How do you update a classic watch?

Christian Knoop, Creative Director at IWC Schaffhausen, talks about the new Portugieser collection.


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11 March 2015

The Portugieser collection presented at SIHH (Geneva) in January 2015 is significant because it celebrates the 75th anniversary of one of IWC’s most classic and best-loved watch families. In addition, it is firmly rooted in the future, with many technological innovations and new movements that look ahead to three original calibre families over the next few years. But the question that a design team faces when working on an icon is, how much do you leave, and how much do you change? We spoke to Christian Knoop, Creative Director at IWC Schaffhausen, to learn more.


LUXOS: How do you find the balance between what to keep of the original and what to put in that’s new?

Christian Knoop: 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.

LUXOS: The question becomes particularly significant in a watch such as the Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition 75th Anniversary.

Christian: 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.


LUXOS: In some of the new Portugieser watches, the detail of where the strap meets the case, eliminating the space between case and strap, seems very important. Is it specific to this collection?

Christian: It 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.


LUXOS: In the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar, you have dedicated a lot of attention to the double moon phase. Would you say that this reflects a wider trend, attention to astronomical themes?

Christian: 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.

LUXOS: The Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph is now a little smaller. Was this decision based on feedback from the market?

Christian: We launched the Yacht Club chronograph in 2007 and it was the sportiest Portugueser at the time. From the start it was a success, it sold very well, but our retailers said that the potential target pool would be even larger if we could make it a little bit smaller. That’s why we shrunk it down from 45 to 43.5 mm.


LUXOS: We’d like to ask you something about a collection that you launched last year, because we were impressed by the secrecy that you managed to maintain about the Portofino Midsize range. To what degree did it represent a new direction for IWC?

Christian: 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. We are happy about how the collection is selling; the pieces are very well perceived, and we are selling them about equally to both men and to women.


LUXOS: Is there a watch in the Midsize collection that is particularly successful?

Christian: When I present the collection to women, many of them are interested in the Midsize Automatic with grey dial and the grey leather strap. Our collaboration with Santoni, who make the beautiful coloured straps, provides an important contribution to the look of the watches, and the grey version has already become a favourite. When we were creating this collection, I observed that grey was very popular with men and women all over the world in all kinds of leather accessories, belts, shoes  and so forth, so it seemed logical to include a piece with a dominant grey colour scheme.

And so, after the Portofino Midsize and Portugieser, we have to wait until 2016 to see the new surprises in store in another product family!