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Blog: IWC's First Wristwatches

Date: 3 November 2016

Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved.

I make additions and corrections to this web site frequently, but because they are buried somewhere on one of the pages the changes are not very noticeable, so I decided to create this blog section to highlight new material. Here below you will find part of one of the pages that I have either changed or added to significantly.

The section reproduced here is from my page about IWC - The International Watch Company.

If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact Me page.

IWC's First Wristwatches

IWC wristwatch in Borgel case
IWC wristwatch from 1914/15 with 18 carat gold Borgel case. The strap is one of my Type B designs in premium Italian brandy leather with a Type GW hallmarked 9 carat gold buckle . Click image to enlarge.

One statement can be made about early IWC men's wristwatches with certainty: Until 1915 all wristwatches made by IWC were fitted with calibre 63 Lépine or calibre 64 savonnette movements. The calibre 64 continued to be used for men's wristwatches until at least 1936.

The calibre 63 and 64 movements were the right size to be used for men's wristwatches; 12 lignes or about 27mm diameter, and the calibre 64 savonnette is the correct layout for a wristwatch with the crown at 3 o'clock and small seconds on the dial above the 6 o'clock. As a consequence, most early IWC wristwatches have calibre 64 movements, although occasionally wristwatches are seen with calibre 63 movements and no seconds indication on the dial. Wristwatches containing Calibre 63 or 64 movements are usually about 33mm diameter, excluding lugs and crown. This is still a reasonable size for a man's wristwatch today and the watches are very wearable.

In 1915 two smaller movements, the 10 ligne 23.35mm diameter calibres 75 Lépine and 76 savonnette were introduced for smaller wristwatches, less than 30mm diameter. A 10 ligne movement would be fitted into a case of about 28mm diameter which would be suitable for ladies' wristwatches. This size became fashionable for men's watches in the 1930s but is difficult for a man to wear today. A note in Fournitures No. 5 dated 1935 says that the calibre 75 is used for ladies' open face pendant watches while the calibre 75 has various uses; in round wristwatches for ladies', in “shaped” (i.e. not round) wristwatches for men, and in ladies pendant hunter watches.

Another 12 ligne movement, the calibre 82 savonnette, was introduced in 1920. The calibre 82 was the first 12 ligne movement that IWC made that could have taken over the from the cal 64 but for some reason it didn't, it was only made in very small numbers. Some feature such as cost of manufacturing or durability meant that the calibre 64 continued to be favoured. The first three batches of calibre 82, 600 at a time, were made in 1920, then no more were made until, rather strangely, a single final batch was made in 1928, a total production of only 2,400.

The real successor to the calibre 64 was the 12 ligne calibre 83 savonnette movement, breaking with the practice of using odd numbers for Lépine movements. The first batch of 600 calibre 83 movements was made in 1931, followed later in the year by the final batch of 600 calibre 64 movements. A total of 68,400 calibre 83 movements were made by IWC. The calibre 83 was used in an extremely rare pilot's wristwatch produced by IWC between 1936 and 1944, the "Spezialuhr fur Flieger", today colloquially known as the Mark IX. In upgraded form with shock protection, the calibre 83 was used in the 1940s for watches supplied to the British military under their "Watches, Wristlet, Waterproof" or W.W.W. specification. The 12 Swiss manufacturers who supplied these watches adopted the name Mark X for them, which is how the earlier watch became retrospectively know as the Mark IX, a name never used by IWC.

If you see an early wristwatch described as an IWC that doesn't contain one of these calibres, then it isn't an IWC. This often happens with a Stauffer branded watches, and also occasionally with other watches. The vendor might think that the watch is an IWC, or perhaps hopes that you might think that is an IWC watch. But fortunately, now you know better.

The image here shows an IWC wristwatch with calibre 64 movement in an 18 carat gold Borgel case. The case has the sponsor's mark of Charles Nicolet, director of Stauffer & Co. London, and London Assay Office import hallmarks for 1914 to 1915. The movement carries Stauffer & Co.'s trademark of the initials S&Co. beneath a crown in an oval surround.

