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  • On time: the parallel worlds of watches and two wheels

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    The CEO of rising Swiss watchmaker IWC talks cycling partnerships, Fabian Cancellara and timeless timepieces

    Photographs: IWC Schaffhausen
    IWC watches CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr

    There are those who make a career out of working with time and others who do so by successfully racing against it.

     

    As CEO of leading Swiss watch brand IWC and an enthusiastic amateur cyclist, Christoph Grainger-Herr sometimes finds himself in the rare position of doing both. The 40-year-old sees plenty of parallels between the worlds of watches and two wheels.

     

    “You have this wonderful combination of man and machine,” he says. “There is quite a lot of engineering and advanced materials that goes into cycling, and then at the end of the day, it takes somebody’s vision, determination and hard work to have the ultimate adventure.

     

    “That’s very similar to how our Pilot Watch collection comes into being, or our Ingenieur watches in the world of [car] racing. We’re always inspired by a great vision.”

    IWC watch assembly
    Assembling the IWC Movement Haute Horlogerie

    The two are pleasingly analogue too, with a timelessness that owners can appreciate. “It’s about having that space. We can feel there’s a big anti-movement to this constant connectedness and the way it starts controlling your life. You need headspace, you need this conscious time to reflect and balance your life. I think people look for that in optics, mechanical cameras, mechanical watches, vinyl records, vintage cars, vintage bikes, all those things. It’s all that same trend, I would say.

     

    What it’s like being in the time-trial hot seat

     

    “In the end, I think they share that adventure component. A lot of our clients are health-conscious and into sport. We noticed quite a few years ago there was quite an overlap between people being interested in cycling and watches, the same as there is with cars and watches. It makes sense to be active there as a brand.”

     

    Part of that includes IWC’s support of the TorTour since its inception in 2009. It is a gruelling, non-stop Swiss ultra-cycling event held in mid-August to benefit the Laureus Foundation Switzerland. There are varying team sizes and distances, ranging from solo to six, and 390 kilometres to the full 1,000 kilometres (plus 10,000 metres of Alpine climbing).

     

    Long-time IWC ambassador Fabian Cancellara, who has worn their watches in the Tour de France, rode in 2017. Only a broken ankle kept him off this summer’s event, though he was still in attendance with a leg brace, advising Grainger-Herr, who came to cycling last year.

    Fabian Cancellara, IWC
    Cancellara rides the Tortour in 2017. Photo by Remy Steiner/Getty Images for IWC

    “He’s fantastic as a leader when it comes to group activities, always so concerned that everyone can keep up, that everyone is looked after. He takes charge of organising the cycling route,” Grainger-Herr says.

     

    “He’s also on the Laureus Academy and very active in his charity work so that’s great. That’s the best combination for us: people who love the brand, love the sport and really look after the community.”

     

    Fabian Cancellara: on winning Flanders and Roubaix in one week

     

    Grainger-Herr, who has a Specialized S-Works Venge customised to match the colour scheme of his 2004 IWC Aquatimer Split Minute Chronograph, competed in a team with pro cyclist Simon Zahner and Samuel Vuillemez in the Challenge race over 550 kilometres.

     

    “I was more worried about the fact that I’d just been on a very quick visit to LA and back. Spending two days solid on a plane is probably not the best leg preparation,” says Grainger-Herr.

    IWC watches
    Photo by Remy Steiner/Getty Images for IWC)

    They finished sixth, notably just under an hour behind the star-studded third-placed team of Miguel Indurain, Paris-Roubaix runner-up Silvan Dillier and experienced ex-pro Martin Elmiger.

     

    IWC, a 150-year-old brand, currently sits seventh in terms of sales of luxury Swiss watchmakers, with a desire to become one of the most successful makers of high-end mechanical timepieces. “That’s our aim, we’re building the distribution, the product portfolio, the markets, to put everything in place for that success,” Grainger-Herr (below) says.

    Christoph Grainger-Herr, IWC

    “And at the same time, the stories we tell and the experiences we create are constantly evolving. We try and get more and more of our clients involved in more and more of the activities that we do, and cycling and sport is an important part of that.

     

    Their IWC Racing identity, with several cycling teams, is just the beginning. “It would be interesting to branch out into a winter event, we’re looking at what we can do at the moment,” he says.

     

    “I would like to regionalise the IWC Racing identity into clubs that are centred around boutiques for cycling, and I would start to broaden the competitions that we compete in from currently one, plus one local one in New York, to a few more … My dream is to turn it into a much bigger community.”