Utter the word “Portuguese” (Portugieser in German) amongst watch enthusiasts and sure enough the words “classic” and “timeless” will be thrown in there. Introduced in 1939, the Portuguese is one of IWC’s most iconic and popular timepieces, though what is interesting is how it came about. The watch was the result of two Portuguese businessmen, Rodrigues and Teixeira, who required a timepiece that featured the precision of a marine chronometer. At the time, the only way IWC could meet their request was to use a calibre from a high-quality pocket watch, simply because it had a larger balance, which delivers greater inertia, making the timepiece more precise but coupled with that, its large watch face was perfect for readability. But little did IWC know that aesthetically, the Portuguese was ahead of its time.
The movement of choice was that of the calibre-74 as a base to build upon. The diameter of the first Portuguese measured a large 42mm, which was considered huge back then compared to wristwatches popular in 1939 that generally measured below 33 mm. This did not match the trend at the time that was more oriented around small watches in Art déco style. In the 1930s it was seen as obtrusively large, it would serve as a forerunner in the move to larger watchcases. The key to the design of the Portuguese was in its simple design.
The large dial would feature Arabic numerals, large running second’s subsidiary dial at 6 o’clock, feuille hands, and a very thin bezel that only accentuated the size of the Portuguese. IWC used a number of dial and hand variations on the reference 325, but most commonly used was a silver dial with embossed Arabic numerals. Only a few hundred were produced from 1939 to the early 1980s.
In the 1990s, IWC revived the Portuguese and chose the perfect time to do this during the company’s 125th anniversary in 1993. IWC introduced the reference 5441 that sported a case diameter of 42 mm, silver dial, applied Arabic numerals, seconds sub dial at 6 o’clock, and feuille shaped hands – all the hallmarks of classic Portuguese -, produced in 1750 pieces: 1000 in stainless steel, 500 in rose gold, 250 in platinum.
In 1995, IWC started expanding the Portuguese line with nothing short of a highly complicated masterpiece and released the Minute Repeater reference 5240 in only 550 pieces: 50 in platinum, 250 in rose gold, and 250 in yellow gold. Two years later in 1997, the company introduced the model that became one of the biggest icons in the whole watchmaking industry: the Portuguese Chronograph 3714. The elegant and simple appearance with a modern size of 42 mm diameter and the perfect choice of dial and material variations make it a timeless classic.
Today the Portuguese line is not only one of the most important and successful IWC collections, but also offers a wide range of watches from simple hand-wound pieces and flyback chronographs to perpetual calendars and constant-force tourbillons.