An Interview With IWC Creative Director Christian Knoop

For WatchTime’s upcoming Design Special 2018, we sat down with several different design professionals — including independent industrial designers, freelance watch designers, lead designers of large brands, and even a movement designer — to talk about how they see the role of design in watchmaking, where they get their ideas from, and what they think good design is. The first in line was Christian Knoop, Creative Director IWC Schaffhausen:

“The secret of a successful makeover is to have the right idea at the right time.”

WT: What is the role of a designer in the world of watchmaking?
CK: Mechanical watches have a rich and fascinating history and many of them become iconic products within the world of luxury accessories. Nowadays, these watches are not just instruments to read the time. They are objects that our customers connect with on a very deep and emotional level. Luxury and beauty always went together and therefore the design and the aesthetics play a very important role. In a market where new products pop up every day, our responsibility as designers is to create products that stand out and are relevant and recognizable because they reflect the values of a brand and speak to the customer’s heart.

WT: How did you get into watch design?
CK: I am an industrial designer by training and started my career working on different products like furniture, consumer electronics, domestic appliances, industrial products, and even aircraft interiors. Even before I joined IWC, I admired the aesthetic consistency of the brand. So when I was asked to head the company’s design department, I felt much honored. It’s very satisfactory to design a product that is so deeply touching our customers. Watches are clearly the most emotional products I have ever worked with.

WT: What is good (watch) design for you? Any examples?
CK: Successful design is never random, but it can clearly be identified as belonging to a certain brand. It has to follow the tradition of the brand and have a unique character. Our clients are looking for orientation and a high recognition value. Some of our watch families — like the Portugieser and our Pilot’s Watches — have been speaking the same design language for more than 70 years. Of course, this language has evolved, but it still embodies the DNA of our brand. For me, this is outstanding watch design.

WT: Where do you get your ideas?
CK: The history and heritage of IWC are one of the main sources of inspiration. Sometimes we dig up historic references in our museum – watches I have never seen before and which inspire us when creating new products. As a designer you see the world with open eyes. You constantly observe your surroundings and notice the smallest details. Also, traveling and getting to know design from different cultures is very inspirational.

WT: Which product/watch would you like to see get a makeover?
CK: It takes several years for the design and development team to create a new product. When we launch a new product at a fair, we are already working on something different. Design is never a linear process. In the case of the Da Vinci, for example, it took us nine years to get everything right. The secret of a successful makeover is to have the right idea at the right time.

WT: Form follows function of function follows form?
CK: I like the design credo “form follows function,“ as it is expressed in the instrument look of our Aquatimer divers’ watches and Pilot’s Watches. Sometimes the design has to support and inspire a specific spirit, like classic motorsports or the rough nature on the Galapagos Islands — themes we use in our collection to highlight aspects of our history or activities with our brand partners. There, this pure functional approach is limited and the designers have to find different solutions to convey that message, that spirit, through the design of the watch.

WT: Which project are you most proud of?
CK: If I had to pick one single product, it would be the Portugieser Yacht Club from 2010. It was one of my very first projects for IWC and an important milestone in the development of the product family at same time. In that sense it will always be very special for me.


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  1. The Portofino, Ref. 2009 in roman numerals and platinum case is one of the most gorgous and elegant dress watches. I wish if they could remake such a watch with the original geometrical proportions, not the current monster sizes.

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