Icons: IWC Portuguese

The IWC Portuguese is a watch icon.

And has been, since it's inception.

But how did it come to be? Why the name 'Portuguese' (or Portugieser as it is called today)?

As the story goes, a couple of Portuguese business men commission IWC for a wristwatch that had the "precision of a marine chronometer".

This was back in the 1930s, and by 1939 IWC launched the first ever Portuguese.

1st Portuguese: ref.325, calibre 74

1st Portuguese: ref.325, calibre 74

What makes this watch such an icon can easily be identified by the process IWC followed to get it made. And as you will see, the idea that 'form follows function' is at the core of this wonderful watch.

In order to achieve the precision needed, IWC used one of their hunter pocket-watch movements, calibre 74 as it's base. As a hunter pocket watch, it had the crown on the right side and not on the top like typical pocket watches.

Perfect for a wristwatch.

But the other important detail is that being a pocket watch movement, it was quite big. So by the time it was cased, the first portuguese had a case diameter of 43mm.

In many ways this is big by today's standards, but back then when the average wristwatch was barely 33mm wide, it was massive!

As luck would have it though, 43mm is not the same as 46mm or worse, anything over 50mm, and even though I'd say one should stay within 40mm, the Portuguese (like the Speedmaster), is one of the very, very few exceptions and can be considered the founding watch of today's big-sized watches.

But that wasn't all it did. Because of the same pocket watch influence, the first Portuguese was extremely legible with Arabic numerals and a very thin bezel. It had leaf hands and a large sub-dial at 6 o'clock. A look that is now classic Portuguese and nothing else.

Calibre 74 eventually evolved to calibre 98, and eventually to calibre 982.

Dial variations in two ref.325 Portuguese, both sold in the early 1940's

Dial variations in two ref.325 Portuguese, both sold in the early 1940's

Then in the 1990's, just as there was a kind of decline in the model, and just in time for the IWC 125th anniversary in 1993, it was decided to develop an entire line around the original Portuguese.

IWC Portuguese ref.5441

IWC Portuguese ref.5441

It would be known as ref.5441 with a diameter of 42mm and thickness of 9mm, silver dial, applied platinum Arabic numerals and dots indices with leaf hands.

The movement was yet another evolution to the calibre 9828 and this time it had an exposition back with special Jubilee engraving.

It was an instant success, of course, and from there IWC introduced other Portuguese models: Minute repeater, manual would Split Chronograph, and automatic Chronograph.

Then in 2000, after four years of development, IWC released a new Portuguese with a brand new in-house movement, calibre 5000.

IWC's in-house calibre 5000

IWC's in-house calibre 5000

Sizes for the new watch range started at a very desirable 38.2mm x 7.2mm, up to the previously made 42mm sizes.

The calibre 5000 used their famous patented bidirectional "Pellaton" winding system developed in the 1950's and found in some legendary movements of their past (c.852, c.853/1, c.854/1).

Since then, the c.5000 was the platform to add-on other modules. Not the least of which include a perpetual calendar model and a grand complication model.

They've even gone retro a bit to introduce a manual wound 8-day reserve model, which is spectacular, my choice given it's bang-for-buck ratio and overall timelessness.

IWC Portuguese 8 day power reserve manual wound, c.59215

IWC Portuguese 8 day power reserve manual wound, c.59215

Looking back at the "Ultimate Watch Collection", the Portuguese did not make my top-3 in the Dress watch category.

The reason for this is not because of the watch above, or of the 7-day automatic, etc., but more because the only thing that *hurts* the modern day Portuguese collection is some of the crazy stuff IWC has been doing for the past while.

Instead of sticking to their roots and what made the Portuguese an icon from the start (and that would have easily put it into my top-3), they've started catering to pop culture more than Haute Horlogerie.

Extra large diameters, watered down ETA variations, absurd marketing partnerships, etc.

Stay away from those models, and what's left is without a doubt what the Portuguese has always been, a watch icon.