The Most Challenging Processes Are the Ones We Are Most Proud of: Markus Bühler of IWC

IWC’s Associate Director of Watch and Movement Assembly, Markus Bühler, speaks to GMT India about the process behind creating the upgraded Portugieser collection.
The Most Challenging Processes Are the Ones We Are Most Proud of: Markus Bühler of IWC
May 30, 2024
The Most Challenging Processes Are the Ones We Are Most Proud of: Markus Bühler of IWC

For this year’s Watches and Wonders (W&W), IWC brought back one of their oldest and best-selling collections – the Portugieser. The collection was reintroduced with stunning new dials, redesigned cases, new colours, and some stellar complications. 

GMT India caught up with Markus Bühler, Associate Director, Watch and Movement Assembly, IWC. He revealed details about this year’s new launches, including the Eternal Calendar, regarded as the star attraction, the intricate processes behind creating them, and his fruitful journey with the brand. Excerpts from the interview:

GMT India: The dials of the new Portugieser Chronograph references seem to be very intricately crafted. Could you take us through their creation process? 

Markus Bühler (MB): Our elegant dials are produced using a very complicated 60-step process. After the surface is created, we apply 15 layers of lacquer. To make it even, we need to mill and grind the surface again and then polish it to achieve a high gloss finish. This, in the end, ensures a very special look. When you look at the completed dial, you can’t just compare it to a standard watch face; the difference is huge. This process is very time-consuming. It takes 10 times longer than usual because after you apply lacquer, you have to let the surface dry and then you do the next layer, and so on. You can compare this process to creating a highly sophisticated instrument which is made in the same manner to attain a brilliant shining finish.

GMT India: As a watchmaker, what is your process like?

MB: We are involved right from the very beginning, i.e. during the design period. Because in the end, we have to assemble everything that’s been designed. And with our knowledge and expertise, we make sure that we disseminate the right information during this design period so that at the end we are able to assemble the product perfectly. Therefore, the whole design process and the product development process go hand in hand. 

GMT India: The re-launched Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 44 makes for an excellent tribute to IWC’s Perpetual Calendar legacy. What are the most notable changes incorporated into this brand-new rendition?

MB: We have achieved a new design, new colours, and new quality of our dials. Besides, our new prints on the dial have a special shape and we have a redesigned case. The casing ring is a bit thinner, and we have double-box glass sapphire crystals, which make it more comfortable to wear on the wrist.

GMT India: Which of the launches this year has challenged you the most?

MB: For me, as a watchmaker, the Eternal Calendar was the most challenging creation because it has got the most complicated mechanism inside. We had to modify the Perpetual Calendar to make it Eternal. And it is not so easy to do that. It takes into account the Gregorian calendar’s complex leap year exceptions by skipping three leap years over a 400-year period. This was a huge challenge for us – to figure out what is the best way to assemble it and implement proper quality control. We had to make sure that we tested it over a certain period of time and that the mechanism is able to work forever. 

GMT India: And which one was the most satisfying?

MB: I think satisfaction comes with every new product. Apart from the Eternal Calendar, we have also invented the Day and Night Tourbillon, which is quite an elegant watch run by the 81905 tourbillon caliber. It’s quite a sought-after piece, in my opinion, because the tourbillon itself contains silicon parts, which lower friction. Less friction means less energy loss and less energy loss means higher efficiency and better accuracy.

GMT India: Do you have a favourite stage when it comes to the production process?

MB: The complicated ones (laughs). Every stage during the watchmaking process is important. If I have to highlight a particular process, it would be fine-tuning the regulation process. Every movement has its own behaviour. Our job, as a watchmaker, is to bring each of these individual movements together so that every movement has the same accuracy, power reserve, and functionality. This is very challenging. As a watchmaker, you need several years of experience to carry out this task. That said, in the end, it is the most challenging process that we are most proud of.

GMT India: From being an apprentice to now playing such an important role in IWC’s watchmaking processes, what has the journey been like?

MB: When I stopped my career as a carpenter, I looked for a profession that would fill me up with more passion. I thought that if I had to work for the next 50 years, it should not feel like work. It should feel like a miracle. And I was very lucky to have the chance to grow at IWC. I started with my apprenticeship, after that, I became the prototype watchmaker. Soon, I went on to join the industrialisation department. Step by step, I took over one department after another – from movement to watch assembly. And now, I’m the Associate Director for watchmaking. From starting off as an apprentice to becoming an Associate Director, I'm very proud of this career trajectory.

Photo Credit: IWC