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IWC at Watches and Wonders 2023: A Masterclass in Booth Design

Watches and Wonders turns the Palexpo – a massive convention center in the very cradle of watchmaking, Geneva, Switzerland – into a small city of brilliantly decorated watch manufacturer’s display booths. Within the Palexpo’s seemingly endless carpeted halls, the most important watch manufacturers in the world set up shop for a week and reveal their latest and greatest works of horological art for the new year. During this week, the Palexpo buzzes with camera shutters snapping, watch nerds yapping, and an ever-growing community unified in discourse and opinion over the new releases.

More than anything, the booths and displays at Watches and Wonders showed how these iconic brands perceived themselves and their distinct personalities. Where Rolex’s booth felt like a gated, impenetrable fortress, Tudor’s was highly interactive and educational. Cartier brought a heaping helping of class and style to their corner of the Palexpo, and IWC put together a proper late ‘70s spy movie anti-hero lair. One part secret laboratory, one part swinging Swiss-German bar, and a healthy dose of period-correct motorsports made for an overall experience that really showed how well IWC understands what their brand represents in the big picture of watchmaking. 

The big news coming out of IWC’s not-so-secret secret lab was the release of a reissue of one of Gerald Genta’s icons, the Ingenieur – a watch that completes the trio of Genta’s great integrated bracelet designs alongside the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus. It’s a watch that divided opinion among the C + T Team, but one we all appreciated in some way or another. These are our thoughts on all things IWC at Watches and Wonders 2023.

Cameron Barr – Founder and CEO:

I absolutely loved IWC’s booth! It got a 9.5 out of 10 for me and IWC essentially made my ultimate Bond villain lair into a booth, and it was as unexpected as it was perfect for their brand. Walking into the IWC booth felt like stepping into 1979 in a really immersive way. They included everything from a wonderful little bar and cafe that featured things like a vintage espresso machine and appliances, period-perfect space age furniture, a Mercedes Benz prototype race car. It felt like every detail was considered and the brand’s identity was projected perfectly through their booth design.  

As for the big news from IWC this year, the Ingenieur reissue was a watch I personally really like. While I do feel myself getting worn out with the hype around Genta’s designs, I’ll always love the Royal Oak and Nautilus like most of us, and I think it’s cool that IWC is breathing new life into the last of the three most iconic Genta watch designs. I also think it’s a relatively affordable way to get your hands on something that has actual Genta DNA in it, which has become increasingly difficult as both the vintage and modern examples of the Royal Oak and Nautilus have become more and more sought after. Even without the value proposition, I really appreciate the unique personality the new Ingenieur has. I like that they made the watch in titanium, I think the textured dial design is great, and I like how dimensional the outer minute track is. Overall, it’s just something I wasn’t really expecting to like, but really loved after seeing it in-the-metal. It’s a watch that’s somehow striking and boring at the same time, which I think gives it a really unique charm. The finishing and work on the watches they had on display was flawless, and while it’s natural to compare the Ingenieur to its siblings, I do think it stands on its own as a piece with a personality, one that is undeniably less elegant than the other two, but it works more as a sports watch because of that. I see the new Ingenieur as an alternative, but very functional daily-wear modern sports watch.

Beyond the Ingenieur release, I think IWC did a great job of displaying their current range and it really made me reconsider their space in the modern market. A lot of the watches IWC displayed were “boutique level” watches and I don’t think IWCs are all that hard to purchase new, and I think the brand’s identity has shifted a lot in recent years. Being both a vintage watch dealer and a newer F1 fan, I always do some watch spotting when watching races and seeing some of the cool IWCs that Lewis Hamilton sports on race weekends has really turned me onto some of the interesting ceramic cases this brand does and I think that technology is very cool. If only the case sizes came down a bit.

Tyler Vanes – Chief of Operations:

The IWC Booth was incredible and I think it was maybe the most photogenic booth at Watches and Wonders. The way that it was set up was very IWC, and while all of the brands presenting this year seemed to really know their identities and captured them with their displays, IWC’s was a particularly immersive experience. It felt super technical and there were no unnecessary frills or anything that wasn’t there without a purpose. It was fun, but there weren’t any visual flourishes just for the sake of it. The atmosphere was like walking into a lab, but in a way that felt like it was pulled from a spy movie. From the prototype Mercedes Benz race car to the watchmaker they had tucked away in the corner working on movements, to the black and chrome MCM furniture, it was just picture perfect for the brand’s identity. 

