"The Best Years of Our Lives"

by Terry Russell and John Davis

March 10, 2001

Introduced in 1946, IWC's Calibre 89 quietly made its debut along side Samuel Goldwyn's most important and successful film ever, The Best Years of Our Lives. While the film depicted the struggles of soldiers returning home to a new life, this movement represented a change of its own, as IWC perhaps struggled to renew itself against a backdrop of a world changed forever. These were the years just prior to meaningful inroads into automatic winding, and just after meaningful advances in metallurgy and shock protection. These were the in-between years when men were finally taking their watches out of their pockets and placing them forever on their wrists. The Calibre 89 would take its rightful place among the notable Swiss movements introduced during those years.

Perhaps I alone am of the opinion that the modern watch industry never had much of long-lived heyday, battered as it was by war, economic disruption, and a pre-1950's world population that could ill-afford fine timepieces. That it survived the mostly lethal blow delivered by the arrival of inexpensive quartz technology in the 1960's is truly extraordinary. I also believe that had the "Swiss" watch industry itself been anywhere other than Switzerland, it would not have survived at all. Few non-Swiss watch manufacturers had any hope of surviving both the re-appropriations of WWII and quartz technology. One only has to look at the eventual histories of the great American watch manufacturers to understand this point.

Because of these obstacles, I find the development and production of a movement such as the IWC Calibre 89 all the more remarkable. Certainly not finished for or directed at the more rarified levels of haute horology, it was simply a very well made movement indicative of a craft that had matured under often-difficult circumstances. A "working man's" movement, if you will, as characterized by my good friend and corroborator, John Davis. "Honest", as characterized by Walt Odets. An "engineer's" movement as characterized by others.

The development of this calibre during the war years concluded in time to allow its introduction to coincide with a return to world peace. By 1946, as Europe and the USA began re-tooling their economies, the Cal 89 made its first appearance. It has been said that this movement was intended to replace the Calibre 83, insuring its use in the now famous Mark XI. Thus, perhaps it can be said that the Cal 89 was a wartime movement introduced just in time to usher in a newer, Cold War era. In use until the very early 1990's, it certainly traveled the same time-line.

Albert Pellaton, Technical Director 1944-1966 If 1946 truly marked the beginning of a new, modern optimism, then perhaps too it was this single movement that marked, in a sense, a new beginning for IWC. Developed by Albert Pellaton, IWC's then new Technical Director, the "heart" of this movement would earn the honor of inclusion, 54 years later, in IWC's movement of the new millennium, the 5000 Calibre. This new engine would contain the balance, pallets, and escape wheel true to the original designs.

By 1946, movement production in Schaffhausen would reach its highest point in more than two decades, and Pellaton would design his first automatic movement that would never see production. While the Cal 89 played no significant role in those numbers that year, it would certainly go on to represent a major contribution in the years that led up to Pellaton's now famous automatic Calibre 85, the movement for which he is almost singularly known.

Today, the Calibre 89 remains a distinguished and relatively plentiful movement, surviving any number of circumstances that relegated much of its peer group to the footnotes of horological history. As will be pointed out in the technical analysis, many of these continue to keep accurate time 50 years later. There is little doubt that, moving forward, this honest piece of craft will continue to mark time in these Best Years of Our Lives.

Continue to Part2

Copyright © Terry Russell 2001
All Rights Reserved


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