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Up Close: IWC Da Vinci Tourbillon Four Seasons

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Up Close: IWC Da Vinci Tourbillon Four Seasons

Iwc Da Vinci Four Seasons 5.jpg

Source Credit:  Content and images from SJX Watches by Jiaxian Su (SJX).  Read the original article - https://watchesbysjx.com/2020/05/iwc-da-vinci-tourbillon-four-seasons.html

This is the first of a new series of occasional articles, which will look at older modern watches, rather than the usual fare of current-production timepieces. And the subject of the inaugural article is a little-known but exceptionally striking IWC – the Da Vinci Tourbillon Four Seasons.

A limited edition of 20 watches from 1999, the Da Vinci Four Seasons (or Quattro Stagioni as it was known at the launch) has a hand-engraved, solid-gold dial, an unusual feature in an IWC and something the brand has not attempted again. Intriguingly, the combination of an engraved dial and complicated movement, as well as the style of engraving, brings to mind some of the Handwerkskunst watches by A. Lange & Söhne, then as now a sister company of IWC.

But perhaps more important is the movement, which is the only hand-wound calibre in this generation of Da Vinci. That not only results in a better-looking movement, but also means the calibre is actually a variant of the one inside Il Destriero Scafusia, the grand complication made for the brand’s 125th anniversary in 1993.

Kurt Klaus’ bestseller

But before going into the Four Seasons, a quick overview of Da Vinci’s history and the various iterations.

When the Da Vinci ref. 3750 was unveiled in 1985, it was a landmark watch, being the first self-winding chronograph with perpetual calendar. And more importantly, it was one of the handful of highly complicated watches on the market, which was then sparse being just a few years out of the Quartz Crisis. It was a hit for IWC, which made a lot of them, explaining why they are still common long after leaving the catalogue.

The original Da Vinci ref. 3750 of 1985. Photo – IWC

The genius behind the Da Vinci ref. 3750 was not the chronograph, but the perpetual calendar conceived by IWC’s veteran technical chief Kurt Klaus. Developed to be user-friendly and efficient to assemble – in other words the opposite of all perpetual calendar mechanisms till then – Mr Klaus’ calendar module was made up of just 81 parts.

Mr Klaus managed that while still making his invention a thoroughly comprehensive calendar. In a first for wristwatches, his calendar mechanism included a four-digit year display, pointless from a practical perspective but a functional memento mori that serves as a reminder the calendar will long outlive everyone.

All the calendar indications were synchronised at the factory and could only be set forwards via the crown, a great convenience to the wearer, so long as the calendar was not set beyond the current date. Going backwards on the required a trip to the service centre, making the unidirectional setting was a compromise, but a sound and reasonable one, explaining why IWC still utilises the same calendar mechanism today.

Combined with a Valjoux 7750 base movement – Mr Klaus told me it was ideal due to its stable and substantial torque – created the cal. 7906, giving the Da Vinci ref. 3750 the distinction of being the first automatic chronograph with perpetual calendar. (The movement was subsequently improved and evolved into the cal. 79061 and then cal. 79261, though the basics remained unchanged.)

The 1983 sketch for the “Cal. EK”, short for ‘ewiger kalender’, German for “perpetual calendar”. Photo – IWC

While Mr Klaus’ role in developing the Da Vinci is well publicised, the man responsible for the simple-yet-recognisable case is less known.

Hanno Burtscher, then the brand’s chief designer, formed the Da Vinci case after being inspired by sketches Leonardo Da Vinci had made for a fort, which were in turn inspired by the real-life Fortress of Piombino. When viewed from the side, the thick case of the Da Vinci reveals sloping, stacked layers that do indeed bring to mind a medieval fort.

As for the bar-type, or “Vendome”, lugs, I was told Mr Burtscher encountered similar lugs on a vintage IWC watch, and put them together with his castle-inspired case.

The resulting look is very much a 1980s style, which is either dated or classic, depending on whether you like it.

