In the more than 25 years that I have been collecting watches, I have owned many and admired scores more. I always seem to return, though, to the classics. To my thinking, the best watches have undeniable style. Classic style perseveres and ultimately triumphs.
I’ve had watches with movements that are exquisitely finished, down to polishing perfectly every single angle of every movement bridge. I’ve had watches with ingeniously complex complications, which really were functions designed more to show-off the watchmaker’s skill than any real utility. There is nothing wrong with any of those. They are ars gratia artis: art for the sake of art.
These watches mean little if they do not carry through with requisite style. A watch, above all else, still must look attractive. It should be enticing, with grace and charm, balance and proportion.
On any given day, I may not press that complication button nor admire that bridge, but I will glance at the time. I will look at my watch’s dial and case many times, every day. If I see something unattractive the entire experience fails.
A watch should be beautiful because time, as we know it, is precious. Our lives are governed, every day, by the relentless movement of time. It might be for these reasons that time, a unique and fleeting commodity, is often revealed in watches made with precious metals. Our watches should be precious and as such they should exude artistry.
But producing a beautiful watch involves far more than simply using a precious metal, having a pretty dial or adorning the case or dial with gemstones. And it is easy to dismiss beauty as being something subjective. Still, when a watch is undeniably beautiful we all, by whatever standards, universally concur.
If there are any watches, ever, that are undeniably beautiful, they are IWC’s new midsize Portofino models. By all criteria they may be among the best styled and most attractive watches IWC has ever produced. They comprise all that is significant about keeping time, and they do so with élan. Clear and refined, these new Portofinos are impeccably smart timepieces. Every glance at them is alluring.
These midsize Portofino models sport a design cleverness that is so straightforward and simple that it appears to be deceptively basic. It’s like someone viewing a modern abstract painting and exclaiming “I could have done that!” The retort to that always has been “but you didn’t”. And, here, too, we have modern design, deftly interwoven with classic elements, to produce something specific. Because the design is pure and right, it speaks to everyone. Something beautiful, and actually stunning. Something unique in its simplicity and its glamour.
Let’s start with size. Size is more than so many millimeters, because it creates an unmistaken dimension and presence. Here, the midsize Portofinos are 37mm and 40mm in width. A few years ago that wouldn’t be considered midsize: typical Portofino models in the 1990s were 34mm. And when watches then were introduced with 42mm cases, they were considered huge. But today 37mm and even 40mm reflect a new standard. Culture and style shifts respond slowly to underlying tastes and can happen without much fanfare. Here this size evolution produces an important improvement.
To round that shell's elaborate whorl, adorning every secret track with the delicate mother-of-pearl, made the joints of heaven crack...
To my thinking, these sizes, 37mm and 40mm, are perfect for these watches. A watch needs to have enough size to be read easily and this is well accomplished. Yet these sizes transcends the utilitarian, and lend a well-edited presence to the watches. You notice them and you can admire them. Moreover, these sizes allow the clarity of the dial to emphasize the design.
What you first notice is the case and dial. Many of the new models have their bezels set with diamonds, surrounding the timepiece with a luminous halo. Depending on the model, there are 66 or 72 diamonds, each about 1.4mm in diameter, framing the dial with a discrete but sparkling elegance. These hand selected diamonds are all very high quality, brilliant cut, VVS clarity and F-G in color. For those watches with diamonds on both the dial and bezel, the total weight is nearly a carat.
These diamonds are as understated and as classic as the lines of the watch itself. The dials, too, match this fine design, shimmering subtly with silver-plate, ardoise (a special metallic slate finish) or even mother of pearl. There is a glamour, a romance, and even a sense of mystery to these dials. With the mother-of-pearl dial, it’s easy here to recall what William Butler Yeats wrote:
Even with the glamour and appeal of diamonds, combined with the understated romance of these dials, a watch still can fail if its overall design is not equally beautiful. Here, the new Portofino models reveal a restrained elegance with their classic round cases, thin bezels and straight lugs. They do so further with their simple markers for each five minutes and thin Roman numerals at 12 and 6, and with their gently curved leaf hands. This, then, is beautifully classic. It is subtle and simple, and with a proportioned elegance.
IWC also takes this purity and adds two models with complications, although here the word may be a misnomer. They aren’t complicated in the sense of cluttering the dial or making the watch gaudy. Instead, both add to the romance of the watch. One discretely reveals a second time zone. The other shows the moon phase, always a romantic icon. But more than that, the Portofino line was born in 1984 with a moon phase. This is IWC, transcending itself to the next level.
Watch collectors often simply accept design uncritically, and this can be a serious mistake. A great watch foremost must be beautiful. Grace and charm have intrinsic value.
The new midsize Portofinos possess much more, both in what they evoke and what they are. They juxtapose restraint and glamour. The show finesse and they evoke romance. The new Portofinos are art, in the highest and best sense of the word. They will always be in style and they will always reflect time-tested fine taste.
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