Special Service: The IWC Porsche Design Ref. 3519 AMAGBy James Dowling
The law of unintended consequences throws up some very strange results; who would have thought that a decades-long feud between the two halves of the Porsche family would result in one of the most iconic military watches of the 1980s?
When Professor Porsche died in 1951, the ownership of his eponymous firm was shared between his two children: Ferdinand (known as Ferry) and Louise, who was married to one of Professor Porsche’s colleagues, Anton Piech. Soon a rift appeared between Ferry and Piech and trouble bubbled under the surface for two decades until, in 1972, the management decided that no member of the Porsche/Piech families could be involved in the running of the firm. This devastated Ferry, as it meant that his son, Ferdinand (nicknamed “Butzi”) who, as head of design, had overseen the introduction of the 904 race car and the 911 road car, now had to leave.
Butzi had always thought of himself as a craftsman and named his new company Porsche Design, looking for new prospects outside of the automotive sphere. One of his first commissions came from the Swiss watch brand, Orfina, for whom he designed the case and bracelet of a new chronograph in 1972. When it came to market the following year, it was seen as a design breakthrough. The case was ovoid in shape and dispensed with the usual lugs as the bracelet was connected to concealed attachment points on the case, but the major feature was that the case and bracelet had a matte black chrome finish.
For the next few years Butzi and Porsche Design concentrated on a range of personal products including sunglasses and pens, but in 1977 he went back to watches, linking up with IWC to design the strange compass watch. This was a simple three-handed timepiece in a black anodised drum shaped case. When a hidden catch at 6 o’clock was released, the entire watch flipped up to reveal a magnetic compass hidden below. As watch escapements are badly affected by magnetism, the automatic movement had to be made fully anti-magnetic, something which stood IWC in good stead a few years later.
What also distinguished the Compass Watch from its contemporaries was the case material, it was made from aluminum, which was then anodized in black, and later in olive green (known as “Safari” and also used by Leica at around the same time on some of their cameras and binoculars). However, aluminum is not the best material for watch cases as, although it is light, it is also very soft and easily dented. So, half-way through production, IWC switched to titanium, which was almost as light as aluminum, but so much stronger. Nowadays we are used to everyone from Seiko to Patek Philippe making watchcases from titanium, but in 1980 this was ground breaking and required advice from jet engine manufacturing firms for IWC to launch titanium versions of the Compass Watch and the new Titan chronograph.
Whilst this was happening in Switzerland, over the border in Germany the focus wasn’t on watches but on the building Soviet threat. At the end of the 1970s, the Cold War seemed in danger of becoming hot: the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and began to install SS20 missiles targeting NATO’s European bases; the US was planning on installing cruise missiles at bases throughout Europe; and the US attempt to rescue the hostages held in Tehran had ended in failure. Both sides in the Cold War knew that if war ever came, it would mostly be fought in Germany, where the NATO allies of France, the UK and the US had vast armies stationed and the armed forces of the federal German Republic (Bundeswehr) were the largest in Western Europe, with almost half-a-million men ready for combat.
If the Soviets did attack, one of their first tasks would be to deny the harbors of Western Europe, and particularly Germany, to NATO reinforcements; this would be done with submarines and with mines. So it became obvious to the German Navy that they would have to increase their mine counter-measure capabilities – this was done by building minesweeping ships and recruiting and training specialist mine-clearance divers.
To aid them in this task the German Navy trained three different types of diver according to their military task. There are Waffentaucher (weapons diver), Kampfschwimmer (combat swimmer) and Minentaucher (mine clearance diver).
These tasks required quite different equipment, right down to the watches the divers wore, and for this reason there are five different models of the IWC Ocean 2000 Bund watch; for the Waffentaucher the references 3509 or 3529, which were automatic; and for the Kampfschwimers the references 3314 or 3315 which were both quartz; but for the purpose of this article I want to concentrate on the most rare and most complex of these, the ref. 3519 AMAG developed especially for the Minentaucher.
As the Soviets made the best anti-shipping mines in the world, they wished to keep their technology secret, so the mines were fitted with anti-handling devices, designed to explode the mine if any attempt was made to defuse it. These anti-handling devices often used magnetic triggering for their mines, meaning that any mine-clearance diver had to be equipped entirely with non-magnetic equipment.
The requirement issued by the Bundeswehr in 1980 for a new diver’s watch was 30 pages long and asked for capabilities never previously seen in a wristwatch; it was sent to all companies with whom the Bundeswehr were currently dealing. One of the recipients was a company called Diehl Avionics, a subsidiary of the famed German instrument maker VDO who made and maintained aircraft instruments for the Luftwaffe. VDO, at that time, also owned IWC, whose new president, Günter Blümlein, had just joined IWC from Diehl, so the requirement was passed along to IWC.
At the same time as the Bundeswehr was looking for a new diver’s watch, IWC was deepening its relationship with Porsche Design and Butzi Porsche. After the successes of the Compass Watch and the Titan chronograph, Butzi Porsche was designing a diver’s watch for IWC when the Bundeswehr specification landed on his desk, so the military version and the civil one were designed simultaneously.
The Bund version has higher visibility materials used on the hands, a different color to the minute and seconds hands and a darker bezel, which made the luminous triangle marker more prominent. This is also why the crystal on the Bund version is flat and not domed like the civil one; the difference in crystal shapes has led some people to believe that this is why the Bund version is only rated to 300m whilst the civil one can stand almost seven times as much pressure, being rated to 2,000m. In reality, the bund version can go much deeper than 300m, but that is all the specifications ask for and so that is the depth to which it was, therefore, tested.
IWC’s great advantage was its experience in working with titanium. This gave them a head start, but making a movement completely amagnetic is a much harder task, and the technical director of the company, Jürgen King, was given that responsibility. The first thing he did was to remove the steel ball bearings on which the winding rotor revolved, replacing them with jeweled bearings. Much more difficult was to find replacements for the steel components in the balance and escapement – the balance staff, pallet fork and hairspring.
The hairspring was replaced by one made from a niobium-zirconium alloy (the only other use for either of these metals is in constructing nuclear reactors). The steel in the balance staff and the pallet fork was replaced by items made from beryllium metal, which, although harder than steel, is also much more brittle and, due to its hardness, causes more wear and tear on the parts of the watch it comes in contact with.
As well as being tested for their depth rating, as with all the Ocean 2000 Bund watches, the 3519 AMAG watches also needed testing for their amagnetic properties. It proved impossible to do this at Schaffhausen, as the presence of so much ferrous metal in the building (probably all the machine tools) affected the magnetic field in the area. So whenever a batch of 3519 AMAGs needed to be tested, Jürgen King and a naval officer would travel to King’s home in the country where they were free from all external influences and the testing could proceed virtually unaffected.
The 3519 AMAG is the world’s first (and so far only) completely amagnetic diver’s watch and certainly one of the rarest diver’s watches ever made – in the period between 1984 and 1990 less than 50 examples were created and only a handful have ever left the inventory of the Bundeswehr. It was the last true military diver’s watch built to a government specification. Nowadays the navies which still use diver’s watches buy off-the-shelf production models, often not even bothering to engrave issue numbers on the casebacks. All of the above makes the IWC Bund, and 3519 AMAG in particular, very, very special.