Our Watch Pick of the Month: The IWC Portuguese

By Cait Bazemore March 29, 2018

‘The Portuguese is immediately recognisable for its iconic design, inspired by pocket watches of the same era. The model has a rich history that spans over seven decades, beginning with the first Portuguese Reference 325 in 1939.’

The Portuguese is immediately recognisable for its iconic design, inspired by pocket watches of the same era. The model has a rich history that spans over seven decades, beginning with the first Portuguese Reference 325 in 1939. Today, the Portuguese is one of the oldest and most beloved collections from IWC. However, this wasn’t always the case. From the economic downturn of the 1930’s to the Quartz Crisis of the 1970’s, the Portuguese was nearly discontinued. But, IWC saw the promise of the model and even through challenging times kept it in production. Now, it’s a staple collection of the brand and favourite of collectors.

Impact of the Great Depression and WWII

The 1930’s were a trying time for the watchmaking industry. The world was in the midst of an economic depression and on the brink of the Second World War. As a result, watch sales were declining and watchmakers were forced to think and create outside the box.

Debut of the Portuguese

Circumstances were no different for IWC. They were among countless brands that felt the impact of the world’s socio-economic state. So, they began looking to new markets to sell their watches. Those efforts led them to a wholesaler in Lisbon, Portugal. Ahead of their time, the Portuguese had already started to make the shift from pocket watches to wristwatches. More specifically, they had a demand for men’s wristwatches with the precision of marine chronometers. Soon, IWC began developing a watch to specifically meet their needs. It featured a large case and pocket watch movement, the Calibre 74 and later 98. At first, the watch had no name and was simply marked with Mod. 228. But shortly after production began, the watch was given an identity: the Portuguese Reference 325.

For the next few decades, the manufacture of the Portuguese continued. Most of the pieces were shipped to various wholesalers in Portugal. While a few other countries picked up the model as well. The Portuguese was by no means IWC’s most popular model at this time, but it remained in production.

An early variation of the Portuguese circa 1939

Impact of the Quartz Crisis

The fate of the Portuguese began to change in the 1970’s. A Swiss retailer showed great interest in the unique, large wristwatches. IWC quickly made some updates to the model, namely the addition of a new movement, the Calibre 982. Then, the watch industry incurred another devastating blow: the Quartz Crisis. The Swiss retailer cancelled their order, and IWC was forced to evaluate if they could continue to make the Portuguese. They persisted, and by 1979, the novelty of quartz watches was fading and orders began to increase for the Portuguese once again.

Resurgence of the Portuguese

Still, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the Portuguese solidified its place in the hearts of collectors and fans of the brand. In 1993, IWC celebrated its 125th anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, they created a limited edition version of the Portuguese. The special edition Jubilee Portuguese featured a few updates, including a new Calibre 9828 movement. The model quickly sold out and sparked an interest in the original Reference 325 models. Since then, the Portuguese has become one of the most popular collections for the IWC brand.

125th Anniversary Edition of the Portuguese circa 1993

Defining Characteristics of the Portuguese

There are a number of key features and design elements that distinguish the Portuguese. In the 1930’s many watchmakers found inspiration in the Art Deco style that had immerged in the 1920’s. However, IWC continued to look to the Bauhaus style as its muse. The Bauhaus art movement is characterised by simplicity and minimalist design principles. This philosophy and aesthetic is noticeably incorporated into the design of the Portuguese.

The Portuguese also draws inspiration from the pocket watches that preceded it. Its railway-track-style chapter ring was a popular design element of pocket watches in the 1930’s. It also gets its hefty size from its large pocket watch movement. The oversized case was certainly ahead of its time. The average wristwatch measured around 35mm until the 1990’s. However, the Portuguese boasts a 41.5mm case, which is more popular in today’s market.

The Portuguese Today

In 2018, IWC celebrates its 150th anniversary. To celebrate, they debuted the Portuguese Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition 150 years. This one-of-a-kind model was produced in a limited edition of only fifteen pieces. It boasts a stunning platinum case and the Calibre 94805 movement, which combines the constant force tourbillon complication with a single moon phase display – a first for the brand. Needless to say, the Portuguese has earned its place in the IWC family of watches and is here to stay.

150th Anniversary Edition of the Portuguese circa 2018

Images ©: Header. Luxois 1. IWC 2. IWC 3. Luxois