The Portugieser collection dates back to 1930, and the new series of watches presented by IWC at SIHH in January 2015 includes a lot that is new: the brand-new 52000-calibre family of movements, found in four Portugieser models; the new Annual Calendar watch, and the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar with digital large date display.
The watches also have the classic Portugieser look, with large case size, narrow bezel, and simplified, perfectly-balanced dials, and so the first question for Christian Knoop, Creative Director at IWC Schaffhausen, is how much do you leave, and how much do you change, when you work on something as iconic as an IWC Portugieser watch?
“As designers we are always moving between the past and the future, we want to innovate. There is a very fine line you have to find, between respecting the design codes and the signature look of the collection, while still surprising our customers and introducing new elements. With the Portugieser, we reworked the entire line, and essentially we chose three different approaches. We left a couple of pieces untouched, like the Hand-Wound Eight Days. Other pieces we modified, like the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar. Others are new additions to the collection, like the Portugieser Annual Calendar, and in this case there was no historical precedent, and so we had the freedom to interpret the Portugieser design code, adding new functionality and a new dial layout.”
The IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar (above) is intriguing for its layout, with three windows for the month, date and day display very close together at the top of the dial. A look at the Calibre 52850 movement shows how this was achieved, with two small discs for day and month on either side of the date disc that runs all the way around the movement. The two barrels provide sufficient energy to operate the calendar indications, and the automatic watch has IWC’s typically exceptional power reserve of 7 days. The Annual Calendar is a valuable addition to the IWC range, in between the simple date display and the complete perpetual calendar. It only has to be adjusted manually once a year, for the differing lengths of February, using the crown. The dial shows all that is necessary with great clarity: continuous seconds on the subdial at 9 o’clock, power reserve at 3 o’clock, and the date windows at the top.
The other new watch in the Portugieser collection is the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month Edition 75th Anniversary (IW3972, shown above), which shows the same attention to clarity. The most important information is displayed at the top of the dial, with the large numerical display for date and month, and the subdial for chronograph minutes and hours. The subdial at 6 o’clock shows continuous seconds, with a small window for the leap year cycle. This watch has an interesting detail, shared with several others in the collection: the perfect curve of the strap where it meets the case. Christian Knoop commented on this.
“This was one of the aspects that we really wanted to improve on a couple of the Portugieser watches. In the larger 44 mm pieces, shortening the lugs and using a curved spring bar helped lighten the overall appearance, giving a smoother transition between the case and the strap. It looks more elegant and sophisticated.”
The Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition 75th Anniversary (above) represents a different sort of design problem. It is a new edition of one of the earliest Portugieser watches dating back to 1940. The two new versions have many vintage features, such as the period-style International Watch Co. logo, the distinctive dial design, and the narrow bezel. Knoop described its development. “The very first Portugieser was made using a hand-wound pocket watch movement, and we wanted to include this feature in the collection. In fact the original Portugieser, the famous reference 325, was made with some very different dial designs. We chose this particular dial because it is really a stunning design, not the typical Portugieser design that everyone knows, but one that gave us the chance to work on elements like topography, and the chapter ring with the chemin-de-fer minutes scale. It is the only piece in which we use the old logo. So we have paired a period-type dial design with modern features in the case and movement; there is a date display at 6 o’clock, something that the historic watch didn’t have.” The result is stunning, with the dial’s simplicity giving it timeless appeal.
Some complications are inherently difficult to perfect. For example, the moon phase. The lunar month lasts 29.53059 days, and so the simplest moon phase displays are based on a 58-tooth wheel driving a moon disc with two moons, so that the lunar month is approximated to 29.5 days. As a result, the moon phase display gradually loses accuracy and has to be adjusted regularly More precise watches have extra wheels to approach the real value more closely. In the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar with double moon, reference IW5034 (shown above), the new IWC movement incorporates some proprietary IWC innovation. “The perpetual calendar with moon phase is virtually an IWC signature complication. Its inventor Kurt Klaus has a celebrity status amongst collectors; he created the brand’s first perpetual calendar, and a brilliant interpretation of the moon phase complication. The double display shows the moon as it appears in both northern and southern hemispheres; no other watch brand has that and we are constantly engaged in defending our intellectual property from competitors who try to do the same. It’s a unique function which brings together a more romantic and poetic depiction of the moon with a very technical execution.”
There are many more Portugieser watches in the collection, but to conclude, we asked Christian Knoop to comment on the Portofino Midsize collection that introduced some watches ideal for women, considered by some commentators as a new direction by a brand ‘engineered for men.’ “In actual fact we have been manufacturing women’s watches for 140 years, and it was only in recent years that we put more focus on the men’s pieces. There were designs back in the 1980s that were similar to the Portofino Midsize collection, watches between 30 and 35 mm diameter with jewelled bezels and stunning colour combinations which now reappear in the new collection, light dials, black hands, red straps. So many of the elements in the new Midsize range came from our own archives, and we just added a slightly softer design that could appeal to both men and women. In certain cultures there’s a huge target group of men wearing jewelled watches.”
In addition to new watches, IWC is also launching new boutiques, and one of the latest was in London. Simon Chambers, IWC’s UK Brand Director, told us. “Opening an IWC boutique in London is the realisation of a long-held ambition for the brand. It was important to find the right location, and the right opportunity, which would guarantee longevity to the project and a ‘home’ for IWC in London. We chose Bond Street because of its global recognition, in keeping with our reputation as a Swiss luxury watch manufacture.”
And so, after the Portofino Midsize and Portugieser, we have to wait until 2016 to see the new surprises in store in another IWC watch family!