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The Life of Da Vinci – In a Watch

By Caroline Suganda

Eric Dane as Marcus in 'Burlesque' wearing the IWC Da Vinci Chronograph.
 
Everett Collection
Eric Dane as Marcus in 'Burlesque' wearing the IWC Da Vinci Chronograph.

The search for something seemingly simple and well-designed is not just excruciating, but also equally frustrating. I was looking for a delicate necklace with a simple solitaire diamond — one that will appear to float between my collar bones. Nevertheless, it seems that there is always a small detail that makes me stop short of making a purchase: the chain is too thick, the prong setting appears to overshadow the diamond, the chain length is not right... .

However, this bordering-on-obsessive search for that “perfect” necklace has taught me one thing: The devil is really in the details. It is not an easy task to create a simple design, and this exercise has certainly made me more appreciative of well-thought design aesthetics.

Mention “da Vinci” and almost everyone knows it’s a reference to the artist, Leonardo da Vinci. The Italian Renaissance artist who embodied the symbiosis of technology and beauty with unparalleled perfection is the inspiration behind a line of timepieces by IWC. “More than any other watch family (in IWC), this collection embodies the inventiveness of IWC’s engineers,” says Dr. David Seyffer, museum curator of IWC. “(Also) the rich history of women’s watches in this line.”

The original Da Vinci watch, launched in 1969 — it had a hexagonal case — is far removed the modern-day version. It was the first IWC watch to feature the Beta-21 — a quartz movement that was accurate to five seconds per month, far superior to any automatic and manual-winding watch at that time. The movements were comparatively large then, hence the angular, thick case design of the first watch.

Since then, the Da Vinci has morphed into many forms, from a sleeker version of the original of the Da 
Vinci line, to its first round case in
 1985 with the Perpetual Calendar,
 designed by watchmaker Kurt Klaus. The latter was an important milestone 
for the brand — a design that incorporated a moon phase display with a perpetual calendar that needed only a push on the crown to make the necessary adjustments, instead of correction pushers. Its unique twin-frame bezel was inspired by a sketch made by the late artist himself, depicting a port fortification in Piombino, Italy. A ladies’ version of the watch, the Da Vinci Lady Chronograph Moon Phase, was launched 10 years later. “It was one of the most successful women’s watches IWC ever made,” Seyffer shares.

IWCFrom left, top row: 1969 original Da Vinci timepiece; 1977–1979 Da Vinci Line. Middle row: 1985 Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar by Kurt Klaus; 1995 Da Vinci Lady Chronograph, one of IWC's most successful women's watches; 1998 black Da Vinci SL-Automatic; 1999 black Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon. Bottom row: 2003 blue Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Rattrapante; 2000 Da Vinci Lady Chronograph; 2008 Da Vinci Chronograph Edition Laureus Sport.
From left, top row: 1969 original Da Vinci timepiece; 1977–1979 Da Vinci Line. Middle row: 1985 Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar by Kurt Klaus; 1995 Da Vinci Lady Chronograph, one of IWC's most successful women's watches; 1998 black Da Vinci SL-Automatic; 1999 black Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon. Bottom row: 2003 blue Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Rattrapante; 2000 Da Vinci Lady Chronograph; 2008 Da Vinci Chronograph Edition Laureus Sport.

The line kept its round case dial for a while, before introducing a tonneau-shaped case in 2007 with the Chronograph Edition. The next year, the Da Vinci Chronograph was the ‘role model’ for the special edition watch for “Laureus Sport for Good Foundation” — an organisation set up in 2006 with the aim of harnessing the power of sport to bring about social change and celebrating sporting excellence. A percentage of the proceeds from every sale of this edition is used to support projects all over the world. IWC also organises a drawing competition and a winning design will be engraved on the back of the watch.

This year, the Da Vinci returns to the spotlight with a clutch of timepieces, with many leaning towards women. “With the round case, double-framed bezel and moveable lugs, the 1980s Da Vinci watches were the main source of inspiration for the design of this year’s collection,” explains Seyffer.

The watches tailored to women feature a case that is generally smaller and slimmer, with sizes from 36mm to 43mm. The anchor in this line’s design signature is the Da Vinci Automatic, characterised by its clean and simple lines: rounded crowns, large Arabic numerals, a recessed inner circle on the dial, a discreet date display at 6 o’clock, lancet-shaped hands and alligator leather straps hand-made by Italian shoemaker Santoni.

The overlapping circles of the “Flower of Life” motif — an object of intensive study and a recurring theme in numerous drawings by Leonardo da Vinci — is engraved on the case backs of all Da Vinci Automatic 36 and Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36 models.

Historically, the Da Vinci line served as a platform for the brand to experiment with technical innovations. Thus, the new references this year also feature complications that are instrumental in the development of the reintroduced Da Vinci watches, like the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph with moon phase display — the display is a complication in its own right and features in all Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase models — invented by Kurt Klaus in 1985.

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