Calibres 63 and 64 were 12 or 12.5 lignes A "ligne", (pronounced "line"), is 1/12 of an old French inch (pouce), used prior to the adoption of the metric system. A ligne is 2.256mm. It is used in the measurement of watch movements, and is the outer dimension of the movement just beneath the flange that holds the movement in place in the case. The shorthand for ligne is the triple prime ‴, e.g. 12.5‴. movements, which was just the right size for a man's wristwatch at the time. All other IWC movements until 1915 were larger sizes, 17 to 19 lignes (38.5mm to 43mm diameter), suitable for men's pocket watches but too large for men's wristwatches at the time. An earlier IWC movement, calibre 51, was a 13 ligne cylinder movement which would have been the right size, but this was last made in 1889 and was never used in wristwatches.

In 1915 the 10 ligne calibres 75 and 76 were introduced, which were also a suitable size for wristwatches. A 10 ligne movement is about 22.5mm diameter so from 1915 these would have been used in ladies wristwatches, until the fashion for smaller men's wristwatches of around 30mm diameter arose in the late 1920s and through the 1930s.

The earliest IWC wristwatch that is known to me is one in a Borgel case that was made in 1906 - this date has been confirmed by IWC from their records. I have a particular fondness for Borgel watches and this is also the earliest Borgel wristwatch that I know of. You can read about it below. If you know of an earlier IWC wristwatch, or an earlier Borgel wristwatch, please get in touch.

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Early IWC Wristwatch Calibres

IWC calibres 63 and 64
IWC Calibres 63 and 64. Click image to enlarge

Lépine or "open face" pocket watches usually have the pendant and crown at 12 o'clock so that when the watch is hanging from the pendant the 12 is at the top of the dial. Savonnette or hunter pocket watches usually have the crown at 3 o'clock where the button that opens the lid is placed conveniently for operation by the thumb when the watch is resting in the palm of a hand.

In both designs the small seconds sub dial is at 6 o'clock, in a Lépine pocket watch this is at the base of the dial directly opposite to the crown and the 12 o'clock, in a savonnette pocket watch it is at right angles to the crown at 3 o'clock. The picture here of calibres 63 and 64 movements shows where the fourth wheel is located relative to the stem. The fourth wheel turns once a minute and the seconds hand is mounted on the end of its arbor, which is made extra long to project through the dial.

The principal appeal of wristwatches was that they could be read easily and only needed one hand, which meant using an open face design. The obvious layout for the dial of a wristwatch, which was achieved very quickly, was the one still used today, with the 12 o'clock at the top of the dial and the crown at 3 o'clock, which meant using a savonnette movement, which would normally be fitted to a hunter case with a lid protecting the crystal. The lid would have afforded protection to the watch in its vulnerable position on the wrist but made it far less convenient to use, requiring both hands to read the time, which is why hunter cased wristwatches are rare.

So an open face wristwatch with 12 o'clock at the conventional position where it is found today, the crown at 3 o'clock and sub seconds at 6 o'clock was the result of the paradoxical combination of putting a savonnette (hunter) movement into a Lépine (open face) case. If you are interested you can read more about Lépine and savonnette movements on my watch cases page.

For IWC this meant using the calibre 64 movement, which was a savonnette layout and the only movement they made at the time that was the right size for a wristwatch. If the calibre 63 was used for a wristwatch, which it was on occasion, then the sub seconds would have been at 9 o'clock so it was omitted.

1906 IWC wristwatch with Borgel case
1906 IWC wristwatch with Borgel case: Click image to enlarge

A very early IWC wristwatch is the one shown in the photograph here. It has a Borgel case and was made by IWC in 1906. It was supplied in January 1907 to Stauffer in London as a single piece, rather than the more usual batch of 12. This was just before the British law changed, requiring from 1 June 1907 all imported gold and silver watch cases were hallmarked with British import hallmarks, so this watch has Swiss which have no date letter. However, IWC provided me with an official "extract from the archives" for this wristwatch showing that the finished watch was sold to Stauffer in London on 9 January 1907

IWC calibres 63 and 64
1917: IWC Calibre 63 Lépine and calibre 64 savonnette and montre bracelet. Click image to enlarge

The 1908 Catalogue des Fournitures continued to describe calibre 63 as a Lépine and calibre 64 as a savonnette, but when the next Catalogue des Fournitures came out in 1917, calibre 64 was described a both savonnette and "montre bracelet" or wristwatch, as can be seen in the image reproduced here.

