Dear Mr. Mayer,
As you can imagine, we read your open letter to IWC on HODINKEE with considerable interest. We couldn't help but feel we owed you a reply and before saying anything else, we must thank you not only for your long support of our brand but also for the obvious passion for our work that is reflected in your letter.
For some reason we kept thinking of the title to a song of yours called, "I Don't Trust Myself With Loving You," as it sounds as if that's how you feel about IWC. As we’re sure you know, there are many IWC fans who, like you, continue to love the brand but wonder what happened to what they, and you, think of as the "good old" IWC.
You write that "the [old] IWC ... had all but disappeared." We assume you feel that we have gone from being a wonderfully conservative, stolidly pragmatic tool-watch maker to that most horrible of entities to serious watch fans: a lifestyle brand that has allowed itself to be seduced into chronic insincerity and pursuit of short term goals due to our interest in embracing the interests and needs of clients in the Far East.
Well, what can we say, Mr. Mayer – you are of course absolutely right, in a sense. But perhaps we here in Schaffhausen can offer you, in thanks for your very sincere letter, a bit of context.
IWC is no longer what it was in the so-called “good old days” (although when those days actually were seems to depend a lot on who we hear from; there are fans of the brand old enough to be your grandfather who seem to feel, if we may borrow an English idiom, that we've been going to hell in a hand basket since Albert Pellaton died).
The challenge the “old” IWC faced was actually an existential one, and goes all the way back to the Quartz Crisis – the company lost an enormous amount of manufacturing capacity, and throughout Switzerland tens of thousands of people with the accumulated technical knowledge of centuries simply left the business. IWC was determined to recover that technical capacity but to do so would require a fresh approach and, of course, the means to rebuild that technical capacity. We love dinosaurs as much as the next fellow, but when the asteroid altered their world permanently 65 million years ago, they could not adapt; when our world changed, we had the opportunity to adapt or die. IWC chose to adapt.
Some facts: for a company like IWC to design and produce a chronograph or automatic, and retail it in watches priced commensurate with our market position, we have to be reasonably assured of selling over tens of thousands of units per year. Despite that, we are proud to say that we have developed, in recent years, what we frankly think is an astounding variety of in-house movements, and we're by no means finished. Our technical capacity continues to evolve and it is exactly thanks to our success with our customers, and our ability to evolve to meet their needs and tastes, that we have the ability to do so! Far from representing an abandonment of our values, it is precisely our commercial success that enables us to continue to embrace those values.
We are very proud of what IWC has managed to achieve. Our approach has allowed us to not only survive – and we hope you will reflect, along with those who share your views, that survival was by no means guaranteed for any Swiss mechanical watch brand at one point – but to flourish. The hard truth of the matter is that had we not evolved, we would not only not enjoy the security we do today, but we might not exist at all; the "old" IWC certainly had a certain idiosyncratic charm, but it would have long since gone out of business had we not changed to adapt to the times.
You do not share the tastes of some of our clients, but that no more makes their tastes wrong than it makes yours wrong and while we will never – and we say this emphatically – never try to be all things to all people, we will and must do what the brand has done throughout its history, which is make watches that in the context of the brand's character, meet the desires of our customers.
With respect to our relationships with celebrities, certainly you are in a better position than most to understand the power of celebrity! Look at the voice it has given you to be a part of the conversation on the direction of IWC. Just as you do, we feel we can be a part of that world without it fatally compromising our values and like you, we like to think we can be creative, interesting, and exciting to our fans without letting fame go to our heads. And as you mentioned Mr. Keith Richards – IWC is already, organically, a part of that world.
But, we would point you to the many other groups we work with substantially, such as the Charles Darwin Foundation, The Antoine de Saint Exupéry Youth Foundation, Laureus Sports for Good Foundation and The Cousteau Society. These organizations are a much bigger part of our business than the occasional celebrity campaign and as a company that enjoys such international success, we have a corporate philosophy that embraces ecological responsibility and social commitment. We have not changed as much as some seem to think – except perhaps that we have simply gotten better at letting people know who we already are.
So we would say, Mr. Mayer, trust yourself with loving us. We work hard to earn it, and we promise you that we'll keep working hard. We have a wonderful past, it is true – but in admiring what we achieved thus far, we hope you will feel encouraged to look forward to what we achieve in the future. We feel immense pride in what we will, in a few short days, share with you and our other supporters at the SIHH. May our evolution continue to surprise and excite our clients, and may our hard work continue to merit the respect of those, like you, who understand and share our deepest values. Should you like to join us in Geneva this Tuesday, we will happily share with you our exciting new launches.
Very sincerely yours,