When did watches become so tough? It's hard to imagine that there was a time when timepieces were very delicate. A look into a watch boutique these days shows you the normality that watches have to be 10ATM water resistant, shock resistant, have shatter proof sapphire glass... How luxurious. That's why I find it fascinating to take a look back at the beginnings, when watches just started to become more durable and every bit of new technology meant several new years of lifetime to a watch. What were the first steps in this long journey to resistance and what role IWC played in it?
August 30, 2022
IWC Hermet - Design & History
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
The Resistance It's hard to imagine that there was a time when timepieces were very delicate and fragile. When you look into a watch boutique these days it appears almost normal that watches have to be 10ATM water resistant, shock resistant, have shatter proof sapphire glass... How luxurious. That's why I find it fascinating to take a look back at the beginnings, when watches just started to become more durable and every bit of new technology meant several new years of lifetime to a watch. What were the first steps in this long journey to resistance and what role IWC played in it?
If you ask me what I associate with IWC Schaffhausen these days it clearly is their pursuit of making tough watches. From the material development around Ceratanium all the way to their ultra-resistant Big Pilot Shock Absorber XPL supposedly robust to shocks exceeding 30,000G.
As much as I enjoy the idea of these real-life Science Fiction watches, potentially even more striking are the very humble beginnings of making watches sturdier and sturdier. Long before sapphire glass and modern alloys it was hard to produce watches that could take a punch or two. The highlighted brand from Schaffhausen had of course their very own approach and all started already over 80 years back. The protagonist this time being not your classic action hero. It's about an elegant and sophisticated dress watch. Here's the story of the IWC Hermet.
A watch definitely fit for military duty yet with perfectly balanced design to graze everybody's wrist - a beautiful 1940s IWC Hermet with black sector dial and golden hands and details - so let's dive into the history of this piece. Photo @goldammer.me
The Movement. With the slow transition from pocket watches to wristwatches in the early 20th Century IWC started to ramp up their production of smaller movements as well. One of the great early movements of the manufacture and its time definitely has been the Caliber 83[3-5], introduced in 1931. It's fair to say the heart of the Hermet has been a classic of its time. Beside the dressier examples the Caliber 83 was used in military legends like the famous Mark X military watch ("Dirty Dozen") and the uber rare Mark IX pilot's watch from the late 1930s and early 1940s*. It's interesting to think that the trend for tough everyday-watches didn't start yesterday - it's a very long tradition by now.
The Case. The Caliber 83 was evidently capable of some serious action, but the movement is only one variable in the equation of durability. What about the case? And here, we finally come to the essence of the so-called "Hermet". The cases came in various sizes from 32 mm to 38 mm but all had in common their rigorously sealed snap case-back, the stepped bezel and the recessed crown[6-7].
These case features were supposed to hermetically seal the watch against dust and humidity, hence the name. But for me these necessities bring their very own aesthetic vibe. Just take a closer look at the fluted crown for a moment. It grants the watch a more streamlined appearance as it blends perfectly into the silhouette. From afar it looks almost perfectly symmetrical, when actually this is the one detail to make perfect use of the stepped bezel.
When was the last time you've seen such cool details? A stepped yellow golden case with fluted recessed crown. A marvel of 1940s design. Photo @goldammer.me
The Dial. IWC made it really a habit in using sturdy movements for elegant timepieces. And on the dial it becomes clear that the Hermet collection too wasn't really meant as a classic military watch. The faces featured most often two-toned sector layouts with sub-second, a leaf hand-set, featured all-out numerals, and came classically in white, silver or black. It's really the late Artdeco, the 1940s spirit that speaks through this design and directly to my heart[6-7].
Figure 1. Design age for two classic IWC Hermet variants - one smaller more military style (black; 32 mm, black dial, syringe hands) and one oversized more elegant example (38 mm, white dial, leaf hands).
The Zeitgeist. The 1940s spirit clearly shows. When running our "design age" algorithm on the specifications - hands, marker, dial color, case-shape, bezel-style, size, materials, etc. - we can clearly see that the Hermet is a brain child of its era. Interestingly, when we break this up into a smaller, more military-like variant (black dial, syringe hands) we can observe that the peak shifts to 1940 in comparison to an oversized more elegant variant (white dial, leaf hands) with a peak around 1946.
Close up of a 1945 IWC Hermet with sector dial and syringe hands. Photo Phillips Geneva Auction November 2018 (lot 54)
The Conclusion. This all leaves us with a very interesting development of the midst of the last Century. Making watches resistant to degrading factors of the environment became quite a thing - a thing for the everyday watch and not simply military pieces. And it goes beyond water-resistance. The incabloc, making the balance-wheel more shock resistant, started its road to glory in 1938. During the 1950s magnetic shielding became another important factor for manufacturers: see for example IWC's own Mark XI (1948), Rolex's Milgauss 6451 (1956), Omega's Railmaster CK 2914 (1957) & Patek Philippe's 3417 (1958)[9-12].
As such starting in the late 1930s the Hermet marks a very important cornerstone in civilian watchmaking. All the developments that led up to our modern don't-worry-about, METAS-certified timepieces started back then. By now we got timepieces that are far more robust than our actual lifestyle necessitates.
Another of these rare gems - a 1942 IWC Hermet Ref. 308 with patinated copper dial in steel. Photo Christie's Geneva Auction May 2021 (lot 350)
So always remember the humble beginnings of IWC's Hermet... A watch with true class that even though it was built to last it didn't sacrifice a single gram of watch to aesthetics! It's as great as it can be exactly because it combines technological marvels and well-balanced design. And that's all I have to say.
* Not all Hermets came actually with a Caliber 83, there exist exceptions with for example Caliber 61 (Center-Second).
** If you're interested in getting your hands on one of those elegant time capsules; we can offer you a beautiful 18k yellow gold IWC Hermet in the shop right now.
 The Journal details IWC's innovation in cases; IWC Schaffhausen;
 Big Pilot's Watch Shock Absorber XPL; IWC Schaffhausen;
 Watch Movements: IWC 83; Roland Ranfft, Ranfft Watches;
 "Poor man's Patek" IWC cal 83 - 1941; Northernman, Omega Forums;
 IWC's First Wristwatches; David Boettcher, Vintage Watch Straps;
 IWC Hermet Oversized Cal. 83 Dress Watch; Sean Song, S.Song Watches;
 The Geneva Watch Auction: Lot 54, Nov. 2018; Phillips;
 Pivotal Dress Watches - IWC Cal. 89; Marcus Siems, Goldammer Vintage Watches;
 Flying Legend: IWC Pilot's Watch Mark 11; Ken Kessler, Revolution Watch;
 Rolex Milgauss History; Bob's Watches;
 Omega Railmaster: A Collector's Guide; The Spring Bar;
 Bring a Loupe: The Curious Case Of The Amagnetic Patek Philippe 2509 Coming Up For Sale At Christie's; Cole Pennington, Hodinkee;
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