The Swiss Federal cross and number 31457 is a reference to IWC patent No. 31457.

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Calibres 63 and 64 in Detail

Calibre 64, and less often calibre 63, were used in all IWC wristwatches until 1915, because IWC made no other movements of a suitable size for a wristwatch until the calibres 75 and 76 were introduced in 1915. These were 10 ligne movements, a small size that was suitable for ladies' wristwatches, and for shaped or the smaller size of men's wristwatches that became fashionable in the 1930s. IWC men's wristwatches used the calibre 64 savonnette movement into the 1930s.

IWC Calibre 63 and 64 Movements
Catalogue des Fournitures No. 1, 1891 - 1892
IWC calibre 64 movement
IWC calibre 64 movement. Click image to enlarge

The first production details appear in the 1892 IWC production records listed in Tölke and King with three batches of calibre 63 numbered 77001 to 77300, 80901 to 81200 and 86901 to 87500, a total of 1,200 pieces, and one batch of calibre 64 numbered 83601 to 83900, 300 pieces. Details of the calibres 63 and 64 first appeared in the IWC "Catalogue des Fournitures No. 1" (parts catalogue) as shown here, which is thought to date to 1891-92.

The pictures here from the first IWC Catalogue des Fournitures describe the calibre 63 as a “Lépine (à glace)”, that is, it was intended for use in open face watches with no metal lid covering the watch crystal. Such watches were called Lépine or à glace in French speaking countries, and open face or crystal in English speaking countries.

The calibre 64 is a savonnette movement, used in watches where a hinged metal lid covers the crystal. Such watches were called savonnette in French speaking countries, and hunter in English speaking countries.

Calibre 64 was later used for wristwatches, because the dial can be laid out with the crown at 3 o'clock and small seconds at 6 o'clock. Calibre 63 is less suitable for wristwatches because with the crown at 3 o'clock the small seconds would be at 9 o'clock, so if a calibre 63 was used for a wristwatch the small seconds were omitted.

The calibres 63 and 64 were first used in small pocket or fob watches. Does that make them pocket watch movements? No. If men's wristwatches had been in fashion in the 1890s, they would have been used in them. The calibre 63 and 64 movements are simply small movements that are a suitable size for men's wristwatches. There is no fundamental difference between a pocket watch and a wristwatch movement, they only become either a pocket watch or a wristwatch movement once they are put into a case.

The pictures show that the calibres 63 and 64 were available in 12½, 13 and 14 ligne sizes, roughly 28.2, 29.3 and 31.5mm. (The size of a movement is the diameter of the bottom plate where it fits into the middle part of the case, slightly smaller than the dial.) The 13 and 14 ligne sizes were dropped about 1908 and don't appear to have ever been used in wristwatches.

The term “ancre” shows that the calibre 63 and 64 both have have anchor escapements, the Swiss term for the lever escapement. These are straight line Swiss lever escapements with cut bimetallic temperature compensating balances, Breguet overcoil balance springs and 15 or 16 jewels, with some jewels set in screwed chatons. They work at 18,000 vibrations per hour (5 ticks and 2.5 complete oscillations (Hz or cycles) per second). Their mainspring barrels have Maltese cross or Geneva stop work.

Balance Location

An interesting change in the design of the calibre 63 took some time before 1907. Prior to this the calibre 63 had its balance on the left as shown in the pictures above from Fournitures No. 1, but Fournitures No. 3 shows the balance on the right of both the 1907 and 1910 models, which is also the configuration of the calibre 63 in the photograph of the two calibres side by side.

Tölke and King say that the purpose of this was to move the barrel from right to left, because that arrangement is more favourable with regard to bearing pressure and reduces wear. It is not obvious why this should be.

Keyless Mechanism: Winding and Hand Setting

The calibre 63 is described in some IWC literature as a "Lépine à poussette" and the calibre 64 as "Savonnette à targette".

The term "poussette" refers to the push-pin method of hand setting, where a pin on the side of the case is pushed in to change the keyless mechanism from winding to hand setting and the crown then sets the hands.

