A spectacular sunrise high above the clouds. Icebergs off the coast of Greenland. The “Queen Mary” moored at some quay. When such a picture presents itself to Hans-Conrad Stamm, he simply raises his right arm and photographs his wrist against the spectacular background. He is less interested in his wrist than in what is attached to it: an IWC watch from his collection. Being left-handed, he wears it on his right wrist. “I have pictures like this of all my watches,” explains the 43-year-old from Schaffhausen, who flies all round the globe as a pilot with Swiss and has no shortage of fabulous subjects to photograph.
For our photo shoot at Zurich Airport, Stamm is wearing one of his favourite timepieces: the IWC Mark XI, produced in 1951 for the Royal Air Force. He bought this one about 20 years ago. He acquired his first IWC as a teenager from his father: a pocket watch and, appropriately for a Schaffhausen family, a treasured heirloom. But he was only bitten by the collecting bug when he bought his first Pilot’s Watch. He was not a pilot himself at the time but a software developer. He started training as a pilot in 1995 with the then national airline, Swiss-air. He has held cockpit positions since 1997, and has risen to the rank of Senior First Officer.
No wonder he has fallen for Pilot’s Watches. Another timepiece he likes to wear to work is his Double Chronograph in ceramic case. “I don’t collect single watches. My aim is always to get hold of all the relevant watches in a series,” divulges Stamm. In this case, that would be all IWC chronographs in ceramic cases. Apart from the new Da Vinci Ceramic, he has one of every such model. He also has a complete set of compass watches. Then the Portugieser watches. And then the Ingenieur – “but every collector has them,” he reflects.
Every watch comes up sometime, somewhere
When on the lookout for the various IWC models, Hans-Conrad Stamm has all the tenacity of a hunter. He watches the market, fosters contacts, makes inquiries – then pounces at lightning speed when a sought-after timepiece emerges somewhere at an affordable price. “My budget does not permit me to pay any price for a watch,” he points out. “So I have to wait for the right opportunity.” You just have to be patient. “Every watch comes up sometime, somewhere.” Supply has dwindled over the years, and price levels have risen. “But if you wait for the right moment, like a game hunter, there are still bargains to be had.”
Every few weeks he meets other collectors from the Schaffhausen region, to swap ideas. He has contact with the wider collecting community via the forum at the IWC website. As his job takes him round the world, he can also cultivate personal contacts abroad. “If I’m in Chicago, I sometimes meet up with Michael Friedberg.” Friedberg is the attorney who moderates the English-speaking “Collectors’ Forum” at www.iwc.com.
On his travels, the Schaffhausen pilot realizes how his favourite watch brand is becoming increasingly global. For example, he glimpsed gigantic IWC billboards in Florida while coming in to land at Key West. Another place is Shanghai. Once he actually co-piloted a flight to the Arctic Circle for IWC. The Schaffhausen factory unveiled a new Ingenieur model in the far north in 2005. “IWC CEO Georges Kern was celebrating his 40th birthday on that trip,” reminisces Stamm, “so we invited him into the cockpit.” As a keen IWC collector, of course this flight was a really special experience for Stamm.
Engineering and history are not all that attracts Hans-Conrad Stamm to IWC watches. For him, a watch is “the only piece of jewellery a man can wear”. He would never sport an earring or other ornament. But he does wear his watches: his IWC collection is not just for hoarding. “Apart from three or four watches, I regularly wear all the pieces in my collection.”