ORIGIN OF THE SAILING WATCH

 

The best sailing watches are those that strike the right balance between rugged construction, purposeful clarity, and pure elegance. And no other sailing watch has achieved this balance like the IWC Portugieser. From the very beginning, this legendary line of sailing watches has captured imaginations and captivated the senses – as both a style icon and a technical tour de force of haute horlogerie.

 

In the 1930s, two Portuguese merchants came to IWC with a harrowing request – wristwatches with marine chronometer precision. The results were the first luxury watches powered by a pocket watch movement – the forefathers of the iconic IWC Portugieser line of sailing watches. They were followed by the Ref. 325 which, though well regarded, was produced in very small numbers. The Portugieser name was truly established in 1993, when in honour of its 125th anniversary, IWC released the Jubilee Portugieser Ref. 5441 to tremendous fanfare. 

Pure, elegant design and a history of innovation

 

Over the past 77 years, the IWC Portugieser line has established itself as the design icon among luxury sailing watches. The slim feuille hands, simple Arabic numerals, railway-track-style chapter rings, and generous size combine for ultimate clarity and a pure design. Known for its understated yet distinct elegance a Portugieser is recognizable from a nautical mile away. And underneath those classic dials beats the modern heart of today’s watchmaking technology. The venerable 52000-calibre movement, for example, has a bidirectional Pellaton pawl-winding system and twin barrels as trademark features. They provide energy for a 7-day power reserve and drive energy-sapping complications like the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar (Ref. IW503302) and the Portugieser Annual Calendar (Ref. IW503502).

 

Another IWC in-house movement that Portugieser watches are frequently equipped with, the 89000-calibre movement, has been constantly modified and improved over the years. Updates include a chronograph display that enables stopped hours and minutes to be used as race timers and read off as easily as the time of day, and two additional winding pawls for increased efficiency. The manufacture movement can be found in the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month (Ref. IW397204), the Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph (Ref. 3905) or the Portugieser Chronograph Classic (Ref. 3903).

From pocket watches to sailing watches

 

The first sailing or nautical watches were built with pocket watch movements because that was the only way to guarantee marine chronometer performance. But it also meant a much larger size: the first IWC Portugieser (Reference 325), manufactured in 1939 and featuring calibres 74 and 98, measured 41.5 millimetres in diameter, which was strikingly large for a wristwatch at the time. IWC designers made sure not to use the stylistic elements of art deco but the typical Bauhaus style. Decades later, it was these design elements and the sheer size of the watch that would bring the Portugieser to fame.

 

Then in 1993, in honour of the company’s 125th anniversary, the spirit of those sailing watches was brought back to life with the Jubilee Portugieser Ref. 5441. This limited edition was modelled after one of the variants of the Reference 325, and featured a sapphire case-back which revealed the modern calibre 9828. It was based on the original pocket watch calibre 98. The anniversary watch was extremely well received, and the Portugieser line has been a beloved part of IWC’s offerings ever since. 

IWC's first Portugieser sailing watch

Icons at sea

 

The Portugieser Grande Complication (Ref. 3776) is extraordinarily complex. It is also, quite simply, the pinnacle of luxury watch making. Its 659 individual mechanical parts make possible 20 functions, including a perpetual calendar that displays the date, day, month, year, and moon phase, and a minute repeater that chimes the hours, quarters, and minutes in harmonious tones. Learn more about the history of IWC’s Portugieser Grande Complication.

 

The most popular Portugieser by far – indeed, one of the most popular IWCs ever created – is the Portugieser Chronograph (Ref. 3714). Introduced in 1998, it was the first Portugieser watch that not only allowed the wearer to read the time, but also to stop it. As one of the most recognised sailing and yachting watches, it is a masterpiece of proportion, clarity, and elegance.  

 

The Portugieser Automatic (Ref. 5007) is a true icon, and no wonder. Introduced in 2000, its bold size and perfect symmetry are the ultimate blend of the past and present of the Portugieser line. It was the first IWC to make use of the in-house built 50000 calibre family of large movements, featuring twin barrels and providing no less than seven days of power reserve. All current Portugieser Automatic references are equipped with the refined 52000 calibre.

 

Learn more about luxury sailing watches made in Schaffhausen and discover the full collection.