinci of 1969 and suggesting that this new model was the mechanical answer to the electronic (or quartz) threat.

More than just the name of the watch, Leonardo also inspired its design. In fact, the IWC designer in charge of the project - Hano Burtscher - found inspiration for the shape of the case in some sketches from the Codex Atlanticus that the Renaissance genius made to describe the harbour fortifications of Piombino (that were never actually built) with concentric rings and four semicircular bastions. 

The classical case framed a dial where all indications were arranged with the greatest attention to order and readability. And, for sure, it was not an easy task to organize four subdials, nine hands, a four-figure year number and a perpetual moon-phase display.

The Da Vinci of 1985 was a huge success quickly becoming the symbol of IWC in those years.

Several variations followed the initial Ref. 3750 with its yellow gold case and brown leather strap, including a black version with a case made from high-tech ceramic which later became available also in white, blue, lime-green and red. It was the world’s first wristwatch in a case made of a scratch-resistant and non-wearing ceramic, zirconium oxide.

With the invention of this autonomous perpetual calendar, the era of watchmaking complication began for IWC. Exceptional timepieces like the Grande Complication of 1990 and the II Destriero Scafusia of 1993 were equipped with it.

The Lady Da Vinci, a downsized version for women, was launched in 1990. Equipped with the Calibre 630, a quartz watch movement offering date and moon phase display enhanced by a mechanical chronograph, it became one of IWC’s most successful ladies' watches.

A Da Vinci model for Ladies dating back to 2000

In 1995, adding complexity and bringing the total number of hands on the dial to ten, IWC presented a new version of the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar, available in gold or platinum, with a split-seconds chronograph function.

The Da Vinci Ref. 3751 featuring perpetual calendar and split-seconds chronograph

In 2007, IWC launched the third generation of the Da Vinci presenting the Da Vinci Chronograph Ref. 3764, the first chronograph movement ever developed totally in-house in Schaffhausen and, few years later, the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Digital Date Ref. 3761, which showed the date and month in large numerals like a digital clock. With around 50 individual parts, the particular tonneau-shaped case was the most complicated case ever built in Schaffhausen.

Da Vinci Chronograph Ref. 3764 and, on the right, Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Digital Date Ref. 3761 

To define the style of the fourth generation of the Da Vinci, launched at the beginning of 2017, IWC looked back to the iconic model of 1985. The iconic round design and solid horns of that model were re-interpreted with a modern twist and a lighter look. Special attention was given to the models for Ladies.

The latest interpretation of the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Chronograph and below five of the sixteen Da Vinci new references launched in 2017 

The Da Vinci saga continues celebrating the exceptional legacy of the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar of 1985, a watch that has become a symbol of the watchmaking renaissance of those years. iwc.com

Suggested reading:
- IWC Da Vinci Collection
- IWC Da Vinci for Ladies


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Time and Watches | The watch blog: The IWC Da Vinci and the renaissance of the mechanical watch
The IWC Da Vinci and the renaissance of the mechanical watch
The IWC Da Vinci and the renaissance of the mechanical watch. History of the IWC Da Vinci watches. The IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar 3750 of 1985. With the invention of this autonomous perpetual calendar, the era of watchmaking complication began for IWC. Exceptional timepieces like the Grande Complication of 1990 and the II Destriero Scafusia of 1993 were equipped with it together with several other models. The calendar module designed by Kurt Klaus comprised just 81 individual parts and had the potential to function autonomously, with virtually no correction, until 2499. Several variations followed the initial Ref. 3750 including a black version with a case made from high-tech ceramic. The Da Vinci saga continues celebrating the exceptional legacy of the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar of 1985, a watch that has become a symbol of the watchmaking renaissance of those years.
Time and Watches | The watch blog
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