Watches & Wonders 2020: Tracing The Roots Of IWC Schaffhausen’s New Portugieser Collection
An overview of the Schaffhausen-based brand’s newest timepieces.
This year has already been quite historic, so it seems appropriate that IWC’s newest launches reprise the spirit of the original Portugieser from the 1930s. In many ways, these are the perfect timepieces for uncertain times because the designs and functions are based on classic marine chronometers, so they don’t require embellishments that will go out of date.
Almost 90 years later, IWC previewed the latest models from the Portugieser family as part of the virtual Watches & Wonders. Because we couldn’t see these new pieces physically, we asked someone who has had the chance to hold and view them in person, IWC Museum Curator Dr. David Seyffer, to walk us through the new models.
PORTUGIESER IN THE ZEITGEIST
It feels like a good time to go back to the basics, which is why collectors will find comfort in this new Portugieser Collection. As you know, the backstory of the Reference 325 was as a hunter pocket watch caliber reconfigured to an oversized wristwatch for two merchants from Portugal.
These businessmen wanted a timepiece that had the precision and readability of a nautical instrument, so IWC adapted the big open dial of the deck watches the company was making for the British Royal Navy at the time.
Since its launch in 1939, the watch has not seen severe design changes. But IWC has gradually upped its precision game. And in 1993, the next generation was launched, and IWC added in different watchmaking complications. “But from a design perspective,” says Seyffer, “If you look at a model from 1939, a 1995 Portugieser Rattrapante or a first Perpetual Calendar Portugieser from 2003, you’ll see that these watches belong to the Portugieser Family.”
The Portugieser Chronograph
With its distinctive small seconds, the most recognizable face in the Portugieser family is the Ref. 3716 Chronograph. This year, IWC has three new takes on the popular collection by upgrading the standard mechanisms.
In fact, every watch in the Portugieser line is kitted out with in-house calibers. Among others, they feature automatic movements from the 52000 and 82000 caliber families, which have Pellaton winding with ceramic components. In the chronographs, movements from the 89000 and 69000 caliber families ensure precise measurement of stop times. Other improvements include a new and improved alligator strap with a folding butterfly clasp, available on the steel version.
And, even though IWC is not messing with the exterior architecture of the Portugieser, this year’s chronographs come in an amazing array of dial colors and material options. There’s a blue dial with a rose gold case and stainless white and green face, which give the classic design a forward feeling look.
Although, this contemporary refresh also brings some retro energy to the table. “Dials with different colors were very popular in the 1970s,” says Seyffer. “The difference now is that we combined the beauty of the green color – which by the way is always a challenge for the dial makers to coat – and the purist design of the Portugieser Chrono.”
Portugieser Automatic 40 and 42
To mark the start of this new decade, IWC is also exploring the idea that the Portugieser does not have to be big to be bold. Not only do these four new models come in eye-catching white, blue, and red dials, the manufacture has created a 40mm case for the Portugieser Automatic line. At the same time, the collection is adding two 42mm versions, one of which features the maritime design codes of the more high-end Boutique Editions.
It’s not the first time the manufacture has made the Portugieser smaller. “The idea is inspired by a the Portugieser ref. 3531 that was launched 1997 with a diameter of 35mm and with a case height of 8mm only.”
In 2020, the size reduction has been made possible by the new IWC-made 82200 caliber, with a Pellaton winding system and ceramic components, 60-hour power reserve, and sapphire glass back.
It’s interesting to see how even this slight adjustment affects the wearability of the watch. But by slimming down, it becomes a bit more versatile. You can wear it with a variety of outfits – including tailored suits and shirts – without worrying about it getting caught up in you cuffs. Seyffer adds, “I think people in the future will make a smaller Portugieser their companion because It makes a statement, but it also gives the customer better flexibility.” For extra versatility, these editions are available in either 18k 5N gold (a red gold alloy made of 75% gold, 20.5% copper, and 4.5% silver) or stainless steel. Each model comes on an alligator strap or stainless steel bracelet with a developed folding butterfly clasp that makes them even easier and comfortable to wear.
Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 42
Also getting a reduction in diameter is the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar.
