The Portuguese have always been known for their sea fairing ability and expert knowledge of the ocean. In the late 1930s, two Portuguese businessmen — who frequently sailed around the world — requested 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 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 in 1939 called the Portuguese. The 42mm case required to fit the movement was enormous by the standards of the period, and it had a clear, bold dial with large applied numbers and a sub-dial at six o’clock for the seconds. The cream-coloured face was chosen to contrast against the numbers, giving the watch immediate clarity regardless of the conditions.
It wasn’t until 1967 that any big changes occurred in the Portuguese line up. The watch had become popular for its size and appearance, but its sailing heritage was all but forgotten. To rectify this, 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 — one of the most popular IWC’s ever, in fact.
It was followed by the seventies Yacht Club II, a watch that — this time — had more in common with IWC’s own Ingenieur. The octagonal case and integrated bracelet could not have been any further removed from the original Portuguese, but this didn’t stop its popularity from soaring. Many Yacht Club IIs were sold in both automatic and quartz guises, riding the wave of a new era of luxury watches.
IWC Portuguese watches have not — Yacht Clubs excluded — changed much over the course of time, and the original charm and clarity that made them popular 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 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 recently 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, particular so when viewed amongst the swathes of fussier watches that dominate the market. If you like your watches to be clean, clear and simple, there is little to touch an IWC Portuguese.
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]