7 September 2021

A Magnetic Match: Omani Dials & The Ingenieur

by Charlie Dunne

The discussion of Omani Khanjar signed watches is very much centered around the likes of Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. However, the decoration can be found on many highly admired brands that don’t necessarily command the premiums of the aforementioned makers. Among these under discussed manufacturers are the likes of Eterna, Piaget, Seiko, Omega, Cartier, International Watch Company and others.

When it comes to these customized dials from International Watch Company, they are found within various models. These include the Yacht Club, ladies’ dress watches bearing stone dials, IWC Porsche Design, and most notably, the Ingenieur. To understand the subject, we must begin with a brief overview on the symbol’s history and how they found a home on some of the most prestigious luxury timepieces.

The IWC Ingenieur ref. 3506 with striking red Oman Khanjar signature on the dial.

The Omani Khanjar’s Origin

The Omani khanjar is a dagger, with a curved “J” shaped blade. It is shown today with the dagger accompanied by a sheath and two intersecting swords. Traditionally these were held in a specific belt for the weapon referred to as a “hizaq”. The depiction can be traced back to 17th century gravestones within the Musandam Peninsula (Ru’us al Jibal), however it is argued that the stylized daggers were used much earlier in different regions throughout the Middle East. The daggers have been found in East Africa, Zanzibar and even as far as Comoros, likely from trade or even gifts to foreign ambassadors visiting the region.

Similar to watches, these daggers were often meticulously crafted with ornate decoration. To this day, the artisanal element is still found within the construction of these weapons. It is not uncommon for the commission of khanjars to feature the client’s chosen motifs or customized engravings. The cultural significance is ever relevant to this day in that it is also worn in ceremonial traditions and holidays. While in the past it may be more fitting for combat or included in prestigious uniforms, today it may be more commonly reserved as a garment in ceremonies or weddings. In instances, such as a funeral, where the khanjar might not be the appropriate attire, alternative accessories such as an artisanal cane are accompanied instead. In the Middle East, a khanjar can be very expensive and it is not necessarily a common item within each household. As a result, they are treated with great appreciation as a family heirloom that will be passed down to the next generation.

Omani's proudly displaying Khanjar Daggers adorned to their belts | © Ryan Debolski

Initially adopted as the House of Al Said’s royal emblem, Qābūs ibn Saʿīd would go on to quickly introduce the symbol on the nation’s flag on December 17th, 1970. During that same year, it would also be added on the rial (Oman’s currency). Slight differences in the decorations and terminology can be seen within different regions throughout the Middle East. For instance, these daggers are referred to as a “jambiya” in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where the weapon is also a culturally important symbol. Although it is the 45 degree curve on the blade that is said to be the distinguishing factor that separates khanjars from other Middle Eastern daggers.

While pursuing an education in England, Qaboos bin Said (the son of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman) would develop a relationship with John Asprey. Asprey’s renowned reputation as a family owned retailer had already been established by curating the highest quality luxury goods for English clientele. The appeal of high-end timepieces would soon become evident of Qaboos bin Said after his return to the East. On July 23, 1970, the Omani coup d'état resulted in the transfer of reign from the Sultan of Muscat and Oman Said bin Taimur to his 29 year old son.

Pre-1970, Oman was a fairly insular country. The new Sultanate encouraged a more outward-looking approach, and an influx of foreign visitors were able to appreciate the country's incredible untouched landscapes. | © Eman Ali

Daggers & Dials

 Very early into his position of leadership, the Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said would revisit relationship with Asprey. The English retailer would double stamp the watches ordered by their new VIP client’s dials not with their own name, but with the newly recognized coat of arms. While consensus is that most watches were customized by the English retailer, in some instances Omani retailers would in fact be authorized by the government to customize the dials. In the more rare occurrences, the manufacturers would decorate the watch within their own manufacturer. These were in the form of engravings, or outright deviation from dial designs by the manufacturers to accommodate the Omani Khanjar.

Most often, the royal symbol was imprinted in red, white or green, as found on the nation’s flag. Dials with green stamps on the highly coveted Rolex models were famously described by John Mayer in an episode of Hodinkee's Talking Watches as looking “kinda pot-leafy”. Rarer examples will include gold and black khanjars. These colours were purportedly made personally for the Sultanate of Oman in the 1970s.

HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said, a revered leader and watch lover of the highest order

The majority of these watches would have been intended to be gifts for friends, diplomats, Omani military servicemembers and in some cases members of the British Special Air Service. Interestingly, the gifting of watches within political circles is not something foreign to American elected officials. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson is just one example of an individual who had a propensity to give wristwatches out as gifts, a tradition which would have raised some concerns from modern ethics committees.

The solo khanjar, which is the national emblem, would be the first iteration destined for these dials. It would be followed up by the khanjar with a crown floating above (as seen in the present example) during the late 1970s. The distinction between the two versions lies in that the crown signifies the House of Al Said.