Hanno Burtscher’s sketch for the Da Vinci. Photo – IWC

Growing the family

In 1995, IWC celebrated the tenth anniversary of the original ref. 3750 with the Da Vinci Perpetual Rattrapante ref. 3751, which added a split-seconds chronograph – and an appropriate tenth hand to the dial. Even with the added complications, all the variants of the original Da Vinci retained the same 39 mm case of 1985, which was too small for contemporary tastes by the late 1990s.

And so in 2000 IWC unveiled the ref. 3754, a split-seconds Da Vinci in a 41.5 mm case. Not only was the case enlarged, but it was also upgraded with a sapphire crystal, replacing the Plexiglas of the earlier generation, which was out of place on a luxury watch by the late 1990s.

In 2004, the same facelift was applied to the base-model Da Vinci, and it too got a 41.5 mm case along with a sapphire crystal, becoming the ref. 3758. The upsized models did not just get a new case and crystal, but are also set apart by a different dial that has large Arabic numerals and wide, lance-shaped hands hands.

While doubtlessly an attempt to modernise the old-school Da Vinci dial, the redesigned dial lost the elegant simplicity of the original, and ironically appears more cluttered, even though the calendar sub-dials were streamlined.

The Da Vinci Rattrapante ref. 3754 with the enlarged, 41.5 mm case. Photo – Sotheby’s

But the focus of this story is the Da Vinci Tourbillon ref. 3752, unveiled in 1999 to mark the new millennium – and fortunately fitted with the original Da Vinci dial. Limited to 50 in platinum and 200 in yellow gold, the Da Vinci Tourbillon was essentially indistinguishable from the base-model Da Vinci, with the only giveaway being “Tourbillon” in between four and five o’clock.

More special were the Da Vinci Tourbillon models with engraved dials. Launched the same year as the model were the 20 examples of the Da Vinci Quattro Stagioni, Italian for “four seasons”. And then in 2002, 150 pieces of the Da Vinci Leonardo Tourbillon were produced, with 50 in each colour of gold, though I doubt the 150-piece run was completed as they are infrequently encountered. The Leonardo Tourbillon was made to mark the 550th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s birth, so its dial depicted the artist and his inventions.

The Da Vinci Tourbillon ref. 3752 in its simplest guise. Photo – Sotheby’s

The tourbillon edition

Unlike the other Da Vinci variants equipped with automatic movements based on the Valjoux 7750, the Da Vinci Tourbillon is powered by the hand-wound cal. 76061 that’s built on the Valjoux 7760. Doing away with automatic winding improves the movement by making it more appealing, both visually and philosophically.

Hand-wound movements bring the wearer a little closer to the life inside a watch, and are naturally more traditional. I believe both are a good thing, and most collectors would easily agree. For that reason, being hand-wound elevates the Da Vinci Tourbillon into a slightly more refined realm of complications, despite the humble base movement. And the model was also produced in far fewer numbers than the other Da Vinci variants, making it slightly more special.

The cal. 76061

Perhaps more importantly since it is tangible, the cal. 76061 looks entirely different from the self-winding Da Vinci movements, which are not very appealing, explaining why all have solid backs. And perhaps because it has a display back, the finishing of the cal. 76061 is a cut above the usual IWC decoration, which is workmanlike and more inclined towards function than beauty.

With the cal. 76061, the recognisable 7750 architecture of the automatic Da Vinci gives way to something more unusual, one that is not instantly recognisable as a Valjoux.

The look is dominated by a gracefully-curved, three-quarter plate that reveals the flying tourbillon. Within the large plate is a whimsical yet practical detail: a little recess that accommodates the centuries slide for the year display of the calendar that will be required for the years 2200 till 2499. In the original Da Vinci, the centuries slide is stored in a waxed-sealed glass vial that’s easy to lose.

A long wait to use it

The flying tourbillon inside the Da Vinci Tourbillon is fundamentally the same construction that IWC still relies on today. Its origins lie in a compact flying tourbillon invented by Austrian watchmaker Richard Habring in 1991, a year after he joined IWC. Richard had already built a flying tourbillon regulator two years earlier before he joined the brand, but the crucial feature of his 1991 invention was replacing the pivots of the cage and escape wheel with ball bearings.

