IWC Portuguese: Bold and Bad Ass From The Start
The Rake's Founder Wei Koh expertly dissects the history of the IWC Portuguese.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a violent guy. And the last thing I would ever want is a firearm. But, on occasion I long for the days when a gentleman was never fully dressed unless he had a sword strapped to his waist; a 3 feet of walking talking reprisal, ready to expedite justice and uphold honor at the drop of a hat. Yet an object of beauty with engraved and gem set hilt and pommel. Today for us men, the one article of self-expressive adornment is our wristwatch. And if you’ll allow me the parallel if the equivalent of a Patek Philippe Calatrva is the refined elegance of the rapier or dueling epee, then strapping on an IWC Portuguese to your wrist is a lot like walking around with a massive bad ass two-handed Scottish Claymore. Even after 1707 when the armies were integrated the Claymore was worn with pride by Scottish officers as they lambasted the effete sabers worn by their British contemporaries. The last great champion of the Claymore was Mad Jack Churchill a WII British officer who stormed Normandy with his sword in hand (as well as a his longbow and bagpipe) and was known for saying, “Any officer that goes into battle without his sword is improperly dressed.”
Just like the Claymore IWC’s Portuguese was built for action. Absolutely born to it. The late 30’s were not a good time for the Swiss watch industry. Europe was in disarray, with great political unrest in particular in Germany, one of IWC’s biggest markets. There was war looming on the horizon. At the same time the Great Depression that began in 1929 in the United States was affecting luxury businesses around the world. Says IWC’s former sales director Hannes Pantli, “We had to start building our business else where. And one region that was relatively unaffected by the global turmoil was South America.” History of The Portuguese In 1939 IWC was approached by two watch dealers hailing from Lisbon, Portugal Messrs Rodrigues and Teixera to be exact. Says Pantli, “But what they asked for was absolutely crazy sounding.” It’s important to understand that at the time the standard man’s wristwatch was 35 mm in diameter or smaller. Pantli continues,
“They asked for a wristwatch that would have all the performance characteristics of a marine chronometer (a super accurate timepiece used for shipboard navigation) which necessitated us using our most accurate pocket watch movement the Caliber 74. What looks like a lightsabre on the front man is Mad Jack Churchill leading a beach assault with claymore in hand. Caliber 74 was IWC’s most accurate pocket watch movement; a natural choice for the large-cased Portuguese. It was explained to the two gentlemen that the resulting watch would be huge, almost unheard of in size at 42mm in diameter. Some how they loved this idea.” Apparently the fashion in Portugal at the time was for men to wear watches in this dimension. IWC plunged into the project with zeal and after some circuitous nomenclature debate dubbed the watch the reference 325 but it was better known by its sobriquet “The Portuguese.” The watch was characterized by a large but relatively thin three part 41.5 mm case and with a dial that eschewed the ornateness of the Art Deco and instead embrace a modernist theory in German design called Bauhaus.
Bizarrely the first Portuguese watches were delivered to the Ukraine rather than Portugal, where apparently Ukranian men in particular the customers of retailer L. Schwarcz in Odessa like sauntering around with huge bad ass timepieces as expressions of their testicular fortitude. To put it in context walking around with a marine chronometer back in the day was a lot like strapping a satellite GPS device to your wrist today. The first watches finally made it to Portugal in 1942 a full three years after they’d been commissioned. Because of the nation’s neutrality traditional trade links had become challenging during the war with shipments frequently lost or seized. Because of the challenge to reach South America, the majority of Portuguese ended up in Eastern Europe. Following the end of WWII IWC continued to receive order for the 325 but considering the particularities of the Portuguese in particular its Herculean size these were few and far between. Over the course of IWC’s history just 690 reference 325 Portuguese watches were made and they later became the object of frenzied collectability. All watches were characterized by a 41.5 mm in diameter three-part case. There was no one specific dial associated with the Portuguese but rather a selection of dials including a sector dial, or a plain dial with Arabic numerals and round minute markers known as the “Bauhaus” style. 304 version 1 watches were made between 1939 and 1951 using the stunningly decorated finger bridge caliber 74 pocket watch movement. 329 version 2 watches were made between 1944 and 1970 using the caliber 98 pocket watch movement.