The term "targette" translates literally as "slide" or "bolt" and refers to a lever set mechanism. It is similar to the push-pin set mechanism, but instead of pushing in a pin to engage the hand setting, a lever is pulled out to engage hand setting. The lever is only accessible when the bezel, or in hunter watches the cover, is open, providing safety against accidentally altering the time. This feature was originally introduced in America for Railroad watches to make it difficult to adjust the time accidentally.

Stem Setting: Calibres 63T and 64T

Calibre 64T Stem Set
Calibre 64T Stem Set: Click image to enlarge

Stem setting means that the hands are set by pulling the stem and then turning the crown. It might be argued that a push-pin allows the hands to be set by the stem, but stem setting usually means pulling the stem outwards to put the keyless work into the setting mode.

The 1917 catalogue shows versions of calibres 63 and 64 with stem setting, these were called 63T and 64T, the “T” standing for tirette, meaning to pull.

This seems to be the first time that stem setting versions were mentioned in an IWC catalogue, although the data in Tölke and King shows one batch each of 300 calibre 63 and 64 movements begun in 1906, each labelled with “Tir” for tirette, which shows that these were stem set. These are the only two batches of calibre 63 and 64 labelled Tir until the calibre 64T appears regularly in the records from 1917 onwards until 1931. After the initial batch of 300 begun in 1906, only one other batch of 600 calibre 63T, a Lépine movement that was not suitable for wristwatches, was begun in 1918.

Details in the Fournitures

The calibre 63 and 64 movements underwent various developments over the many years that they were in production. The final batch of 600 calibre 64T was made in 1931, bringing the total number of calibre 64 made to over 55,000. An IWC sales catalogue of 1936 shows a wristwatch with a Borgel case and calibre 64 movement, truly a long life cycle.

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IWC's Second Wristwatch Calibres: 75 and 76

IWC calibres 75 and 76
IWC calibres 75 and 76 - click to enlarge

The picture shows IWC calibres 75 and 76, which were introduced in 1915. They are described in the catalogues as 10 ligne movements, i.e. about 22.5mm diameter, although the size given in the 1935 catalogue is 23.35mm, which works out at 10¼ lignes, and 3.5mm "high" (thick).

The legend "Mise à l'heure par la couronne" means that the time is set, i.e. hands are moved, by the crown, meaning that these are stem wound and set movements. The calibre 75 is a Lépine and the calibre 76 as a "savonnette and montre bracelet".

The calibre 75 and 76 were manufactured from 1915 until 1930, total number of movements produced was around 17,460. They were jewelled to the centre with 16 functional jewels, increased to 18 if cap jewels were provided for the escape wheel. Their oscillating frequency is 18,000 vibrations (halfbeats) per hour or 2.50 Hertz. They have a double roller straight line Swiss lever escapement with a cut bimetallic temperature compensating balance and Breguet overcoil balance spring.

IWC calibre 76
IWC calibre 76 - click to enlarge
Image © Smiths watches

The IWC factory used the terms Lépine and savonnette to describe the case style rather than the movement layout, Lépine for a movement intended for an open faced case, and savonnette for a movement intended for a hunter style case with a lid or metal cover over the crystal.

This is why the "et montre bracelet" (and wristwatch) qualification is added to the calibre 76, because of course wristwatches are usually open faced (Lépine), and an open face wristwatch is made by putting a savonnette movement into a Lépine case.

The photograph here shows the top plate of an IWC calibre 76 savonnette. The picture is oriented so that the stem is at the top, you can see the castle wheel and setting lever screw at the top, these show where the stem enters the movement. Being a savonette layout the balance is on the opposite side of the movement almost directly in line with the axis of the stem; the exact alignment isn't important, the important alignment is the position of the fourth wheel arbor because this carries the seconds hand.

In a savonnette (hunter) cased watch, and an open faced wristwatch, the sub seconds dial needs to be at 6 o'clock and the stem needs to enter the movement at three o'clock, so the fourth wheel arbor needs to be placed on an axis exactly 90° to that of the stem.

There is more about Lépine and savonnette layouts at Savonnette (Hunter) vs. Lépine (Open Face).

If you have any comments or questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch via my Contact Me page.

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Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved. This page updated December 2019. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.