He then refined his idea over the next two years, giving it a lightweight, three-armed titanium cage while perfecting the tourbillon regulator as a module that could be installed whole into a movement. The result was the flying tourbillon found inside the cal. 18680 of Il Destriero Scafusia.

The flying tourbillon invented by Richard Habring

The tourbillon inside the Da Vinci Tourbillon is nearly identical to that in Il Destriero Scafusia. Though radical in its day, the tourbillon has traditional details, including a Breguet overcoil hairspring as well as an adjustable-mass balance with 18 screws on the rim and two weights on the arms.

As the tourbillon implies, the cal. 76061 of the Da Vinci Tourbillon is actually a close relative of the cal. 18680 in Il Destriero Scafusia. In fact, the visual similarity between the two makes the shared heritage obvious.

The three-quarter plate is nearly identical, revealing the heart-shaped reset cam for the chronograph as well as a section of the chronograph levers. Even the serial numbers are engraved on exactly the same spot on the base plate. This lineage that started from IWC’s uber-complication makes the Da Vinci Tourbillon that much more noteworthy.

The cal. 76061 of the Da Vinci Tourbillon

The cal. 18680 of Il Destriero Scafusia

Quattro Stagioni

Of the several versions of the Da Vinci Tourbillon, the Four Seasons is the standout, quite literally. The inspiration for the watch reputedly came from a customised Da Vinci made in the early 1990s for a European client, whose timepiece featured a gold dial engraved with an allegorical motif. That one-off watch formed the genesis of the Four Seasons, reputedly created at the suggestion of IWC’s Italian distributor at the time, hence the initial model name of Quattro Stagioni.

In every respect the Four Seasons is identical to the standard model, except for the dial. But the dial is crucial, as it completes the watch. While the standard Da Vinci Tourbillon has an appealing movement that stands apart from the other Da Vinci calibres, it is diminished by the pedestrian dial.

Made of solid gold, the hand was hand engraved by Wolfgang Siegwart, then the chief engraver at IWC who is probably better known for the fully-engraved movements found in the brand’s pocket watches of the 1980s.

Four figures in a vaguely Art Nouveau style, one for each of the seasons, are rendered in intricate detail. They sit against a granular background reminiscent of the tremblage engraving found on several Handwerkskunst limited editions of A. Lange & Söhne.

Less obvious but equally impressive is the minute track on the periphery of the dial, which is made up of raised hashmarks. Though the hashmarks are of alternating lengths to help legibility, reading the exact minutes is still near impossible.

The moon phase disc is sparkling aventurine glass

Because the calendar was available in several languages, each of the sub-dials are separate discs that can be swapped

Concluding thoughts

I like most variants of the 1985 Da Vinci, and today they are a tremendous value proposition. One reason for that is the simple fact that a lot were made. They aren’t rare watches, and are regularly encountered on the secondary market.

Still, the value proposition does come with a couple of caveats. The most obvious is a problem common to all perpetual calendars with the calendar in sub-dials – legibility is average at best, and usually poor when it comes to the tightly packed numbers of the date register.

Another is the smallish, 39 mm case and dinky Plexiglas of the original generation. Though the later, 41.5 mm models fix both of that, the dial on the enlarged Da Vinci is not to my taste.

And then there are the lugs, probably the biggest obstacle for most. They are dated looking by contemporary design standards, and also create a silhouette on the wrist that takes some getting used to. But they do grow on you, as they have on me. And they also wear surprisingly well. The only drawback of the lugs is practical: the metallic clink as they swivel.

Any one of the many variants in this generation of Da Vinci is remarkable value in terms of complication for your dollar. An example of a Da Vinci Four Seasons sold at Sotheby’s Geneva in November 2018 for just 27,500 Swiss francs, while the versions without the engraved dials are usually available for a third less than that.

And the simpler models, namely the base model ref. 3750 and the split-seconds, are typically even more affordable, and perhaps the best value if you find the tourbillon superfluous.

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Source Credit:  Content and images from SJX Watches by Jiaxian Su (SJX).  Read the original article - https://watchesbysjx.com/2020/05/iwc-da-vinci-tourbillon-four-seasons.html