“Titanium was a material no one had ever made a watch with because it’s difficult to machine,” Porsche Design Director Roland Heiler reminisced re: the IWC Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph. “It’s a material that gives you a lot of headaches, but it has very good properties – it’s anti-allergic, it does not corrode, and it’s half the weight of steel with pretty much the same strength if not more.” Uh, no . . .
Launched in 1980, the IWC Porsche Design Chronograph was not the world’s first titanium timepiece. That honor belongs to the 1970 Citizen X8 Titanium Chronometer – a less-than-entirely-attractive Japanese invention that also entered the history books as the world’s first electronic watch. And disappeared with hardly a trace (2k examples produced). But Herr Heiler wasn’t completely wrong.
The IWC Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph was the first all-titanium watch. And back in the day, hardening the material was a bitch – fiendishly difficult and maddeningly expensive. Now? Not so much. To the point where titanium is everywhere – from tennis rackets to nipple jewelery.
The IWC Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph recalls the days when a 44mm Panerai would have been seemed like a prop from The Land of the Giants. With its minimalist case and narrow black bezel, the 32mm Porsche is so small the “by IWC” proclamation crammed in the corner looks like an afterthought. Probably not. A lot of thought went into this piece.
Other than the material, the Chrono’s integrated pushers were its most significant design feature (still around in the titanium Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator series). They make the most (least?) of the watch’s relatively tiny size, keeping attention firmly focused on the Chrono’s surgically clean face.
Porsche Design positioned the Chronograph’s stop watch sub-dials across from each other at the three and nine o’clock positions. The budding horologists placed the watch’s identically-sized second hands sub-dial at six o’clock. The resulting three-part harmony – balanced by the “Porsche Design” proclamation across the top – is hugely legible, in its own small way.
Like its predecessors, the IWC Porsche Titanium Chronograph’s dial is black. While F.A. Porsche (above) dismissed the idea of a black 911 – “black is not a color, but a ‘condition’” – he embraced it for his design company’s timekeeping products. “I wanted a watch like the speedometer and the rev-counter ,” he reflected, “because that would be the most legible.” His decision influenced watch design from then forward.
The IWC Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph is a quartz watch. It wasn’t F.A.’s first choice. “Wristwatches represent a set of values not equalled by quartz crystals,” Dr. Porsche sniffed, selecting the Valjoux 7750 movement for his first two timepieces. Whether motivated by pricing, reliability or the quartz crisis, the battery-powered Titanium Chronograph started a “tradition” that continues in today’s Porsche Design watches.
The IWC/Porsche watch’s flat grey bracelet – unadorned rectangles stacked on top of each other like closely arranged curtains – is brutal in the Bauhaus manner. The Chrono’s push button deployment clasp is a similarly solid piece of engineering. Make the precise. At 2.4 ounces, the IWC Porsche timepiece is too light to claim solidity.
For comparison, a stainless 39mm Rolex Oyster Perpetual weighs 4.6 ounces. To be fair, high-end watch buyers like heft. And titanium watches are now a dime-a-dozen, including some modern Porsche watches and the 1.94 ounce Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Ultra Light. All of which are more luminous than the IWC/Porsche watch, which pretty much isn’t. But the IWC Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph has history.
This example has personal history. I gave it to my father on his fiftieth birthday. He wore it daily until his death at 87. Peter Farago was unaware of the IWC Porsche Design Chronograph’s [illegitimate] claim to fame, but the textile engineer knew a robust, well-designed machine when he saw one. As does his son.
IWC Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph (1989)
Price: from $2k in excellent condition (click here, no commission)
Case material: Titanium
Case diameter: 32mm
Glass: Sapphire crystal
Bracelet material: Titanium
Clasp: Titanium folding clasp
Functions: Hours, seconds, chronograph, date
RATINGS (out of five stars)
Design * * * * *
The IWC Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph’s brutal minimalism creates an ice cold Germanic gestalt – if you like that sort of thing.
Legibility * * * *
Easy to read, especially for a 32mm chronograph. Still, there’s a reason watches grew larger in the intervening 30 years.
Tactility * * * *
The titanium timepiece fashioned at F.A. Porsche’s behest is handsome, but lacks any hint of caress-ability. A star added back for the pushers’ positive precision.
Comfort * * * * *
A 4.6 ounce watch is never going to weigh you down. This one doesn’t.
Overall * * * *
The IWC/Porsche partnership ran from 1973 to 1995. The watches from that era were beautifully built and bold. The IWC Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph may not be as rare as other pieces, but the first all-titanium wristwatch has a charm all its own.