Today the name IWC is most associated with the Portuguese or Big Pilot watches, but at one time it was the Yacht Club that defined the brand. Debuted in 1967, the Yacht Club bridged the gap between sport and classic design becoming one of IWC’s best selling watches in its history. The Yacht Club was distinguished by its circular case and integrated lugs that gave it a tonneau-type shape.
Living up to its sporting name, the Yacht Club could gamely keep pace in rough seas without breaking a sweat. Inside the case ticked the reliable automatic calibre 8541 with date display and the Pellaton bi-directional winding system (ref. 811 AD, later 1811). Adding to its shock resistance, IWC spring-suspended the movement. Since yachting is a wet sport, the Yacht Club also had to be water resistant, and it was to 100 meters in the steel model and 60 meters for the gold through a crown mechanism that had automatic pressure equalization: the seals tightened down as water pressure increased.
IWC offered several other Yacht Club models, including an automatic without date powered by the calibre 854 (ref. 811A, later 1911). For those who preferred a handwind experience, a relative few were outfitted with the calibre 89 (ref. 2611), also used in the Mark 11 Pilot’s Watch. You know you’ve found one of these if “Automatic” doesn’t appear on the dial. Prices for the Yacht Club went from about 440 Swiss francs for a stainless case on a calfskin strap with no date to 3,980 Swiss francs for the same watch in 18K white gold, giving different demographics an opportunity to enjoy it.
When the quartz watch arrived on the scene in the 1970’s, the Yacht Club and its mechanical brethren took a big hit, no longer the hit of the party. In an attempt at meeting the market, in 1977 IWC replaced the Yacht Club with the Yacht Club II, most of which featured a quartz movement but kept the water resistance and movement suspension. A small percentage still were outfitted with a mechanical movement. For the first time, IWC also incorporated a screw-down crown and a scratch-resistant sapphire glass.
At a larger 38mm, the Yacht Club II resembled the other luxury sport watches of the time, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus, both getting their looks from legendary designer Gerald Genta. The most expensive Yacht Club II’s had their bezels set with 45 diamonds, an embellishment particularly appreciated by the Middle East clientele.
The men’s Yacht Club II stayed in the catalogue until 1985, while the exclusively quartz Lady Club II gasped along until 1990. After a hibernation of more than 20 years, IWC brought back its classic from another era, re-launching it at SIHH 2010 in the Portuguese collection as a flyback chronograph.
Classic luxury sport watches from the 1970’s to early 80’s from the big boys Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin will cost you in the double digits of thousands for nice examples. If you want a classic from the era, the IWC Yacht Club is a real sleeper, offering handsome looks and solid mechanics for about 2-4K depending upon model and condition. It’s a great and affordable addition to any collection.