Under the helm of CEO Chris Grainger-Herr, IWC Schaffhausen is a watchmaker that just keeps building from strength to strength. The recent construction of the Manufakturzentrum production facility in Schaffhausen and the release of the Jubilee Collection – an exquisite range of lacquer-dialled limited edition timepieces from each of IWC’s core collections – in celebration of the company’s 150th anniversary come to mind as particular highlights when thinking about his tenure thus far. Earlier this year came another brilliant achievement to add to the list: updating the Portugieser Chronograph with a thoroughly deserved (and much anticipated) in-house movement.
Early 20th Century Design
The current iteration of Portugieser chronographs in fact trace their lineage back to the 1930s – one would be forgiven to think on first appearance that their design is rather contemporary, but take a closer look and the early 20th century design language becomes much more apparent.
As the story is often told, in the late 1930s two businessmen from Lisbon, Portugal approached IWC with a request for a wristwatch that possessed the precision of a marine chronometer. The result was achieved by a housing a hand-wound pocket watch movement inside a case which, at 43mm, was comparably enormous when measured against what else was available on the market at the time. The first few watches produced to this specification lacked both a name and a reference number until fortunately, somewhere along the way someone at the manufacture attached the label ‘Reference 325’ to the design – compare images of this reference to the Portugiesers of today and there is a strong similarity in the design language.
Disruptive Global Debut
Disruption caused by the war meant that the Reference 325 was mostly sold in Eastern Europe and did not make its way to Portugal until the 1950s where even then, it failed to achieve the notoriety it deserved. Add the quartz crises into the mix and the Reference 325 almost disappeared into obscurity until in 1993, IWC released a limited edition version for its 125th anniversary, the Ref. 5441 ‘Jubilee Portugieser’ – the enigmatic history of the reference peaked an interest amongst collectors.
The most important release which properly reintroduced the Portugieser was came in 1995 in the form of the Ref. 3712 Portugieser Chronograph Rattrapante. Remarkably, that split-seconds chronograph – powered by a modified hand-wound Valjoux 7750 movement – established the Portugieser design which has persisted until today. In 1998 the Ref. 3714 was released as a simplified, automatic iteration of the Ref. 3712 but which nonetheless carried its aesthetic legacy at the wearable size of 41mm. Undoubtedly the appeal of the Portugieser Chronograph is its versatility as a bold and athletic yet clean and refined example of Swiss design.
Whilst the classic IWC Portugieser has typically relied on the architecture of modified movements, it has become increasingly apparent that the contemporary watch market possesses a certain proclivity for in-house movements. Duly, the introduction of the in-house 69355 Calibre has been a deft move from the manufacture at Schaffhausen. The removal of the case back and its subsequent replacement with sapphire glass is indicative enough of the fact that IWC are proud of what they have produced. An in-house, automatic movement with 46 hours of power reserve and finished with côtes de Geneve and perlage is hardly just a movement that is well suited to a robust yet urbane watch like the Portugieser Chronograph, but rather it is the movement that it deserves.