Take a Deep Dive into Eight Decades of the IWC Portugieser

The International Watch Company has been in business since 1868, when an American watchmaker from Boston set up shop in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. In the 150 years that followed, the company he began (now better known as IWC) has earned a reputation for exceptional design matched by serious watchmaking technique. No model in their broad range of pilot, sport and dress watches, however, inspires the same kind of passion as the Portugieser. This year IWC released a whole new lineup of Portugiesers, ranging from a classic chronograph, to a Yacht Club model with moon and tide indicators, to a perpetual calendar tourbillon designed to display the accurate date for the next century, without needing adjustment. If you want to know what IWC is all about, look to the Portugieser. Or better yet, ask the people who created it.

The original IWC Portugieser, created in 1939, was exceptionally large for its day, but also highly accurate.

Chris Grainger Herr, IWC CEO: “In the late 1930s, two dealers from Portugal ordered a series of “marine-chronometer-precision” wristwatches from IWC. When creating the Reference 325, the watchmakers met their specification by fitting hunter pocket watch calibres into 41.5-millimetre wristwatch cases, giving the first Portugieser the slightly oversized look that is still associated with this watch family today. The clear and easy-to-read dial was inspired by the deck watches IWC was producing for various navies at the time.”

Dr. David Seyffer, IWC Museum Director: “Surely, it is the design that makes Portugieser watches unmistakable. Then there is the unique history. When the Portuguese watch was created in the late 1930s, these watches were not well known. The world was at war; moreover, watches in this size were not mainstream at the time. IWC had decided to use pocket watch movements for the watch, because they were much more precise than wristwatch movements at that time. Portuguese watch retailers actually gave IWC the idea for this watch [because] they targeted customers who needed extremely precise timepieces but did not necessarily want to wear a pocket watch.”

The new Portugieser chronograph adds the option of red, green and navy blue dials to the Bauhaus-inspired design of the 1930s original. $10,100

Chris Grainger Herr: “With the first Portugieser, the Reference 325, IWC established a classic design idiom that has run as a common thread through the history of the Portugieser family. The astonishing thing about this watch is that it has not aged a day since then. Its crisp and functional design looks just as fresh and contemporary today as it did over 80 years ago.”

The IWC Portugieser perpetual calendar tourbillon “Boutique Edition” builds on the legacy of the original Portugieser with 150 years of watchmaking expertise. Price on request.

Dr. David Seyffer: “The design, which was more similar to the Bauhaus and did not necessarily correspond to the forms of the 1930s, made the watch a niche product. Only 690 watches of the first Portugieser were produced until 1981. Then something completely unexpected happened: in the circles of watch collectors, these watches became sought-after pieces. The next generation Portuguese watches of 1993 were very well received by watch enthusiasts [and] this was the reason why the Portuguese family developed so well and successfully. Even though IWC incorporated in the following years many new and technically sophisticated watch complications that were implemented in the watch (e.g. the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar with the double moon in 2003), the watch retained its characteristic features. Whether in 1939, 1993 or 2020, a Portugieser stays a Portugieser.”

Christian Knoop, IWC Creative Director: “When you face the task of updating such an iconic line, you need to respectfully study its history, while still trying to introduce something new. Our goal [was] to create a bridge between the past and the future; to surprise our customers with modern aspects, while making sure they instantly recognize the collection as the IWC Portugieser. We achieved this through introducing new models like the Portugieser Automatic 40, the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 42 or the third generation of the Portugieser Yacht Club, while securing an overall look which is true to the nautical heritage of this watch family. By combining the pure and timeless aesthetics of the original with details and colour codes inspired by modern yachting, the new collection looks highly consistent and contemporary.”

The 2020 Portugieser 40 stays faithful to design of the original while adding a few tasteful changes. $20,000

Chris Grainger Herr: “With the new Portugieser we interpret the iconic design of this watch in the context of modern yachting. The result is a collection that stays true to the modernity of the Portugieser, but still appears fresh and contemporary. Our new Portugieser Automatic 40 draws inspiration from the original design and yet adds some modernity to it. Its a very contemporary interpretation of one of the most iconic designs our brand has ever created.”

Christian Knoop: “My favourite detail is the dial of the new Portugieser Automatic 40, which was inspired by the Reference 325, the first Portugieser from the late 1930s. We took this timelessly modern design with the small seconds at 6 oclock and explicitly no date indication as a basis, while introducing some modernity in the details and finishes. The new automatic model is powered by the IWC-manufactured 82200 calibre and presented in a compact case size of 40 millimetres. It reminds us of one of the most iconic designs our brand has created, but also appears incredibly crisp and modern.”

The Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide is a watch fit for an admiral, complete with complications to display the phase of the moon and the cycle of the tides. $43,800

Dr. David Seyffer: “From a technical perspective, Im highly impressed by the Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide, which features a display that keeps you informed about the next high tide. This is a new complication that the IWC engineers made happen with the new mechanism of a special wheel train, where the rhythm of the hours is translated into the constantly shifting chronological sequence of high and low water.”

Chris Grainger Herr: “The inspiration we have taken from the world of modern yachting materializes beautifully in our Boutique Editions and we are excited to present selected models in an overarching design code with a striking blue and gold colour code. All these timepieces feature cases made either of 18-carat Armor Gold or 18-carat 5N gold and have deep blue dials. As an accessory to these watches, we will also offer braided blue calfskin straps inspired by the ropes on the deck of a sailing yacht. While we take inspiration from our history and our heritage, we always try to introduce a new element and surprise our customers by showing them a true classic in a new light.”