History of IWC's Portugieser watches Reference 325

Only a few watches in the history of watchmaking have become iconic for watch collectors worldwide, undoubtedly, one of these watches is the IWC Portugieser Reference 325. Many years after its initial debut, this watch has become the archetype for one of the most successful contemporary IWC watch families. The classical and iconic design has been loved by generations. In 2015, IWC Schaffhausen celebrates the 75th year of its now famous Portuguese watch family. Yet there still are some mysteries and little known facts regarding this iconic watch. In this account we hope to bring more light on this history.

— IWC Cataloque from the Art Deco era

Underlying Socio-economic Conditions

To understand why the so-called Portuguese wristwatch was launched one should look back into history, and the times surrounding its birth. Like the entire Swiss watchmaking industry IWC has been faced with the fluctuations of the world’s watch market. The 1930s generally were a decade of economic and political turbulence. European politics became radicalized, with democracies being turned into dictatorships and economies pushed to the limit. As a neutral state dependent on exports, Switzerland and its economy suffered under these conditions. Between 1929 and 1932 watch sales dramatically declined; like other companies, IWC had to find new markets and sales opportunities.

 

To face these challenges, in the 1930s IWC launched a variety of beautifully designed men’s and women’s pocket watches and wristwatches. Most of these watches were designed in the style of Art Deco, with stylized, two-dimensional portrayal of floral and organic motifs. Designers were reducing objects to basic shapes and geometric details. Examples from the field of architecture include the Chrysler Building in New York and the Miami Beach Art Deco District.

 

But there also were other designs used by IWC, one of which was a pocket watch-styled wristwatch that would later bear the name “Portugieser”. IWC designers there did not use the stylistic elements of Art Deco but the typical Bauhaus style, a modernist theory of design developed primarily in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. This watch, both classic and modern in its design, was a step ahead of it’s and would become famous many decades later.

THE PORTUGIESER 325

In the late 1930s, IWC tried to develop further its business in various markets. During that time a wholesaler from Lisbon, Portugal, believed to be Messrs. Rodrigues and Antonio Teixera, approached IWC. The demand of the Portuguese market was not only for pocket watches and women’s dress watches, but also for men’s wristwatches with the precision of marine chronometers. At that time, IWC was able to offer their customers from Portugal a watch that completely fulfilled that latter request.

 

That watch, though, initially did not have a name, nor even a reference number. A review of case numbers in IWC’s records only revealed a denomination for the case model: “Mod. 228”. Some early examples of this wristwatch had this number 228 engraved on the inside case back.

 

IWC’s administration must have equally confused by this case number designation without a reference number. Consequently, someone at the manufacture started using the term that would become later highly noted: “Reference 325”. It is this number which designates the model of the original “Portuguese” wristwatch, even though that model was never shown in any IWC catalog.

 

Equally as paradoxical, the first Portuguese wristwatch was delivered not to Portugal but instead to another country. A review of IWC’s sales records reveals that the first delivery was made on 22 February 1939 to a Ukrainian watch wholesaler, L. Schwarcz in Odessa.

 

The first Portuguese wristwatches arrived in Portugal three years’ later. Those deliveries occurred on 2 February 1942 to Portuguese wholesaler Pacheco and on 17 June 1942 to Rodrigues & Conçalves in Lisbon.

 

There is no definitive explanation for the gap between the visit of Messrs. Rodrigues and Teixera and the delivery to Portugal of the first Portuguese wristwatches, now known as Reference 325. Perhaps one should consider that during the Second World War Portugal declared its neutrality, and regular trade links from neutral, landlocked Switzerland was often hindered. Therefore deliveries to Portugal often failed to arrive punctually and were sometimes seriously delayed. The time - when these watches were launched - was anything but auspicious: from 1 September 1939 to 8 May 1945 Europe was a continent torn apart. 

—One of the first Portugieser wristwatch sold on 22nd February 1939 to a Ukrainian watch wholesaler, L. Schwarcz in Odessa

During this period, most Reference 325s were shipped to Eastern Europe. Until 1946, IWC sold this model primarily to two dealers in Bratislava: Kuchàr & Wittmann, and Weinstabel.

 

Even after the Second World War the sales of Reference 325 wristwatches were relatively low. This was most probably one of the reasons why this model was not included in IWC catalogues. Finally, in the 1950s, most of the production of this model made its way to Portugal. Those examples sold to Portugal are easily identifiable. There is a special feature found only on the cases of Portuguese watches delivered to that country: a stamped hallmark on the case that was a mark prescribed by Portugal’s customs authorities.

 

By 1945, barely 250 sales of Reference 325 watches are documented in IWC’s records until the early 1970s. But in the 1950s more cases for this model were ordered and produced, although for unknown reasons several orders were cancelled. Those cases remained in inventory until the 1970s and subsequently were refinished.

 

The story of the rebirth of the Reference 325 has almost as much mystery behind it as the story of its birth. By the late 1960s IWC was doing very well, with about 50,000 watches being produced and sold annually. Given those large sales figures, it appeared that no one noticed or cared about the unused Portuguese wristwatch cases that were still being stored.

