Interview: Lewis Hamilton, F1 Champion

Mercedes-AMG’s star driver talks Biggie, bling, and the possibility of designing a special edition IWC timepiece…

Watch Journal: Lewis! Thanks for taking the time to chat. How ya feeling?

Lewis Hamilton: Tired, dude. It’s been nonstop since the [Japanese Grand Prix, on October 7.] I’ve just been going. I’ve not had a night off, really.

WJ: Crazy. So, what have you got on your wrist right now?

LH: It’s a limited, limited edition of the Big Pilot Top Gun Edition.

WJ: Is that your typical style?

LH: I like the big, heavier watches, so yeah. The chunkier watches I quite like. And being black and red, this one goes with everything as well.

Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun Boutique Edition, $40,800. (Sold out.) More at iwc.com

WJ: Like those shoes…

LH: Yeah! I just got these. They’re my favorite Pumas now. It’s a new addition they’ve just come out with. They’ve just gone into the NBA, you know? So this [the Clyde Court Disrupt Red Blast] is the new NBA look that they’re now working on. I’m so freaking happy with them.

WJ: They certainly fit the vibe. Of everybody on the current Formula 1 grid, you’ve probably got the most fashion sense.

LH: Well, I don’t know about that. [laughs] Everyone has a different look. But I’ve definitely got my own style, I’m very much involved in the fashion world.

WJ: When did you start paying attention to clothes, how people were dressing and all that?

LH: I think I was always watching. I was heavily into hip-hop as a kid. So I was always watching videos, Diddy and Biggie, and all those guys, how they dressed. I always wished I could dress like them back then, but I never had the money. So I didn’t really start paying full attention to fashion until my late teens. Even then, all the money went into racing. Then I went to Formula 1 [in 2007, at 22 years old], and suddenly I was being pictured all the time. I saw it, and was I was like, ‘Jeez, I really need to get my act together.’ I needed to figure out how I was going to dress, how I was going to look, to present myself. So I just started attending fashion shows. I wanted to see what was out there. It’s interesting, because at fashion shows, you really see people from all walks of life. Everyone’s completely different. It’s all an interpretation of dress. From there, I just started figuring out how to do it. And now I get to design my own clothes with Tommy Hilfiger. And get credit!

Clyde Court Disrupt Men’s Basketball Shoes, Red Blast, $120. More at us.puma.com.

WJ: Congratulations on that, by the way.

LH: Thank you!

WJ: How’d that whole deal come about? Did you two meet in the same circles, since he’s such a massive car collector?

LH: No actually! I just bumped into him on the street, in New York. Big as the city is, I was leaving a building that he happens to have a place inside, which I didn’t know. Then we kept bumping into each other at fashion events, the Met Gala, stuff like that. He was like, ‘We’ve got to do something together, mate!’ I told him I’d love to, of course. Bridging the gap between Tommy Hilfiger and Mercedes-Benz was the hard part. But it’s been really amazing. The response has been so great.

WJ: Whether you’re in the new Tommy or wearing something else, how do you fit watches into your overall look?

LH: I actually carry with me five different watches. Different faces, different bands. Different colors, of course. I love a lot of rose gold, a lot of silver. I even had my IWC blinged out, because they don’t have diamonds in them. [laughs] I don’t know if you’ve seen that one…

WJ: Yes!

LH: You have? Oh, I like to wear that out with suits. Like, if I’m wearing a suit, I want something that really screws it up. [laughs] My ultimate goal in the relationship with IWC is to one day do a watch.

WJ: Really?

Tommy Hilfiger x Lewis Hamilton Flag Logo Hoodie, $150. More at usa.tommy.com

LH: Oh yeah. Release a range of them, you know. Doesn’t have to be with diamonds, or a different material. Just achieved in my own unique way. It should be the piece you’d put on to really top off your look. Because I really do feel quite naked without my watch on. Not having that weight on my wrist. And I really do love the bling, I love diamonds, I love jewelry. And if I didn’t have this ceramic Big Pilot on, the rest of this [diamond bracelet, ring, and earring] just wouldn’t fit. I wouldn’t wear this all out.

WJ: Have you given any thought to what an IWC Lewis Hamilton Edition might look like?

