02/16/2017
 3 minutes

Special Vintage Watches: IWC Schaffhausen Ref. 521 ’Shark Fin’

By Bert Buijsrogge
Vintage IWC Schaffhausen Ref. 521 Shark Fin

In our continuing effort to look closer at some of the great vintage watches out there, we would like to once again shine a light on the International Watch Co., nowadays better known as IWC or IWC Schaffhausen. For this article, we are taking a closer look at the watch that has been nicknamed ‘Shark Fin’ for the design of its remarkable lugs.

The Brand from Schaffhausen

IWC Schaffhausen was founded in 1868, and unlike most Swiss watch companies, it was located in the eastern part of Switzerland, close the German border. Their official slogan, or motto if you like, has been ‘Probus Scafusia’ since 1903. This loosely translates to ‘quality from Schaffhausen’ – something they’ve certainly added to this watch.

The company changed ownership and expanded several times over the years. In early 1944, the IWC factory was accidentally hit during a bombing of Schaffhausen. Although the bomb that struck IWC didn’t detonate, the factory did catch fire from other nearby explosions. Nowadays, the company is part of the Richemont Group which also owns Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, and several other luxury brands.

IWC Schaffhausen Caliber 89

IWC Caliber 89
IWC Caliber 89, Image: Auctionata

In the mid-40s, IWC delivered their first caliber 89 movement. This mechanical masterpiece would turn out to be one of their most famous workhorse movements, renowned for its exceptional accuracy and long-lasting lifespan. The last of these movements were produced in the 70s. As a cornerstone of IWC, it has been used in various watch models throughout the years. One well-known example is the IWC Mark XI Pilot’s Watch. Another is the ref. 521, also known as the ‘shark fin’ for its characteristically-shaped lugs.

The IWC ‘Shark Fin’

The shark fin is a great vintage watch with a classic design that is still very wearable due to its modern case dimension of 37 mm (that is without the rather small crown). It also comes in rose gold which is very rare for its era and makes it very desirable today. On the dial you will find the old IWC logo with the full text International Watch Co. Schaffhausen; this is another nice characteristic of vintage IWC watches.

The dials are well finished with applied baton hour markers or with applied numerals at the 3,6,9, and 12 o’clock positions. On the outer side of the dial there are small applied minute markers with larger ones at the hour markers. Dauphine hands finish the clean classic look of this great-looking watch. The watch is completed by its specially shaped lugs that gave it its nickname. The lugs are smaller where they fix to the case and open up where the strap is attached.

IWC Schaffhausen 521

Once again, the reliable workhorse movement, rose gold case, and relatively large dimensions make this vintage watch a very desirable watch today. However, it is said that the lugs are fragile due to their thin body near the case. Since the shark fin has a gold case, it is relatively easy to get it repaired by a qualified goldsmith, but if you look to buy one, always make sure to check whether the lugs are even and level. As with all vintage watches, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Searching for the perfect watch that fits within your budget is part of the fun.

Perhaps the shark fin is less popular when compared to sportier models, but it sure makes a reliable alternative and offers a clean classic look that you can enjoy on a daily basis.


About the Author

Bert Buijsrogge

I worked in real estate for 15 years. Over the last few years, I've turned my passion for watches and photography into a career. My interest in watches dates back …

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