Finally 57 watches specific to the German market called Version 3 were made between 1977 and 1981 using the Caliber 982 which was an updated version of its predecessor featuring as shock absorption system for the balance wheel. It’s important to note that the German editions also had a wide variety of dials including one bafflingly enough with baroque Louis XV-style hands. It wasn’t until 1993 for the 125th anniversary that IWC decided to resurrected this revered and beloved model. The beauty of the Portuguese is rooted in its poetic economy bellied by an incredible research in balance, typography and proportion resulting in one of the most beautiful and iconic men’s dress watches of all time. It is instantly recognizable from across the room. Possessing the perfect mixture of Swiss German functionalism mixed with Latin panache. And as we established the Portuguese has always been distinguished from the moment of its creation by its large 42mm size. So much so that when it was finally released in 1993 there was much debate with certain internet forum girly men espousing the vie its diameter rendered it impossible to wear. In an interview with Kurt Klaus at Revolution Magazine he explained, “The idea to bring back the Portuguese was initiated when a board member came to the manufacture with a beautiful vintage example on his wrist. We all gathered around to marvel at the watch and almost immediately we began to nod in agreement.” That moment heralded the return of a watch that would reach heights of success the creators of the original reference 325 could never have dreamed of.
1993 The Jubilee Reference 5441
In 1993 the Portuguese watch IWC caused an absolutely tsunami of internet buzz in the collectors communities. Launched for its 125th Jubilee was from a design perspective the reference 5441 most closely evoked Bauhaus dial reference 325 featuring the full Arabic markers and circular applied minute markers. The Jubilee watches were made in 1000 examples in steel, 500 in rose gold and 250 in platinum and are some of the most sought after watches today. In addition the first 100 of each came only as a complete set of three watches in different metals. The watches were powered by one of the most stunning movements in watchmaking history the full bridge caliber 982, descended from the caliber 98 used between 1944-1970. Today these reference 5441 watches represent some of the most collectable early Portuguese watches from the modern era. What’s the rarest reference 5441? That would be the 10 piece limited edition created in 2015 for Revolution Magazine’s 10th anniversary.
1995 Portuguese Minute Repeater
Two years later in 1995 IWC decided to take the stunning aesthetics of the Jubilee Portuguese as well as the technology pioneered by IWC in collaboration with Renaud and Papi for both the brand’s Grande Complication and Il Destriero Scafusia and use it to create one of the world’s most compelling minute repeaters. The beauty of the IWC minute repeater is it is the very model of discrete charm. At 43 mm it is a scant 1 mm larger than the historic Portuguese 325 and only marginally thicker. Indeed worn on your left wrist it’s slide the only hit at is soaring sonic abilities is normally obscured from prying eyes letting you keep its high complication abilities a secret to be divulged to only those you deem fit. Considering its highly accessible price it is the perfect choice for your first minute repeater and a watch that is a testament to the incredible ingenuity expressed by IWC.
1995 Portuguese Split Seconds Chronograph
In 1995 IWC also created a series of limited edition split second chronographs in the Portuguese case. These watches featured the incredible modified Valjoux 7750 movement created by Richard Habring in 1991 that resulted in the world’s most reliable and affordable split second chronograph. To read our story on this movement click here. Initially released as a boutique specific edition eventually the Portuguese Rattrapante made its way into the permanent collection and to this day it remains one of our favorite watches. The marriage between the subtle restrained design language and the incredible high complication residing within is a compelling proposition and we have a stunning rose gold and black dial example for sale here backed by our 15 month warranty.
1989 Portuguese Chronograph
In 1998 IWC released the Portuguese chronograph a watch that would become one its most iconic and enduring models worn by the likes of designer Tom Ford and amazingly enough, Keith Richards. The combination of the Portuguese’ family’s Arabic indexes with the two sub counters at 12 and 6 o’clock make for a winning combination. Here’s what you need to know about these watches. Earlier examples feature the tried and tested and highly reliable Valjoux 7750 movement such this watch. These watches are some of the very best values in high watchmaking today.
The Portuguese Chronograph has been updated recently to feature an in-house automatic chronograph movement such as in these examples here. These watches featured an integrated minute and hour chronograph counter (similar to that found in Patek Philippe’s automatic chronographs) at 12 o’clock distinguishing it from earlier models.
