We begin our series of amagnetic watches with the IWC Ingieneur REf. 3508, aka 500,000 A/m model. This watch was released in the 1990s, and was well known not only for the Genta design, but also the very high resistance to magnetic fields. Sharon Tan writes about her own watch.
IWC Ingieneur Ref. 3508
The Ingenieur 500,000 A/m
This watch is famous, or infamous? The Ingenieur 500,000 A/m checks off the list to become a highly collectible vintage, yet it doesn’t seem to be the case. This watch was over-designed and over-engineered, and was the first of it’s kind to have such a high anti-magnetic rating. The production of this watch is also known to have very low yield, and the movement known to be sensitive to temperature changes. We covered the true motivation of designing and rating it anti-magnetic up to 500,000 A/m in a detailed article about magnetism here. In our primer article, we also covered the technologies used in the movement. With all the tech chat out of the way, we can take a closer look at this handsome piece.
TLDR: The German Marines needed something nonmagnetic, and not just shielded from magnetic fields. IWC thus changed out sensitive components that used magnetic materials into nonmagnetic materials. Technical stumbles ensued but it was too much to overcome at that time.
Dial and Hands
The IWC 3508 comes in black or white dial, both with gold hands and markers. The version I have is the one with a white dial.
The hands have black tips and are lume-filled for legibility. It was quite amazing that the lume was still so bright after about 30 years. Sharp baton markers are used for cleanliness of design, with clear and long printed minute markers. The framed date window is also proportionately placed at 3 o’clock. Overall the dial is balanced and handsome.
Case and Bracelet
The screwed bezel and integrated bracelet design oozes Gerald Genta, who designed the Ingenieur SL, released in the 1970’s.
The case measures 34mm and 8.5mm thick which is typical by vintage standards but considerably small for today’s trend. 34mm was considered a dressy fashionable size in the 90’s, but today’s collectors are leaning towards case sizes above 40mm. However, for my 5 ¼” wrist, this size is ideal.
To the side of the case is a hard-earned 500,000 A/m stamp that is unique to the IWC Ingenieur 500,000 A/m and its variants.
Also not to be missed is the iconic fish on the crown, representing it’s water resistance.
This particular reference comes with an integrated bracelet. Ref 3518 comes with a similar case with an additional lug attachment for leather straps. The small links make it pliable and very comfortable and when worn. The mix of flat and rounded surfaces is very similar to the bracelet on Patek Phillipe’s Nautilus, also an iconic Gerald Genta design.
Under the hood of this very slim and dressy piece is of course the calibre 35790, which is a heavily modified ETA2892-A2.
The main changes would be to swap all magnetic materials for non-magnetic ones. Most notably the niobium zirconium alloy hairspring that we have discussed at length. Despite the inherent sensitivity to temperature changes, hairsprings that have made their way into sold watches have been tested and hand-picked to be within IWC’s specifications for accuracy.
The particular piece I got had an accuracy between 2s/day to <12s/day across all positions. Luckily Singapore has a rather small temperature range all year round, I wouldn’t expect the accuracy to deviate much throughout the year. After all the changes made to the workhorse ETA2892, and despite naysayers pointing out a loss in timekeeping, I thought the movement remains robust and accurate even as the watch grows passes its 30 yr old mark.
The IWC Ingenieur 500,000A/m comes from a prestigious manufacture and a great product line. It was produced in very small numbers, estimated at 2000 pieces for all variants combined, over a short period of 5 years. It was definitely a technological milestone, and has a fantastic story for its conceptualization and also its demise. It sure helps that it looks gorgeous. We make some wild guesses why this watch doesn’t seem to be on more collectors’ radar.
Although the production watches had accuracy within IWC’s specifications, there were still cases of dissatisfied customers which didn’t bode well for IWC’s reputation. For all the additional research and part replacement, this was retailing at a humble CHF4,250 which is similar to Ingenieurs of its time. The successor Ingenieur Officially Certified Chronometer (Ref 3521) on steel bracelet retailed at CHF 5,590. It could have been a deliberate strategy by IWC to play down the watch by pricing it lower, and promptly replacing it with a Certified Chronometer successor, priced at a premium and marketed to be a premium choice over the 500,000 A/m.
Another wild guess why this watch didn’t garner more interest among vintage collectors could be the small case size. Modern day collectors are evidently not big fans of watches smaller than 38mm, hence overlooking the entire range of vintage IWC Ingenieurs.
As collectors, we know that watch collecting is highly personal. The vintage watch scene is a complex one, there are many factors for watch collectors to either miss this piece or decide that it’s not as good as other choices. In my opinion, the IWC Ingenieur is a must in any engineer’s watch collection and I am personally thrilled to come across such a fine example and to have it in my collection.
Photo notes: Photographed with the Fujifilm GFX 100 with GF120 Macro, GF50 with and without extension tubes.