LH: I’ve thought about it in terms of looking at the current IWC range that they have now, and how I would tweak them. Like, ‘Oh, I’ll change this, I’ll change that.’ Little things. In terms of doing a completely new one, I’ve not really to that point. But if I were to do something? I might do a different shape. I don’t know if that’s a square, maybe an oval. Round is obviously classic. I mean, just look at the [Le Petit Prince Edition Big Pilot], and I love the blue face on that, that shade of blue. But I’d actually want a tourbillon. So every time I win a championship, I’m like, ‘Yeah, is it coming?’ Okay, so I don’t know if it’s coming anytime soon. [laughs] But, hey, you never know. Maybe someday…


(Opening photo: Ashley Sears for IWC)

Hit List: IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph Summer Edition

Tailor-made for stylish sailors or anyone who aspires to look the part, the new Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph from Swiss-German watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen belongs to the brand’s “Summer Editions” collection. With its blue dial, sturdy blue rubber strap and water resistant 43.5 mm stainless steel case, the piece has good looks to spare. But it’s the manufacture caliber with flyback function that truly elevates this sporty chronograph.

IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph Summer Edition

$12,100; iwc.com

Blood Moons & Moon Phases

End of times? Let’s go shopping!

With the so-called “blood moon” happening tonight due to the longest lunar eclipse of the century, prophecies and conspiracy theories are predicting the worst. Now might be the perfect time to arm yourself with an extraordinary moon phase. Lasting an impossible to believe 103 minutes, the next total lunar eclipse of this length won’t occur again until 2123.

Feel the pull and predict your lunar energy within the confines of a dazzling complicated timepiece. Charge it now, enjoy, and wait for a new day to dawn. Visible from every country on earth except the US, at least you’ll be able to gaze upon wristwatch magnificence.

A round-up of some of our Moon phase favorites:

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Moon Phase Ref. 5205G
Rolex Cellini Moonphase

A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Moon Phase
IWC Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar 
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Moon
Panerai L’Astronomo Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Moon Phases Equation of Time GMT

Hours, Minutes, Centuries: 150 Years of IWC

One hundred and fifty years.

Not much of a lifespan for a university, a European town, or a Sierra redwood. Five minutes and a few dollars spent on eBay can put you in possession of a coin or a book that was already ancient in 1868, the year Florentine Aristo Jones traveled from Boston to Schaffhausen to found the International Watch Company. If you deal in matters cosmological or geological, a century and a half barely merits mention. It is an eyeblink.

In matters horological, however—in this new era of watchmaking where opportunistic investors wrap whole-cloth start-ups in tissue-thin histories of dubious or borrowed provenance, where long-dead marques and models are hydraulically fracked from the past to adorn commodity movements and generic designs—IWC’s claim to 150 years of continuous production feels truly rare, deliciously enviable. All the more so for its aristocratic approach to that history—how the company has always refused to be handcuffed by its own weighty tradition.

Consider, for instance, that iconic trio of 1970s Gerald Genta sports-watch designs. Audemars Piguet has tirelessly extended the Royal Oak to a multitude of variants, while Patek Philippe has carefully conserved the core Nautilus concept across four decades. IWC, on the other hand, simply abandoned its Genta-designed Ingenieur this year, like a child tossing away an unwanted toy. And why not? The firm had an older design, from 1955, that it felt deserved a reboot into the new “Ingy.” Such behavior is the hallmark of pur sang, whether in Frankish nobility or watchmaking royalty.

Florentine Ariosto Jones (1841–1916), American engineer, watchmaker, and IWC founder.

Yet there has always been an iconoclastic streak in IWC’s history, starting from the moment of its birth. F.A. Jones was no Swiss burgher; he was New Hampshire born and bred, and his eyes were firmly fixed on the American market. Thus, “International Watch Company,” to emphasize the advantages of a Swiss product over the domestic competition. It did not entirely pan out, and Mr. Jones was to leave the firm after seven years. By 1884, IWC was Swiss in both management and ownership, headed by Johannes Rauschenbach-Schenk. He was fascinated by the recently unveiled Pallweber system.

