Earlier this year, in March, just a week before the biggest gathering of the watch industry, IWC dropped a series of posts on Instagram that got the whole industry talking. The content, which featured a nostalgic throwback to the Seventies but with AI-generated images created with Mid-Journey, was a teaser campaign for the reintroduction of The Ingenieur, the much-missed watch model designed by the iconic Gerald Genta, and just a week later, it was unveiled at Watches and Wonders in Geneva.
What made it particularly poignant was how “on the nose,” the Richemont-owned brand was in terms of the zeitgeist. At a time when conversations are at an all-time high about Artificial Intelligence, the possibilities it can offer and how it will come to reshape the landscape of our world as we know it, so too was the feeling in the Seventies, where futuristic designs and use of new materials and evolving technologies changed the landscape that we live in today.
So for IWC to have planned the reintroduction, marketing and strategy around one of its most beloved timepieces to then reflect that sense of both nostalgia and anticipation for the times ahead that the world is feeling right now was truly a stroke of marketing genius.
“We have always been storytellers,” Franziska Gsell, chief marketing officer at IWC reflected, in an interview with Luxury Society. “When I’m asked what comes first, the story or the watch, the watch always comes first because you plan far ahead.”
And by far ahead, Gsell doesn’t just mean the next two years or even five. In the case of IWC, it’s 10 years. “You start with discussing what the angles are of this year, and then marketing comes into it, of making the story tangible and making the story understandable, and that is the journey that we have. We are planning ten years ahead.”
“And it's never boring, it's never repetitive,” said Gsell of the creative process involved around its experience at Watches and Wonders this year. “We try to embrace the future technology, bring it into our thinking. We have a lot of creative people, and everybody added to the ideas that you see here. That was for me, very, very inspiring.”
It’s this kind of forward-thinking that sets it apart from many other watch brands and its willingness to experiment with new ways of communicating with its clients. Take, for instance, The Diamond Hand Club, IWC’s immersive metaverse experience introduced in March 2022. Using tokens, members of the club can unlock unique and exclusive experiences between virtual and physical worlds.
“This is a completely new community for us,” said Gsell. “And it was amazing when a year ago, we invited our first Diamond Hand Club members to our physical event. It’s been quite interesting to meet people that you wouldn’t have been in contact with before and it’s become quite a big community.”
And with that community as well as those on its social media channels, comes the opportunity to listen to the feedback from its members.
We constantly learn from our community, said Gsell. “Sometimes you feel it is the greatest piece ever and you put it out in the world, and the response is not so great. So then you have to adapt, and you have to change.”
But connecting with your community is not just a one-way street for IWC, it’s also an opportunity as Gsell mentioned earlier, to tell its story, share its values, and be open with its audiences in a very transparent way.
“When you look at IWC, we are very honest, very open, we are very transparent, and we foster the conversation,” said Gsell. “When we are able to explain what we do, and the human part of producing beautiful lasting timepieces, it’s not just about the device, but something quite philosophical.”
Indeed, transparency is something that the brand is well known for, as well as its commitment to sustainability. Not only did the brand set out on its sustainability journey more than 11 years ago, but it now publishes its own sustainability report (it has published four editions at the time of writing) and has also set up a restoration service that enables every watch that has ever been produced in its 155-year history, to be fixed.
“It is a huge commitment,” said Gsell. “When we speak about sustainability, it's built into our products. So, therefore, it's important that you get the transparency that you know that goes into that process.”
To date, IWC purchases 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources, it was the first watch brand to be Responsible Jewellery Council certified, it has set sustainability targets for top management to reach by March 2023, and is committed to accelerating biodiversity efforts.
“Our journey started 11 years ago, but we are not new in that journey. But still, it’s never finished. It will always be something we need to address,” said Gsell.
“It's embedded now in everything we do,” she added. “And in our journey, it's important that we look at the footprint we leave behind and try to reduce it to the maximum that we can. This is about setting a baseline like knowing where your emissions are coming from and it's very technical… and what we're doing now is really looking into that baseline and defining that 2030 group strategy to reduce the footprint.”
Looking forward, Gsell says the brand will continue its path of experimentation with new technologies. It is currently testing other AI capabilities to learn how its business can adapt.
“It’s early in the journey. We are trying it out,” she said. “But that is what we stand for because we address ourselves first to different generations, but we embrace the next generation as well, and we have to learn and understand what drives them.”