How IWC watches became entwined into generations of my family historyHenry Zwartz
My grandfather Fritz Meister loved watches. He was born in 1918 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and had a close affinity with IWC because of the connection it had with his birthplace. He enjoyed a sense of pride that a company from the town where he was born made such great watches. As a result, his constant companion on any and every task was a steel IWC Calibre 89.
Fritz was a sharpshooter in the Swiss Army. He joined at age 17. There were constant concerns at the time that Switzerland could be invaded by the European Axis powers of Italy and Germany. It was a time when many in Switzerland genuinely feared they too could become an occupied people and join the likes of Norway, the Netherlands, France and Czechoslovakia under Nazi rule.
In 1952, he moved to New Zealand and married my grandmother Wendy. Fritz was a practical man and always had his trusty wristwatch, as well as his Swiss Army issued pocket knife, handy. Both would get heavy, daily use on the farm in New Zealand.
Fritz’s prowess with a rifle was still handy. In NZ where possums are pests, no possum, or indeed rat, was safe from my grandfather ”I remember Fritz slinging the .22 rifle over his shoulder and taking the dog with him out at night to shoot possums,” my mother recounts. “He always got them!”
Aside from being an excellent sharpshooter, Fritz was by trade a master painter and paperhanger. He had many hobbies – he made his own yoghurt and grew his own vegetables. He loved classical music and played the violin. Sometimes he played duets with my grandmother who was a viola player in the NZ orchestra. But his IWC watch always remained on his wrist as a practical memento of the world he’d left behind. Until one day in his later years, Fritz was speaking to my mother when he suddenly decided it was time to pass it on.
“He gave me his watch from his wrist as I was talking to him one day,” my mother remembers. “It was his daily watch. He wound it at the same time every morning.”
The watch has stayed in the family. So has Fritz’s Swiss Army pocket knife (still sharp) another personal treasure.
Years later a moment of similar importance happened to me when I got a job at the ABC here in Australia, and was about to move from Sydney to the island state of Tasmania. I had been admiring a handsome watch my father was wearing and asked to try it on. My father handed me the watch from his wrist, an IWC Mark XV. I marvelled at the solid sensation it left on my wrist. The simple and elegant design.
As I was taking it off, my father said to me with some effect, “That’s now yours.”
I was a bit stunned.
He gave it to me there and then. It was, to both of us I think, a symbolic moment of carving my own path in the world and leaving the familiar embrace of home to what seemed a distant posting in Tasmania.
I ended up wearing that watch almost every day, and it will always remain that ‘special’ watch to me. Nothing comes close. Not just because it embodies a simplicity of design, but because it reminds me of that connection with my dad. And that connection was always there, even when I was working in some very isolated and challenging conditions in Tasmania as a reporter.
In a moment of nostalgia during the toughest moments of the lockdown last year I wrote to IWC to share a little of this story. To my surprise, I received a handwritten note, and an IWC Swiss Army pocket knife in return. A moment of contact at a time when isolation was really becoming the unhappy norm.
The generosity and personal response from IWC was touching. It is now something I can pass on, like Fritz and my own father have done, in years to come.
To me, Fritz embodied those enduring values that a man is as good as their word and a handshake is your bond. But it was my father who taught me those values. And like that IWC watch I will have those with me, always.