The magic of the watch-making craft and the human ingenuity involved came to life in a seminar held recently by Felopateer Palace, a local watch boutique with several branches in Cairo.
It was part of the Swiss International Watch Company’s (IWC) promotion of its unique Leonardo Da Vinci line.
Coming to lead the watch-making seminar was Kurt Klaus, a man who devoted over 50 years to mechanical watch making and development at the headquarters of IWC in Schauffhausen, Austria.
He is also the man behind the Perpetual Calendar watch, the first mechanical wrist watch to indicate the year in four digits.
It was a feat accomplished in 1985 when the first watch from the Da Vinci line came out as a pocket watch, later developed to become a wrist watch as the tradition of pocket watches died out.
“It was new. I practically started with nothing, no computers. I had to make the [design] drawings by hand, and the mathematical calculations all by hand, Klaus said.
In an age where few appreciate the complexities of the hand made mechanical watch, and rose quartz watches are de rigueur, Klaus’ work is a remarkable feat of mechanical engineering. A total of 385 master pieces are used to make a perpetual calendar watch with such accuracy that it rarely ever needs to be reset.
About once every 100 years.
But almost near perfection is the crux of its charm. It is as perfect as human beings can ever come to perfection, almost, but not quite.
Seated with a set of special IWC tools, and a loop to peer through, I was walked through the finer mechanics of watch making.
“A watchmaker needs to feel the watch. Watch making should be felt with your fingers, said Klaus wiggling his fingers. Struggling with very small screws, and fumbling with the tweezers to lift and move apart the various master pieces of a model IWC watch, the room was quiet as each of us struggled to master the initial simplest steps of the intricate process.
It was no easy feat. And Klaus was right; to understand, one has to become intimately acquainted with the inner organs of a watch to fully appreciate the final product. Lifting apart several bridges (larger units that hold down the various gears that move the minute and hour hands) and seeing the small gears with miniscule teeth were amusingly enthralling.
Smartly dressed, and avuncular in nature, Klaus moved from person to person watching us as we tried to follow his instructions. One guest incorrectly reassembled several bridges, and Klaus with good humor kindly asked him to leave it so he could fix it.
Later, we found Klaus working patiently on the watch, seeming amused and wholly content to be alone with the work.
IWC has always been one step ahead, mechanically and aesthetically. It was the first to set the large faced watch trend with the Portugese Chronograph line – a women’s favorite.
Even though 30 percent of Portugese Chronograph purchases are made by women, IWC has never intentionally made watches for women.
Women have been recently attracted to this brand that offers the very essence of hand made mechanical watches as opposed to the excessive frills and vulgarity of other brand names. There is a classic simplicity prevalent in all their designs, yet each line and watch is unique.
So much so, a recent Da Vinvi model, made to be a more delicate watch than the rest of the line, with a sleek thin strap and elegant gold face, it is enticing. For a cool $12,000, this dream is only perhaps a thousand pay checks away.