IWC’s big buzz watch this year was the reissue of the Ingenieur, which I have to say is personally not my favorite watch. I really like the first edition Ingenieurs and while I’m a big fan of those original examples, the progression of the design with this reissue isn’t really to my personal taste. It lacks the fluidity and lines of the watch don’t feel as necessary as they do on other famous Genta watch designs like the Royal Oak or the Nautilus. I understand it as an aesthetic choice, but the way that the bezel is situated on the watch doesn’t work for me because it feels like it clashes with the rest of the case. There’s something about the watch that I find lacks the cohesive design of other Genta watches and frankly, it’s the most boring of the three big watches he designed in that style. To me, it was an evolution of that original porthole design concept that didn’t necessarily need to happen. Of course, that’s just my personal taste. 

I will also admit that a big part of that opinion is that I think the watch world has collectively been celebrating Genta’s work with such enthusiasm over the past five years, that I’m starting to feel  a little burnt out on it. It makes good sense for IWC to capitalize on that hype, but I think they’re a bit late to the game with the Ingenieur reissue and that we’re going to see Genta fever fade in the next couple of years. A communal love for Genta’s work will always cycle back, he was undeniably one of the most influential watch designers of all time and we love his designs for good reason. However, the explosive attention that his designs have received over the last five years has been really over-the-top and a lot of people started making watches with integrated bracelet designs, and I think we’re going to see a divergence away from those and away from artful, design-forward sports watches towards an era of dress watches and simple, yet stylish designs. 

I look at the resurgence of Cartier as something that might suppress interest in things like Genta-designed watches, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think the watch world is primed for a new conversation and interested in something a little more elegant, a little more traditional, but with an artistic approach. You’re going to see the conversations around the crazy horological elements of a movement happen less frequently, but conversations about case design and dial manufacturing are going to happen a lot more often. Ultimately, it’s a good thing to move on from Genta for a bit because we’ll be able to celebrate his work with fresh eyes again when they come back around. And it will be interesting to see how the Ingenieur reissue does for IWC this late in the game.

David Von Bader – Senior Editor: 

We’ve been going on and on about the personality of the booths throughout our coverage of Watches and Wonders 2023, but for my money, no one did it better than IWC. I’ll echo my colleagues in saying that stepping into the IWC display felt like entering the secret lab of a Roger Moore-era Bond villain or some clandestine Mercedes Benz skunk works facility. It was picture perfect, the perfect mix of edgy late ‘70s design and watchmaking. If the booth had had a soundtrack, you better believe it would’ve been some kind of analog synthesizer groove. The aesthetic really primed you to look at their watches in a different way, and I’ll admit that modern IWC has always been a brand I’ve ignored because all of their watches feel too large for me. I left that booth with a different appreciation for what it is they do. 

I am a design nerd and I absolutely understand and am fully on-board with the Genta hype train, but I was left flat by the new Ingenieur release. To me, it has always felt like the least interesting of the trio of Genta designs, the most pedestrian of them, and I don’t think any amount of finishing detail or a strong value proposition makes up for that. When you look at the Royal Oak or the Nautilus – and I mean really look at them and see a piece of design and not the market value – they look alien. They look timeless because they were so futuristic when they first came out. These are watches that are unlike anything that came before them and anything that came after that wants to work within that visual idiom is forced to borrow so much from Genta’s design language, that it always comes off as a tribute watch. With the Ingenieur, it lacks that intrigue and fluid design language. Perhaps a toned-down take on the fantasy of Genta’s best works is what you’re after and the other two are too ostentatious for your eye, but it just doesn’t move me. 

That said, I’m glad that IWC is making the Ingenieur again and I think it further underlines the shift towards heritage-inspired designs most serious enthusiasts want to see the big names producing. An Ingenieur reissue stands alongside Tudor’s Black Bay 54 and Cartier’s Tank Normale as the harbinger of more classic designs being brought to market in modern guises, and that’s a good thing for horology as a whole in my book. 

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