New IWC Portugieser – Too New?

Original IWC Portugieser

The IWC Portugieser (Reference 325 above) was born when two Portuguese businessmen asked the company to build a wristwatch with the precision and legibility of a marine chronometer. Simple! Stuff a pocket watch movement into a wristwatch. Big movement, big watch. Small sales. According to IWC’s model history webpage . . .

We do not know with certainty why so few examples of the traditional Reference 325 Portuguese wristwatch were sold. Undoubtedly its large size for the times limited interest and therefore sales. Until the 1990s the diameter of a wristwatch for men was often 35mm, or 6.5mm smaller than the Reference 325. 

Correct! The jumbo-sized Portugieser was an abomination. That wouldn’t die. During the 40’s and 50’s, the Portugieser messed about with classically styled dials, while the movement evolved from the original Calibre 74 to the Calibre 98.

IWC Portugieser first movement - Calibre 74Original IWC Portugieser calibre 98

The Portugieser remained a big ass accurate and reliable wristwatch with pocket watch-based internals, complete with their characteristic tick. The 70’s-era mechanical update – the Calibre 982 – kept the same twin-barrel movement and proportions. timeandwatches.com picks up the story from there:

According to Kurt Klaus – the legendary IWC watchmaker nicknamed the Einstein from Schaffhausen for the invention of some of the most exciting complications of the swiss manufacturer – during the visit of a customer to the atelier they noted that he was wearing an original Portuguese wristwatch reference 325. He recounts that, as they gathered around him, they declared, “this is such a uniquely beautiful watch; we should make it again”. 

IWC 1993

Plans were quickly made to revive the Portuguese, developing an entire line around this model from the past. The 125th anniversary of the Schaffhausen-based company, occurring in 1993, was the perfect occasion to introduce the new Portuguese in a celebratory limited edition often referred to as the Jubilee. 

Einstein Herr Klaus may have been, but you don’t have to be genius to know there’s one man who can take credit for the Portugieser’s sudden sales success: Sylvester Stallone.

Sylvester Stallone in Daylight

When the actor wore a gi-normous Panerai in 1995’s Daylight, Sly made it safe indeed fashionable to wear gi-normous watches.

Making horological hay while the sun shone, IWC created a range of Portugieser variations and complications, including a wildly popular chronograph and a why-the-hell-not tourbillon. But as IWC developed the model, the Portugieser stayed true to its over-sized roots. Until now . . .

The new Portugieser line announced on Friday has five new movements, some of which bear little resemblance to the twin-barrel original pocket watch movement, with its epic seven-day power reserve.

Which is OK, I guess. Tempus fugit. And full [German] marks for the handsome dial designs, harkening back to the original. So there’s that. But what up with a 40mm Portugieser?

new watches!

A 40mm Portugieser is like the Hummer H3 – a cynical marketing ploy that devalues the distinctiveness, indeed the entire raison d’etre of the original.

You know that’s true because HoDinkee bends over backwards to say it isn’t. Writer Danny Milton reckons “the semi-faithful recreation” is totally unobjectionable.

The Portugieser Automatic 40 is a welcome addition to the line, especially for those looking for something a tad smaller. I don’t know if anyone expected IWC to create a 40mm Portugieser, but hey, we aren’t complaining either. 

42mm

Why would HoDinkee complain? That’s not how you get big watch companies to make you an authorized dealer.

IWC Portugieser applied numerals

Also new and questionable: applied numerals (sticky-outy indices). Not to mention Honey I Shrunk the Perpetual, from 44mm to 42mm.

Running on the in-house calibre 82650, the new Portugieser Perpetual Calendar sapphire crystal caseback reveals a skeletonised rotor. A what? Look what they done to my song, ma.

Brand extensions like this never end well. Initially? Yes! You sell a lot of product, trading off the rep of the original. Over time you lose the cachet that made the brand – in this case the model – successful. Put another way, small is beautiful. Except when it isn’t.

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