Five Great Portugiesers

Every watch lover’s fantasy may be to own more watches. And one way to play out that fantasy would be by dreaming of watches to own. But truth be told, even dreaming is not always easy. There are too many great watches manufactured by IWC, and that can be a high-class problem.

It is especially difficult, if not impossible, with IWC’s Portugieser watches. All the models are wonderful, so choosing only five becomes a daunting task. And to at least have a parameter, I will assume that the whole budget for this fantasy is $100,000 or 100,000 CHF.

To start at the beginning, the first candidate might be an original vintage Portuguese wristwatch, reference 325. Finding an authentic one in good condition usually is not very easy, and when found it might take a chunk out of this imaginary budget. Only a few were made from 1939 to 1981. A total of 690 has been reported, including those with calibre 74 movements (304), calibre 98 movements (329) and Calibre 982, the so-called “German edition” or “missing link” (57).

 

But the reference 325 is a special watch, and in my opinion, a good buy today. It has not escalated in price as much as other vintage watches and it is a seminal model. It represents well IWC’s pocket watch tradition and its size, huge at the time, fits right in with today’s larger trends.

My second candidate is the Jubilee Portuguese, reference 5441, from 1993. Admittedly, it is similar to the reference 325, as a classic, time-only watch with a diameter of 42mm. But it also has its own significance, as well as a display back and an especially decorated movement. 

 

Commemorating IWC’s 125th anniversary, there are stories about this model that caused the rebirth of the entire Portuguese line at IWC. One anecdotal report is that the pocket watch Calibre 982 was still in sufficient stock for a limited edition with an in-house movement. IWC reportedly wanted to have such a movement used in a wristwatch to celebrate its anniversary. Bank in 1993, this was a brave model, since over-sized watches were not then common.

 

The Jubilee Portugieser is the model that launched an entire watch industry revolution favoring large wristwatches. With its classic signature dial, it is a watch for every classicist –and, after all, mechanical watches today embody tradition. To avoid redundancy with the reference 325 is simple but not always easy: find a 325 with a different style dial, since those were made with various dial designs and different hands.

Given these two watches, which will take almost half of the imaginary budget here, the next watch should cost less. My suggestion is that it should be a chronograph. There are several candidates, but arguably four stand out:

 

  • reference 3712, a manual wind, split-second or rattrapante chronograph,
  • reference 3714, an automatic chronograph that has been in IWC’s repertoire for almost 20 years and might be one of IWC’s best-selling models,
  • reference 3902, the Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph, a beautiful design with an in-house chronograph movement (calibre 89360 or 89361), and
  • reference 3904, the Portugieser Chronograph Classic, which is a redesigned model based on reference 3714, but with an in-house movement.

This is a particularly difficult choice, since all these watches are wonderful in design and important in significance. At some point, the choice becomes inherently personal, but I would choose the rattrapante, reference 3712. True, it does not have a fully in-house movement, but its movement is historically important. Taking a base ETA movement, the subsidiary seconds dial has been repositioned, with additional jewels added and, most significantly, IWC’s signature split seconds timing mechanism was first introduced here. This was the first Portuguese model after the Jubilee model and also served as the design predecessor of the best-selling automatic reference 3714.

There are two ways to buy a reference 3712. The first would be to find one on the used market, representing the original model made in several variations from 1995 through 2006. The second way would be to find a new example, since starting in 2016 IWC reintroduced the reference 3712 as a special limited edition in certain boutiques. Starting with a red gold model for the Milan boutique, steel variations were subsequently introduced for its Munich and Paris boutiques.

One could argue that the IWC pocket watch tradition –the essence of the Portuguese watches—never really embodied complications. Yet the modern models started with the rattrapante, and since then there has been an embarrassment of complex riches. Many truly great models have been produced with complications. As such, it makes sense to select at least one more complicated watch for the five and only five models in this hypothetical collection.

 

But which one? There are several tourbillons, including one with a regulateur dial and another Squelette model, and also a wonderful minute repeater. There is even a Grand Complication and the outstanding Sidérale Scafusia, both of which are beyond my hypothetical budget. Of course, there is also the Portuguese perpetual calendar, in varying size and moon variations, and more recently a special annual calendar.

 

Overall, including budget, I vote for today’s “regular” Perpetual Calendar, reference 5023. It is updated from the original references 5021 and 5022, and reflects everything about the classic perpetual Portuguese model that was first introduced as the reference 5021 in 2003. These models have been best sellers, with over 50 variations in all references. In the scheme of ultra-complicated watches, it is relatively reasonably priced and iconic since it employs a variation of the ingenious Kurt Klaus-developed calendar mechanism.

This fourth purchase, when combined with the others and especially the vintage reference 325, comes close to exhausting our hypothetical budget. Given that, the fifth one for the collection should be much less costly and therefore more basic. There are several desirable candidates here: possibly a Portuguese Jones model, a regulateur model or perhaps the reference 5007, among others. Some have argued that the Portuguese reference 5007 is the modern Portuguese wristwatch, being the first product with a new IWC in-house movement in decades (in its predecessor model, reference 5001). It is also versatile, for either dress or casual wear.

 

However, my last choice is a bit atypical. I just love the Portuguese Pure Classic, reference 5703. A limited edition that to my thinking embodies all that is great in a modern but totally classic timepiece. Its dial is not as alluring as the special 75th anniversary Portugieser, reference 5102. It’s a close competition with the Vintage Collection Portugieser, reference 5445 that has a display back and an in-house movement. It competes also with the recently discontinued hand wound model, reference 5454 and, if one ignores budget constraints with the 8-day model, reference 5102.

 

Deep-down, however, I personally am a huge fan of ultra-thin watches. Even given that the Pure Classic has only hour and minute hands, and no display back and Piaget supplies its movement, to my thinking it is a very special watch. It is relatively rare but still occasionally obtainable, and to my thinking it is, indeed, a pure watch. It represents all that is good, indeed great, in a basic, steel watch founded on the pocket watch tradition.

There they are, five great watches, and to me a wonderful collection. They are a happy product of much agonizing and multiple dilemmas. To recapitulate they are:

 

  • Reference 325, the original vintage Portugieser
  • Reverence 5441, the Jubilee Portugieser
  • Reference 3712, the rattrapante Portugieser
  • Reference 5023, the Perpetual Calendar Portugieser
  • Reference 5703, the Pure Classic Portugieser

 

All constitute a special collection and admittedly reflect the biases of my personal tastes, which have evolved over a lifetime towards especially classic models. If there is a deficit here, it is that all seem to work best on straps and are not truly sports models. But fortunately there is time for further dreams and other IWC product lines.

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