Watches - Why Buy?
Why buy a Vintage IWC Ingenieur SL 1832?
by Hugh Taylor | January 23, 2017
As far as antimagnetic watches go, the IWC Ingenieur is one of the leading players. It was the first popular antimagnetic watch and it led the way for the likes of the Omega Railmaster and the Rolex Milgauss. After enjoying two decades of success, IWC brought in Gérald Genta, possibly the twentieth century’s most revered watchmaker, to give the Ingenieur a facelift. But surprisingly, Genta's Ingenieur SL 1832 was a flop, and the collection all but died out. Today, however, that very reference, nicknamed the “Jumbo”, is the most valuable of them all.
As any watchmaker worth his salt will tell you, magnetism is the main cause of time loss/gain in mechanical watches. The lightest of contact with electrical equipment can transfer a magnetic charge to a watch movement whose parts are traditionally made primarily from steel. This issue became increasingly apparent through the first half of the twentieth century with the introduction of electrical machinery.
Nowhere was this more of a concern than in the military cockpit, where a tool watch was an essential part of a pilot’s equipment. And so, soon after WWII, the British RAF approached IWC, the leading pilot's watch manufacturer at the time, asking them to build a professional pilot’s watch that could face up to a technically advanced cockpit. IWC had already been working on the issue for German pilot's watches, and had come up with the idea of encasing the movement with soft iron, which acts as a protective cage, diverting magnetic fields around the movement.
Their new watch for the RAF, the "Mark 11", was widely considered a success and it paved the way for the first commercial model. The Ingenieur was released a few years later in 1955—a year before the Rolex equivalent, the Milgauss, and two before Omega's Railmaster. It was a smart, classic watch marketed at scientists, engineers, pilots and any other professionals working in electro-magnetic environments. It sold well and many of these early references can still be found in good condition today.
After two decades the Ingeniuer was ready for an upgrade. It was a heavy watch and it needed a snappy new design to fit with the fashions of the swinging seventies. IWC turned to the man behind the most exciting watches of the decade, the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Genta stuck with his winning formula and designed an "extra-large" luxury sports watch, an original concept that had already worked so well for the Royal Oak.
All three watches were inspired by a ship's porthole. As well as having similar cushion-cut cases, all three were made from stainless steel and had similar integrated bracelets with tight links. There were, however, a few visual differences, while the Royal Oak and Ingenieur had screws in the bezels the Ingenieur was the only one with a circular bezel.
The new Ingenieur inherited all the technical qualities of its previous generations but it had a stylish new look. It came in three different dials, of which the present checked black was the most popular. It housed an IWC 8541 calibre with new antimagnetic parts and upgrades to its iron inner case. It was more antimagnetic and more shock resistant and by all means it was an excellent watch whose design remains on point today.
Yet, while the Nautilus and Royal Oak went on to become two of the most famous watches of all time, IWC sold less than 1,000 Ingenieurs in eight years. In spite of everything the Ingy SL had going for it, only 550 of the steel model were sold. The lack of sales was put down to the era—it was the middle of the quartz crisis and IWC’s sales had slumped across the board. Two versions were even made with quartz movements to try to reach a wider market, but these were equally unsuccessful.
Why it did so badly is not so clear. Admittedly, the Ingy SL 1832 is a little heavy and it was especially so for its time. It was also very large with its case measuring 40 mm. The Royal Oak and Nautilus were large too, the Ingenieur is only 1 mm wider than the Royal Oak, but they had slimmer movements and no iron inner case so they appeared and felt much less chunky.
After a lengthy hiatus, the Ingenieur was successfully re-launched in 2005 and today there are a number of different models including chronographs. They are still almost a spitting image of Genta’s model, with the same cushion-shaped case, bracelet and bezel screws. The interesting thing is that nowadays early SL 1832s in good vintage condition go for more than double, sometimes triple the price of many current Ingenieurs.
There appear to be two key reasons for this. On the one hand is the success of Genta watches since the seventies, particularly the other porthole-inspired pieces (which includes the Vacheron Constantin 222) but also of some important watches he later designed for Omega and Cartier. There is now a collector's market just for Genta's designs. On the other hand is the very fact that so few Ingy SL 1832s were made, which means it’s now the rarest of the Genta seventies models.
Add on to that the fact that the Ingy SL 1832's dimensions are now far more acceptable. It’s still a touch bulky and heavy (nearly 150 grams), but it’s far more respected than it ever was, right down to the movement which is very highly regarded when compared with the history of IWC’s automatic movements. Today, the Ingy SL 1832 is very much wearable and the fact that it's part of a cherished trio of watches makes it even more appealing. While it looks at home with casual dress or a suit, the Ingy SL 1832 is one for the collector's shelf, and it will surely only become increasingly valuable over the years to come.
View more information, price and pictures of a vintage IWC Ingenieur SL 1832 here.