This 42mm timepiece may be a little smaller, but the calendar information is still clearly displayed on its three subdials. This perpetual calendar, housed in either steel or gold, has been outfitted for the first time with an in-house movement from the 82000-caliber family: the 82650.
For 2020, IWC is also unveiling a Boutique Edition of the iconic 44mm Portugieser Perpetual Calendar in 18-carat Armor Gold. The timekeeper is powered by the IWC-manufactured 52610 caliber, which features a bidirectional Pellaton winding system made from virtually wear-free zirconium oxide ceramic. As a result, the two barrels have a power reserve of 7 days.
On the subject of complicated watches, we couldn’t help but ask about IWC’s historic innovations in perpetual calendars. Seyffer’s favorite is the 1985 perpetual calendar designed by Mr. Kurt Klaus. “It was not only a breakthrough for IWC but also the whole Swiss watchmaking industry,” he says. “When in the 1970s watchmaking worldwide changed completely, brands like IWC faced the change by going back to the old mechanical technology of watchmaking.”
“This maybe sounds like a contradictio in adjecto,” Seyffer continues. “But the truth is that when the old tradition was transported into a new generation, high-quality mechanical watches became interesting again.”
The Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide and Chronograph
Keeping with the theme of maritime history, perhaps the most interesting 2020 Portugiesers are nautical sports watches.
First, there is the Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide, which adds a bit of rugged sailor swagger to the timeless timepiece. It is also the first watch from IWC to feature the newly developed tide indication.
A sub dial at 6 o’clock shows the expected times for the next high and low tide. More importantly, however, the double moon phase display at 12 o’clock has been enhanced to show spring and neap tides to provide information about the strength of the seasonal seas. For example, spring tides, which bring particularly high water, occur at a full moon or new moon.
It’s also ruggedly handsome. The Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide comes in an 18k 5N gold case with a blue dial, gold-plated hands, 18k appliques, and a blue rubber strap with textile inlay. Two other attractive features include a filigree bezel with a flat casing ring and a 44mm diameter. To picture the effortless elegance this watch projects, picture Chris Evans in his cable-knit fisherman’s sweater from the movie Knives Out.
Then, there’s the sportier Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph. Available in three versions, all featuring a 44mm case. These chronos are very robust and reliable with a water-resistance of 6 bar and a 68-hour power reserve. There are three editions in total.
The first has a stainless steel case with blue dial, rhodium-plated hands and appliques, and an ergonomic stainless steel bracelet.
The second also has a steel case and bracelet but with a silver-plated dial and blue hands and appliques.
Finally, the third has a steel case, silver-plated dial, gold-plated hands, 18-carat 5N gold appliques, and a two-tone bracelet made of 18-carat 5N gold and stainless steel.
But their most useful feature is the flyback function. Set in motion by the IWC manufacture 89361 caliber, this stopwatch feature displays the stopped hours and minutes in a single totalizer at 12 o’clock. The hands can be reset to zero with a simple push of the reset button.
The Portugieser Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph and the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon
Finally, a new year would not be complete without some unique Boutique Editions. IWC is promising high flying complications this year.
The Portugieser Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph combines a tourbillon with a retrograde date display and chronograph, while the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon boasts a tourbillon and a perpetual calendar.
"You can compare them with the Tourbillon and Perpetual Calendar we designed and manufactured in previous years,” says Seyffer. “But with these two high complicated timepieces, my colleagues from the R&D Department went another step further.”
The Portugieser Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph marries a flying minute tourbillon at 6 o’clock with a retrograde date display at 9 o’clock. This example of haute horology is available in two versions, both limited to 50 pieces. One comes housed in an 18-carat Armor Gold case with a blue dial featuring the maritime-inspired design cues of the Boutique Editions. Thanks to its improved microstructure, this innovative new material is harder than previous 5N gold alloys. A second version is available in platinum.
The Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon (Ref. 5045) also brings two distinct complications together. This mechanical feat only makes this edition even more elusive. Two references are available, a Boutique Edition with an 18-carat Armor Gold case and the second housed in platinum. Both are limited to just 50 pieces.
How advanced are these timepieces? “If you look at the first IWC tourbillon developed in the early 1990s and the Perpetual calendar in the early 1980s,” says Seyffer. “It’s outstanding that after only a few years that these two watches have reached another level.”
(Images provided by IWC)