The Ingenieur

Originally created for performance in highly magnetic environments, the Ingenieur’s history begins in 1954. IWC’s Technical Director, Albert Pellaton is credited as being the mastermind behind the iconic watch. Peloton’s initial two calibres were graded to have a protection of 80,000 amperes per meter which was above “16 times the resistance required by the Swiss norm for antimagnetic watches” at the time. For context, the calibres used within both Patek Philippe reference 2570-1 and 3417 from the same period were able to perform in environments up to 450 oersteds (roughly 35,897 amperes per meter).

Marketed as “revolutionary” and a “super timepiece of modern times”, it was a watch oriented to the professional who required a timepiece that could handle any environment (especially those which featured strong electromagnetism). These professionals could have been physicists, engineers, or scientists. Robust competitors of the era included the likes of Omega’s Railmaster or the Eberhard Scientigraf.

Left: A flyer c.1960 showing the ref.666 on a steel bracelet. Right: 1960 flyer depicting the rare ref. 9386 AD,18kt case with 18kt bracelet.

The first inception the references 666A and 666AD featured automatic calibres. Over the course of the model’s history, it would include dozens of references using both automatic and quartz (and believe it or not, a handful of meca-quartz versions from 1988-1997). Within the reference 3506, the calibres will be either the 3752 or the 37531. Both movements are under a collection of IWC modified ETA 2892 which had been decorated with high finishing and a lavish 21K oscillating gold rotor. Despite having comparable quartz Ingenieurs at this time, the gold rotor was another subtle detail Swiss manufacturer’s could proudly enclose to be unseen within their refined sports watch. Both movements are housed within the same case dimensions underneath the screw back steel screw back case. The initial water-resistance was rated to a depth of 120 meters, however as is the case with all vintage watches it is better to refrain from submerging these watches.

Within the reference 3506, the dial features a chequered texture giving it a slightly dressier aesthetic for the brand’s “sports line” watch. While a subtle pattern is evident under the loupe, the bold longhand signature stands out prominently from the dial between the standard typeface. The variation found within the black dial configuration is very much the same, with the divergence towards gold lettering. Compared to the black dial, the tritium lume plots are much more observable while mirroring the pale yellow material within the hands. However, it is the off-centre Omani Khanjar stamp that is the focal point of the both dial layouts. The aggressive red juxtaposition will surely cause a head or two to turn.

The IWC Ingenieur ref. 3506 with striking red Oman Khanjar signature on the dial.

The Genta Inspiration

Six years after the celebrated Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Gerald Genta would introduce designs for the Patek Philippe Nautilus, and the revisioned IWC Ingenieur (reference 1832). While the Ingenieur has certainly evolved over the decades, the reference 3506 and its contemporaries throughout the mid-to-late 80s maintain the aesthetic that the iconic designer is most associated with. Comparatively, the Ingenieur’s wide breadth of models is far more vast than the notable antimagnetic models it had been introduced alongside in the 1950s. Such examples as the Patek Philippe Amagnetic, JLC Geophysic or Rolex Milgauss, have either been far less diverse in production or remained quite true to their original incarnation.

Nicknamed for their slender case at 9mm the 3506 is among a succession of references throughout the 1980s that are commonly referred to by collectors as “Skinny Ingenieurs”. While many of the Swiss brands had abandoned the refined commitment towards ultra-slim mechanical movements by this point, these references are an interesting testament to the tradition.

The reference 3506’s three variations of case metals will consist of the following: 1) A strictly stainless steel case, crown and bracelet. 2) A stainless steel case and bracelet with a 14K yellow gold bezel and crown. 3) [As seen in the present example] A two-tone case and bracelet with a 14K yellow gold bezel and crown. Each version will feature gold luminous baton hands and numerals. In addition, the tonneau shaped cases measure in at a somewhat small yet very wearable 34mm wide. A popularized style of the era, the two-tone bracelet incorporates a slightly tapered design descending towards the foldover deployant clasp.

Reference 3506 variants from International Watch catalogue circa 1987. Image credit: moeb.ch

Attractive Value Proposition

Circling back to the historic ties to Genta design, the value within IWC Omani Khanjar dials is quite hard to ignore when considering comparable sports watches with integrated bracelets. Obviously the rarity of a Nautilus Omani Khanjar is worth emphasizing, yet the prices achieved at auction are astronomical. More importantly, they are alienating for the majority of watch enthusiasts with an appreciation for the design icon. As far as Royal Oaks, the same disparity can easily be seen at first glance. With both gold and steel versions rarely being offered publicly, the access to acquire either is hardly approachable. 

Beyond the association with Oman, double signed dials are cherished by watch collectors. While the Ingenieur has yet to achieve the acclaim that it’s contemporary antimagnetic watch models have, the fact that the line stands out as one of the most historically significant within the genre is certainly a point that warrants more appreciation. Regardless of the occupation that today’s collectors hold, there is no denying the attractive force that these antimagnetic watches hold over watch enthusiasts, and it is not going anywhere soon.

Charlie Dunne is a vintage watch enthusiast based in St. Augustine, Florida. He is a contributor for Rescapment and has written for various publications such as Revolution, WatchTime India, and Collectability. Photography supplied by Eman Ali & Ryan Debolski