Venerable maisons like IWC Schaffhausen are treasure troves of not just exquisite watches but also interesting tales that have crafted the history of such companies. These maisons also have in their midst individuals who have been instrumental in crafting many a successful chapter of the company. One such person is Hannes Pantli. The former Executive Vice President of IWC Schaffhausen who now serves as a board member as well as spokesperson of the company ventured into new markets when the quartz crisis hit the Swiss watch industry in the 70s, popularised jewellery watches’ sets, and created the IWC Portofino.
Hannes Pantli has been visiting Oman since 1974 when he first arrived in the Sultanate on behalf of IWC. Since then, he has had a long and prolific relationship with the country, even meeting the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said on several occasions. He was in Oman recently to attend the launch of a special IWC exhibition hosted by Mistal, luxury watch and lifestyle boutique, and also the retailers of the Swiss brand. The exhibition features historical IWC timepieces belonging to private Omani watch collectors that date back to the 1970s, many of which are custom-made.
We met with Hannes Pantli to talk about watches, his association with Oman, IWC’s special exhibition at Mistal, and much more.
You visited Oman first in 1974. What can you tell us about your visits then?
I first arrived in Oman as a sales manager for IWC. We were exploring new markets and the Sultanate was one of the first countries in the region that I landed in. I had the opportunity to get acquainted with the Khimji family with whom we built a wonderful relationship. I also got the opportunity to meet the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said and show the collection of watches I had with me. That was the first of many more meetings with the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. He even gifted me a special edition pocket watch from the collection that IWC had created to commemorate the Sultan’s 10-year reign.
Did you know that the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos influenced the style of some of the watches IWC made in the 1970s and 1980s? He was extremely knowledgeable about watches, and we had to be very innovative in our creations. We started to work with a variety of stones, colours, and materials following conversations with the late His Majesty. We went on to show these watches in Europe, which went on to influence the style of watches in the continent.
We also went on to create watch sets that included matching rings and cufflinks for men, while for women it was matching earrings, pendants, and rings. This was unheard of in those days but the feedback we got from clients in this region helped us explore new designs styles successfully.
Please tell us about the special IWC watches and jewellery exhibition at Mistal.
The exhibition was born out of our desire to commemorate the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos and honour His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik. The exhibition showcases some of the most iconic pieces that were created for Oman and belong to private watch collectors. Through the exhibition, IWC also honours the long-standing relationship we share with the Sultanate of Oman.
How has the watch industry evolved over the last few decades?
Well, watches haven’t changed much. There have been advancements in technology. Different metals and materials have been used over the years. Some watches have become more complicated than others. But what has remained the same is the basic technology.
What are your views on smartwatches?
Smartwatches cannot be compared to wristwatches. I consider a smartwatch to be a smartphone on a strap. One need not buy a watch to know the time. It’s all around you – from cars to phones to appliances. But a wristwatch is an emotion. People buy watches because of the emotional connection, the history of a watchmaker, the art of watchmaking…
How would you describe your association with Mistal and the Ajit Khimji Group?
They are family to me. I have known Ajit (Khimji) and his family for over 40 years. They have always welcomed me with open arms and treated me as one of their own. Their professionalism and dedication to work are second to none. Talking about our work relationship, it is based on complete honesty and respect for each other.
What is your outlook on Oman as a market for IWC?
Oman has been an excellent market for IWC, and I am optimistic this will continue to be so. I had the opportunity to meet you a group of watch collectors during this trip and I am amazed by their knowledge. People know their watches here and have a deep understanding of the basics of watchmaking. They appreciate quality and will not settle for less.