Posted 31st Oct 2011
The Portuguese have always been known for their expert knowledge of the ocean and sea fairing ability. In the late 1930’s two Portuguese businessmen who frequently sailed around the world requested that a special kind of watch be made for them by IWC. Wrist watches of the time were small and not particularly accurate, so what the two men asked for was a marine chronometer-grade clock that they could wear on their wrists.
Using the Calibre 74, a hunter pocket watch movement that satisfied the men’s accuracy requirements, IWC built a watch called in 1939 called the Portuguese. The 42mm case required to fit the movement was large by the period standards, and had a clear, bold dial with large applied numbers and a large sub dial at six o’clock for the seconds. The cream face was chosen to contrast with the numbers, giving the watch immediate clarity regardless of the conditions.
It wasn’t until 1967 that the next big change occurred in the Portuguese line up. Because of the popularity of the line, many owners did not want to use them for sailing, and so IWC released a more sport orientated version to reinvigorate the original ethos of the model. Called the ‘Yacht Club,’ it looked more like a Rolex Datejust than it did a Portuguese, but nonetheless it became very popular, in fact one of the most popular IWC’s ever.
It was followed soon after by the 70’s Yacht Club II, a watch that again had more in common with another watch than it did with the Portuguese – this time with IWC’s own Ingenieur. The octagonal case and integrated bracelet could not have been any further removed from the original Portuguese, but this did not stop its popularity from soaring. Many Yacht Club II’s were sold in both automatic and quartz guises, riding the wave of a new era of luxury watches.
The Portuguese has not in itself changed much over the course of its life, and the original charm and clarity that made it popular in the first place is still very much present. Complications such as chronographs, perpetual calendars and even tourbillons have been added to what is considered IWC’s flagship range, but the case shape and the bold, applied numerals remain. The hand wound IW5454 is the most faithful to the original with its seconds sub-dial at six o’clock, but the range has most definitely been improved with the addition of the chronograph and the seven day movement, whose twin sub-dials neatly balance out the dial.
To top the current range off, IWC have released a new version of the Yacht Club, reviving the sportiness of the original once again. This time around, the Yacht Club is much more faithful to the Portuguese than was previously, with more focus on sporty design and rugged usability.
The Portuguese is a very elegant watch sat amongst swathes of larger, chunkier watches – if you like your watches to be clean, clear and simple, you can do a lot worse than with a Portuguese.