When Douglas Adams wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that humans were “so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea,” he likely didn’t know about Josef Pallweber’s innovation, which predated Hamilton’s Pulsar P1 of 1972 by nearly 90 years but was, strictly speaking, a true digital timepiece. IWC would go on to produce approximately 20,000 Pallweber-system pocket watches, which used jumping-minute and jumping-hour complications, along with numbered discs to power hour and minute displays, much like the date indicator on a contemporary mechanical watch.

Early IWC Pallweber pocket watches. 

The decision to terminate production of the Pallwebers put the digital watch into a Rip-Van-Winkle-like slumber until the beginning of the Space Age. Still, IWC continued to innovate as the tide turned from pocket watch to wristwatch after World War I. The Special Pilot’s Watch, Reference IW436, arrived in 1936 to serve the needs of a new class of adventurer. Antimagnetic and proofed against the freezing temperatures encountered by open-cockpit aviators, the IW436 established aesthetic and functional directions for pilots’ watches that continue to this day.

One of the brand’s few stubborn loyalties—to its own hand-wound movements—prevented IWC from taking advantage of John Harwood’s “Perpetual” patent for self-winding mechanical watches. But in 1950, technical director Albert Pellaton designed and patented a unique bidirectional winding movement that would first appear in 1955’s Ingenieur. It used a soft-iron case to deflect magnetic fields, and can be considered an early example of what is now called a “tool watch.”

The original IWC Ingenieur, circa 1955.

The quartz era brought a variety of conventional and “mecha-quartz” hybrid movements in watches that might seem eccentric to modern eyes, but should start enjoying a well-deserved renaissance of regard. Similarly, a partnership with Porsche Design resulted in a series of highly regarded sport watches, including the wonderfully campy “Compass” collaboration. Here, the dial and movement could be flipped up to reveal—you guessed it—a liquid-filled compass. The entire watch was made from aluminum, so as to prevent interference with the directional needle.

A more significant product was the Titan chronograph, the first wristwatch to use a full-titanium case. IWC expended substantial effort addressing the challenges of machining, offering an unprecedented combination of lightness, durability, and corrosion resistance. The follow-up effort, 1982’s Ocean, could be used at depths of up to 2,000 meters and was available in a completely antimagnetic version for military divers whose jobs could take them close to magnetic mines.

IWC x Porsche Design Titan chronograph.

Renewed interest in Swiss mechanical watches soon found IWC well-positioned, a notion which perhaps did not occur immediately to the nouveau riche, but which nonetheless offered impeccable historical credentials, producing a variety of sports and luxury pieces. A diverse series of cobranding efforts, with entries ranging from the Fondation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to the Mercedes-AMG Formula One team, has kept IWC firmly in the public eye; radical designs of the Da Vinci and Ingenieur lines have demonstrated a commitment to keeping its core models fresh.

But the main attraction is the mechanical-digital display for hours and minutes. Whereas the unusual jumping mechanisms of the 1884 original required frequent winding by the standards of the era, the new tribute rectifies that issue by decoupling the minute wheel for 59 of every 60 seconds, reducing drag and allowing for a 60-hour reserve. The unique manufacture movement requires 50 jewels and operates at an impressive 28,800 vph. As one would expect nowadays, the dial is a relatively large 45 mm. The caseback is sapphire, all the better to allow one marvel at the complications within.

The IWC Tribute To Pallweber Edition “150 Years'”

In that spirit, IWC has chosen to mark its 150th anniversary by issuing no fewer than 27 commemorative editions, including tourbillons, perpetual calendars, and a new movement with ceramic internals. The spotlight will, however, undoubtedly shine brightest on an all-new effort that reaches back to that 1884 Pallweber design for inspiration. The IWC Tribute to Pallweber Edition “150 Years” (Ref. IW505002) is a very different take on the modern digital watch, using an 18-karat red-gold case, a white dial with a lacquered finish, white display discs, and a blued seconds hand.

Priced at $36,000 and limited to a total production of just 250 examples, the Pallweber tribute is not meant for general consumption. Nor does it presage a new era of mechanical-digital watches. (Although such a development would be a welcome change from the current focus on hypertrophic case-size and increasingly recherché combinations of complications.) No, it’s better to think of this latest piece as a statement, a celebration of what IWC has always done best, a testament to its singular position in the industry: that tireless champion of innovation, free to alternately disregard and venerate its history, both deeply rooted in tradition and fearlessly focused on the future.