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Time-honoured Tradition

Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen celebrates 75 years of its iconic Portugieser collection with some new editions to the family – timekeeping this good never stands still

Mr Albert Einstein – the grandfather of relativity and purveyor of the always useful quote – was reported to have said that “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” And thank goodness it doesn’t for how dull would a life be bereft of anticipation? Relatively speaking, the world moves considerably faster than it did in Mr Einstein’s time and for the always-on generation, the future is irrepressibly now. However, for the Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen, that future began 75 years ago.

First, a little history if we may. In the 1930s, gentlemen’s wrists were invariably populated by watches of neat formal design, often taking the slender rectangular shape inspired by Cartier’s 1917 Tank watch. It was a safe, modern and discreet aesthetic, the angles presumptively masculine. But the watchmaking industry got its cogs in a twist when IWC Schaffhausen released its Portugieser, which was markedly different from any of its peers. With its bold yet beautifully simple, oversized face, the Portugieser was comparatively imposing. It was a youthful expression of confidence and brio that had just walked into a party for the shy and retiring. In a market characterised by 33mm faces, here was a 43mm watch meant to be seen and not hidden apologetically beneath a shirt cuff. It was as much a storyteller for its owner as it was a time-teller and it succeeded in both tasks with aplomb. Now, some three quarters of a century on, IWC is celebrating its Portugieser portfolio of watches with a number of new anniversary designs featuring a new movement, proving that sometimes you have to look back in order to move forward.

Like any family, the Portugieser collection has moved and adapted with the times, incorporating new complications and enhanced movements, culminating in IWC’s first Annual Calendar, a unique watch five years in the making, but 75 years in the refining. For haute horologists and discerning gentlemen alike, the rare combination of an annual calendar and seven-day calibre makes this complication as compelling and collectible as it is handsome. The voluminous 44.2mm case with its grooved bezel, slim feuille hands and Arabic numerals reference the original, which goes to show that while fashions change, icons forever remain icons.

The 75th anniversary collection also features the new Perpetual Calendar Digital-Date Month Edition. Tricky doesn’t even begin to describe the technical challenge of incorporating the day and date into a flyback chronograph, yet IWC has taken the movement a step further by adding a leap year indicator, which will be music to the ears of those whose birthday only comes round once every four years. 

For the traditionalists, the Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition remains, on the surface at least, almost identical to that of its 75-year-old predecessor. As its name suggests, the once-weekly ritual of manually winding this timepiece delivers an eight-day power reserve, affording its owner a romantic connection to the intricacies of fine watch movements. The gold Art Deco Arabic numerals and railway-track chapter ring transport you to a period rich in glamour and sophistication, but one equally inspired by technological progress. 

These same Art Deco motifs have been faithfully incorporated into IWC Schaffhausen’s new boutique at 138 New Bond Street where a century and a half of watchmaking history is manifested among equally refined surroundings. Replete with the geometric patterns popular during the Art Deco period, the boutique functions like a maison of old, somewhere you can relax among the Carrara marble, Macassar ebony wood and polished stainless steel and take in the watches at your leisure. Only with the weight of 75 years’ worth of refinement in your hands, can you truly appreciate this splendid Portugieser collection.