I think we don’t have to explain the concept of brand ambassadors and that most high-end watch brands have a “few” celebrities that can be considered “Friend of the Brand”. Globally IWC has quite a few friends of the brand, and also in every market there are some local friends of the brand. We had the chance to sit down with Richard Krajicek, former tennis champion who won Wimbledon in 1996, defeating Pete Sampras in the quarterfinals – Sampras’ only defeat between 1993 and 2000!
Krajicek retired from the ATP circuit in 2003 and in 2004 he became tournament director of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. He also runs the Richard Krajicek Foundation, which builds sports facilities for children in inner-city areas in the Netherlands. That’s why we think that Krajicek is the perfect brand ambassador for IWC. His own foundation and the Laureus Sports for Good foundation that IWC supports, show quite some resemblance.
What was your first expensive timepiece?
That was when I was around 19 years old. I had been a professional player for a few years, and as member of the Dutch Davis Cup team, we all got a luxury watch from Ebel. It was a watch worth several thousands and to me that was a huge amount, especially for a wrist watch. At the time I couldn’t imagine to spent my money on anything else than my tennis career.
Did it immediately ignite the passion for watches?
I did wear the Ebel a lot, however, at the time, one watches was enough for me. Probably because of the high prices I actually never considered buying another watch. However when I was 21 I got into a relationship with an Italian girl. Italians are know for their passion for fine watches, and this girl had an impressive collection of high-end watches. Back then most people in the Netherlands just knew Rolex and Cartier as luxury watch brands. Through my relationship I learned more about luxury watches and got to know brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC. That was when I really got into watches, and started visiting jewellers. I started buying watches, mostly Cartiers and my first IWC; it was an Amalfi, a model that is not in the collection anymore.
What triggered you to buy new watches?
In the tennis world, at least back than, tennis players were not really into watches. Much different than in the football world. So watches were never a topic of conversation, although, admittedly, the earning did help a lot. During my tennis career I bought watches regularly, sometimes several per year. Often it was to celebrate a successful game or tournament. Actually, now I think about it, there was only one watch that I ever bought with a less positive ‚vibe’. That was when I lost a tournament in Australia and I wanted to get myself a watch, to mark a new beginning, to get over that lost tournament. That was an IWC Portuguese Chronograph. All other watches I always bought to celebrate a victory.
Do you plan to buy a specific watch after you did some research, or is it a spur of the moment thing?
Before buying a watch, I know which model I want. I do my homework, and I enjoy selecting a new watch carefully. So it usually never is a spur of the moment decision. Except for one time, when I was buying a new watch for my wife, Daphne, and I also saw a watch that I liked for myself. That watch was probably the only watch ever, that I tried to sell. It simply wasn’t me. It was rose gold and personally I prefer stainless steel watches. So besides this exception, I’m always very careful in the selection of a new timepiece.
Has there been a very special watch, one that has a special meaning?
In 1996, after winning Wimbledon, I was in Germany. There was this particular JLC that I liked a lot, and it featured a calendar with day and month visible in apertures, and the date was indicated by a long pointer hand. In the hotel where I stayed at the time was a Wempe boutique and I asked for that particular watch. They told me it was not in the collection anymore, however that Blancpain had a similar watch. Since they didn’t have it in stock, they called Blancpain, in Switzerland, and a day later they told me that they had good news for me. I was allowed to buy number 1 of that specific Blancpain. A number they usually keep in their own vaults. That was a really special moment and still a very nice watch.
How did the relationship with IWC start?
Quite some years ago IWC approached me, for the first time, with the question if I wanted to become a brand ambassador. I hadn’t worn any watch for several years; they were stored in the vault. Watches were not on my mind, so I respectfully declined. During the launch of a new Audi A8, some four years ago, IWC asked me again if I wanted to become a friend of the brand. Probably because they asked some years before, I had started thinking about watches again. So when they popped the question for a second time, I said yes. I think that watches are, besides a wedding ring, probably the only real jewellery that men can wear. Now I’m enjoying my watches again and I really like my relationship with IWC.
What is your special connection to IWC?
Of course I already owned several IWC’s and, it has always been one of my favourite brands. I like the understated yet masculine style. There are always several watches in their collection that I like a lot. The Portofino Hand-Wound Eight Days for instance, is on my wrist whenever I’m wearing a suit. I like to wear my Big Pilot, which is a very robust watch, yet understated in some way. And when I compare it to the very first IWC I ever bought, the Amalfi, the latter is almost ridiculously small. Now-a-days it could almost be a ladies watch. The last few years I’m mostly wearing the Portofino, the Big Pilot and my Portuguese Yacht Club Chronograph.
Do you also visit the annual SIHH in Geneva?
Yes I do! And I like it a lot. It’s so spectacular to see the new IWC booth and to get to see all the newest timepieces. The first year I was invited, their booth resembled an Italian village. That was really awesome. The next year their booth was an aircraft carrier, which was again very impressive. Last year they had the Ingenieur theme, with racing cars and, again, it was very spectacular.
Did you ever visit the IWC manufacture in Schaffhausen?
Yes I did and again, that was an amazing experience. I knew that mechanical watches are complicated, however I didn’t expect that assembling a complicated watch takes so much time. Now I’ve seen people work on these very complicated timepieces, I really blown away by the level of craftsmanship and the enormous patience and attention to detail that the watchmakers must have. Now I’ve witnessed that I’m even more impressed by mechanical timepieces than ever before.
Which watch do you wear today?
Since I received it, some 4-5 weeks ago, I’m wearing the new Ingenieur Chronograph Racer. I’m actually surprised, because usually I switch watches, but this one has been on my wrist since I got it. It’s very comfortable and looks robust and sporty. What I always like so much about IWC, is that the watches are visually not loud, they do not attract too much attention. This Ingenieur Chronograph Racer is actually my only “sporty” watch.
Can you tell us more about your Richard Krajicek Foundation?
The main goal is to create playgrounds, on which children can do sports. Especially in cities, sports clubs have been relocated from centre to outside the city. We would like for young people, to be able to do sports, have the opportunity do get some physical exercise, and of course to have fun doing that. We never initiate a playground and all playgrounds (more then 100 at the time of writing) are created after we were approached by people from neighbourhoods and local governments. This is key to the success, because people from local communities know best, what the need of that neighbourhood is.
Who runs these playgrounds and what’s your task?
Every playground needs some grown-ups who monitor and organise everything on the playgrounds. Again, this is organised with local people. My task is mainly focused on generating funds, and staying in touch with the various playgrounds. Now we already have over a hundred playgrounds. In terms of funds, we’ve grown from several hundred thousands, to 1.3 million Euros last year. In order to generate funds, we organise a gala dinner, and we have a partnership with a national charity lottery.
One of the things that we now also do, are scholarships for children who stand out from the crowd in a positive way. The scholarship allow these kids to be trained to become a sports activity coach, and many of them end up working for the foundation. They become roll models, real life roll models, or the kids in the playground. Over the last 8 years over 700 scholarships have given to kids. This is my way to do something back for society.
Have you ever thought about the similarities between your Richard Krajicek Foundation and the Laureus Sports for Good, that IWC sponsors? Do you think this could lead to a cooperation, or maybe even a limited edition timepiece from IWC?
Now you say it, I do see the similarities, and there are quite a few. As for the limited edition: who knows, it sounds like an interesting idea!
Thanks to Richard Krajicek for a great and inspiring conversation!