The Portugieser debuted in 1939. IWC built it at the request of two Portuguese businessmen, who requested a wristwatch that was as accurate as a marine chronometer. Pragmatically as watchmakers are in Schaffhausen, IWC put a marginally altered hand-wound Calibre 74 pocket watch movement in a 41.5mm case, put a leather strap on it and the Portugieser was born. It wasn’t until 1998 that the IWC Portugieser Chronograph was introduced. The current model still looks like the one from 23 years ago and has proven to be a modern-day brand icon. Does that strike you as laziness on IWC’s part or sound boring? Why change a winning formula, you could riposte.

The first Portugieser bears the reference 325. It’s a watch with an outrageously large case — we’re talking 1939 when 35mm was considered a large watch size — and it was hardly a bestseller. Sure, Rodrigues and Teixeira – the two businessmen from Portugal who commissioned the watch – bought a bunch, but strangely enough the first production models were shipped to Ukraine. Anyway, in the end just 690 watches with the original Calibre 74, the evolution of that movement, Calibre 98, and finally Calibre 982, were made. That was largely due to the fact that it simply was ahead of its time, and in 1981 production stopped.

Ref. 325 from 1954

The IWC Portugieser Chronograph 23 years ago

It wasn’t until 1993 for the 125th anniversary that IWC decided to give the Portugieser another go. The new, celebratory Ref. 5441 came in a 42mm case. Five years later, the Portugieser Chronograph IW3714 stepped on the scene and the Portugieser really took off. This Valjoux 7750-equipped chronograph with applied numerals and a 41mm, practically bezel-less case, marked the birth of the modern Portugieser.

It’s hard to think of another watch that aesthetically remained practically unchanged for 23 years …

If you want to know what the first generation Portugieser Chronograph looked like, just look at the 2021 version, and you’ll see. It’s hard to think of another watch that aesthetically remained practically unchanged for 23 years, although as I wrote this sentence, the Speedmaster Moonwatch came to mind. Call it lazy, call it boring, but IWC did such a good job on the Portugieser Chronograph with it subdials at 12 and 6 o’clock, that it didn’t have to change the watch.

Ref. 5441

Ideal proportions

What is perfect about the Portugieser Chronograph is that it’s both sporty and formal. The design of the dial is highly recognizable, and the detailing is on point. Applied numerals and hands that have the perfect length; proportionally speaking, this Portugieser Chronograph is practically perfect. What is also amazing is that a full gold Portugieser Chronograph is still not a show-off’s watch. Mainly due to the absence of a bezel, but also thanks to its ideal proportions, I would say. The balance is just right.

Portugieser Annual Calendar IW5035

The Portugieser Chronograph soldiered on

Over time, IWC created many versions of the Portugieser. Even before the launch of the chronograph, there was a minute repeater and even a rattrapante version. And after 1998 came the version with 7-day in-house movement that became the poster boy for the collection. But no matter the in-house driven competition, the Chronograph soldiered on. The good thing is that even in the company of more complicated versions like the Annual Calendar and Perpetual Calendar, it still looked the part.

IWC Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 42 IW344202

A change of “heart”

The most significant change for the IWC Portugieser Automatic came in 2020. After being in service for 21 years, the Valjoux/ETA 7750 — there was also a moment in time when Sellita supplied movements — was retired. Its replacement, the in-house, 194-component Calibre 69355.

… the new movement is definitely an upgrade with its column wheel design.

You could argue that it still somehow technically traces back to the 7750, but the new movement is definitely an upgrade with its column wheel design. Where the IW3714 always hid its non-manufacture movement behind a sold case back, the new IW3716 proudly display its new automatic movement.

IWC Portugieser Chronograph

Pick your favorite

The 41 × 13mm comes in steel on a leather strap, but recently a steel bracelet is also an option. That bracelet looks surprisingly good and probably reaches even more fans than the traditional version on a leather strap does. My favorite version of the IW3716 is the one with a silver-plated dial. Not the one with the blued hands, but the one with gold-plated feuille hands (that’s the IW371604). But not on the standard black alligator strap though, I would go for a red strap. A sporty accent to counter the classic dial configuration.

IWC Portugieser Chronograph

Prices start at €8.250 for a trusty, definitely not boring, but very pleasing, steel IW3716 — shiny red and green ton-sur-ton dials are an option now too — on an alligator strap. The luxurious rose gold cased version will set you back €18.300.

Check out all the different IWC Portugieser models on the official website.

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