2000 Portuguese 2000
At the beginning of the new millennium IWC heralded an era of increased innovation with the introduction of the caliber 5000 and ultra efficient bi-directional winding automatic movement with a Pellaton winding system and an incredible 7 days of power reserve. The first watches to receive this movement were the limited edition Portuguese 2000 which like the 1993 Jubilee were made in steel, rose gold and platinum with the first 100 watches of each combined into commemorative sets. These watches shifted the seconds subdial traditionally found at 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock. Balancing this at 3 o’clock was a power reserve indicator that rapidly showed a full 7 days power reserve after barely an hour of wear thanks to the hyper efficient winding system.
In 2004, the regular release Portuguese 7 Days Power Reserve soon followed the success of the Portuguese 2000 and these watches can be distinguished by their sapphire crystals. The Portuguese 2000s used Plexiglas (like the reference 5441). They soon became one of the most successful dress watches in modern history. 2003 Portuguese Perpetual Calendar
In 2003 IWC brought the incredible might of its single crown operated synchronized perpetual calendar created by their technical director Kurt Klaus back in 1985. As detailed here (link to the PC story), this complication is essentially a super computer for the wrist, automatically compensating for the shifting rhythms of the 30/31-day cycle of the months throughout the year. But more importantly, it also automatically compensates for the 28 days of February and even knows when to add the extra day on the 29th on the leap year. Imagine a watch that can provide you day, date, month, leap year and phase of the moon at all times, as long as you keep it wound — that is exactly what a perpetual calendar does.
IWC combined Kurt Klaus’ ultra easy to use perpetual calendar with the brand’s legendary 7 days power reserve 5000 automatic caliber launched in the Portuguese 2000. Because this watch usually holds a full week’s worth of power and because of its ultra efficient Pellaton winding system, as long as you wear it one day per week, you’ll never need to adjust it again. We are pleased to offer the following Portuguese perpetual calendars with both traditional and double hemisphere moon indicators all backed with our 15 months warranty.
2004 Portuguese Tourbillon
So what’s a tourbillon? It’s a device that compensates for the errors caused by gravity on the watch’s regulating organ comprising of the balance wheel and the escapement. Originally designed for pocket watches by Abraham Louis Breguet, they compensate for these error by placing the balance and escapement inside a cage that rotates once a minute on it’s own axis. In addition it is extremely cool looking. Like seriously cool. A flying tourbillon is in particular a thing of beauty with no upper bridge obscuring the view of the cage and balance and where all the weight of the mechanism is supported from below. IWC’s flying tourbillon first made its appearance in the high complication Il Destriero Scafusia from the brand’s 1993 Jubilee. The tourbillon first saw serial production in the Da Vinci tourbillon perpetual calendar chronograph reference 3572 from 2000 where as in the grand complication the tourbillon was placed at the back of the watch. The tourbillon made its way to the front of the dial for the first time in IWC history when it was combined with the mighty 5000 caliber with 7 Days power reserve and the design elegance of the Portuguese family.
The brilliant thing about this watch was that in IWC’s tourbillon the entire mechanism is driven by a large wheel at the base of the architecture. By enlarging this wheel so that it greater in diameter than the tourbillon aperture and rendering it black, you create the optical effect that the flying tourbillon is turning in space in attached to anything hence the name “mysterious tourbillon.” We are delighted to offer the following IWC tourbillons which in addition to be incredibly handsome high complications are also incredible value propositions.
Portuguese Milestones 1939-1951 Ref. 325 (ver 1), 304 watches, using cal. 74 finger bridge pocket watch movement, 41.5mm three-part case.
1944-1970 Ref. 325 (ver 2), 329 watches, cal. 98 pocket watch movement.
1977-1981 Ref. 325 (ver 3), 57 watches, specific to the German market, featuring cal. 982, an update of the previous model with shock absorption system for the balance wheel. Available in a wide variety of dials.
1993 The Portuguese is resurrected with ref. 5441, in the following number of pieces: 1,000 (stainless steel), 500 (rose gold), 250 (platinum). Driven by a full-bridge cal. 982.
1995 Portuguese Minute Repeater (Left) and Portuguese Split Seconds Chronograph (Right)
1998 Portuguese Chronograph
2000 Portuguese 2000 limited edition. Driven by cal. 5000 (bi-directional winding, 7 days power reserve), in stainless steel (1,000 pieces), rose gold (750 pieces), and platinum (250 pieces).
2003 Portuguese Perpetual Calendar
2004 Portuguese Tourbillon
2015 Portuguese 7 Days Power Reserve regular edition