However, a request by the Swiss retailer Golay was received by IWC’s sales department. In September 1973 Mr. Golay showed a great interest in the large wristwatches and IWC decided to sell his company a third generation of the Portuguese watch. The only difference would be to use a movement with a shock absorption system: the Caliber 982, which was a refinement of the original pocket watch Calibre 98 used in many of the early Reference 325 watches.

 

But then the sudden and devastating quartz crisis caused this order to be cancelled. Once again, no one seemed to care about the beautiful wrist-pocket watch from Schaffhausen, a few even were interested in mechanical wristwatches. As a strategy to cope with the quartz crisis, in the mid to late 1970s, IWC then considered evolving to a pocket watch specialist. It further was hoped that the small but select group of IWC pocket watch collectors might be interested in a watch with the classic IWC calibre.

 

Finally, in 1979 a version of the Portuguese Reference 325 with calibre 982 were sold to dealers in Germany and a few other retailers in Europe. Because this “3rd variant” of the Portuguese Reference 325 provided a key stylistic influence for the production of the anniversary edition of 1993 (Reference 5441), IWC collectors subsequently called this variant the “missing link“or “German edition”.

 

In 1993, in celebration of its 125th anniversary, IWC decided to produce a limited edition wristwatch, the co-called Jubilee Portugieser, modeled after one variation of the Reference 325. This special edition soon sold out and rekindled interest in the original Reference 325 models.

 

We do not know with certainty why so few examples of the traditional Reference 325 Portuguese wristwatch were sold. Undoubtedly its large size for the times limited interest and therefore sales. Until the 1990s the diameter of a wristwatch for men was often 35mm, or 6.5mm smaller than the Reference 325. But nevertheless the Reference 325 has been like a sleeping beauty, which after many years would receive its due attention by IWC and its worldwide collectors.

—Portugieser Reference 325 -“missing link“
—Iconic Design - IWC Portugieser Ref. 325

THE MODELS

Of the original IWC reference 325, three basic variants were sold. All watches used the same case (mod. 228). This was a three-part case that was 41.5 millimeters in diameter and 9.5 millimeters high. It had a grooved bezel for the less fragile acrylic glass that was used, a middle section and a steel back. The crown was relatively large, enabling the watch to be easily wound.

 

For the first variant, IWC used its thin and wonderfully finished Calibre 74-17’’’ H4 finger bridge movement. Around five years after the first of these watches went on sale, IWC produced a second variant, using instead its Calibre 98-17’’’ H4 movement. The design of the model’s hands, dials and cases remained unchanged because the new movement was also 17 lignes in diameter and 4 millimeters high, which obviated the need for any modifications.

 

It is noteworthy that there was no special or singular dial used on Reference 325 models. Because of the Reference 5441 Jubilee Portugieser from 1993, some collectors erroneously associate that model’s dial with the “Portuguese wristwatch”, but in fact several different dials were used. Some of them were silver-plated and others were black; some had Arabic numerals and some others Roman numerals. Some were plain dials with Arabics in the Bauhaus style and a few had so-called “sector dials” more with an Art Deco appearance. Generally speaking, IWC used the same style dials on these reference 325 watches that were also sold with its 74- and 98-calibre pocket watches in the late 1930s.

 

The so called “German edition” used the same case, but used instead for its movement the later IWC Caliber 982-17’’’ H4 with shock absorption system and a monometallic Glucydur® balance. These models had various different types of dials and hands, and many were equipped with Baroque, Louis XV–style hands. 

HOW MANY HAVE BEEN PRODUCED?

For all IWC collectors this has been a crucial question: how many examples of Reference 325 have been produced? The simple conclusion is that surprisingly few authentic models left the IWC manufacture in Schaffhausen, especially given the importance of this model today to an important family of many contemporary IWC watch models.

 

To produce the exact answer required a manual, painstaking review of each entry in IWC’s records. It was very much like looking for needles in a haystack, since only hundreds of Reference 325 were ever made over four decades, in the context of IWC selling many tens of thousands of watches annually. Finally the following figures have been confirmed:

PRODUCTION OF REFERENCE 325 (ORIGINAL PORTUGIESER) WRISTWATCHES

Versions of Ref. 325 Calibre Material Production Number Manufactured
1. 2. 3. Total
74 98 982
Steel Steel Steel
1939 - 1951 1944 - 1970 "German Edition" 1977 - 1981
304 329 57 690 Portugieser watches

Of these 690 examples, 141 or just over 20% were actually shipped to Portugal.

 

Undoubtedly, the rarity of the Reference 325 peaks the interest of IWC collectors. But above all else, its purity of classic design, and its pocket watch movement representing IWC’s tradition, also contribute to its very special place in IWC’s history. An icon has evolved, and perhaps one scarcely expected by Messrs. Rodrigues and Teixera, let alone Messrs. Schwarcz, Kuchàr, Wittmann, Weinstabel or Golay.

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