A Portuguese romance

The IWC Portuguese is a design classic and the recently released Portuguese Chronograph Classic reaffirms this.

IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic

I still recall sitting at the table with my parents at a New Year’s Eve party. They were in deep conversation, with a Portuguese couple of similar age, and I was left staring at my place setting feeling very disinterested with the proceedings.

I was 18 years of age taking advantage of my last free holiday, in the Algarve ,courtesy of mater and pater. I distinctly remember the onset of boredom as the night wore on.

Then, across the dance-floor, I saw two brown chocolate button-like eyes looking back at me. I was instantly smitten and 27 years later brown eyes and I are happily married with two children. Indeed, history does repeat itself. I now play the role of family banker to the the two Davies children, funding everything from designer clothes to worldwide travel.

Portugal has always held a special place in my heart. Later in life, I became increasingly enchanted with Cascais near Lisbon. The small coastal town is beautiful, with small fishing boats decorating the harbour and quaint restaurants serving local delicacies.

This is a nation rich in history. The Portuguese were one of the greatest seafaring nations, exploring new territories in South America, Africa, Asia and Australasia. It is therefore befitting that IWC have a range of timepieces named “Portuguese”. Indeed, horology and nautical navigation have been inextricably linked for generations as man has used time as a means of establishing longitude using a marine chronometer.

However, the origin of the name that graces the classical watches harks back to the 1930s. Two Portuguese businessmen, working in the watch sector, commissioned wristwatches from IWC to match the accuracy of a marine chronometer. In 1939, the first Portuguese watch came to fruition and an icon was born.

The term icon is freely granted to a myriad of items, but in the case of the Portuguese, it deserves the appellation. It has always been a byword for elegant, timeless aesthetics. Despite the onset of years, there is no sepia hue to the vintage Portuguese models, they have retained a freshness which belies their years.

Now IWC Schaffhausen have taken the bold decision to revisit the much admired classic and redesign the Portuguese. The question many will ask, myself included, is does it enhance a classic or is it merely change for the sake of change?

The dial

The latest iteration bearing the Portuguese soubriquet has a retro feel. It draws heavily on styling cues from the 1930s and is charming in its execution.

IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic


IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic


IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic


IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic


Would-be buyers have a choice of a slate-coloured or silver-plated dial. Both are devilishly handsome.

The watch is available in stainless steel with a sophisticated temperate persona or luxurious 18-carat red gold. It is the silver-plated dial and 18-carat red gold combination which is most appealing to me and is the focus of this watch review.

Hours and minutes are imparted with slender feuille hands, which gracefully arc around the dial, articulating time with brevity.

The case material dictates the finish of the applied Arabic numerals. They have a rich golden hue on my favoured model. The font used to indicate hours is without serifs, or excessive styling, conferring a timeless character.

A svelte blued steel central chronograph hand travels around the dial interfacing with the minute rail.

At 6 o’clock a subsidiary seconds display is presented on a snailed subdial. A slim black circlet frames the subdial and is marked with a combination of black strokes and Arabic numerals at “15”, “30”, “45” and “60”. A gold hand completes the refined ensemble presented.

Below noon, a further subdial features. Once again, it is snailed and utilises gold hands. In this instance it combines a 12-hour chronograph counter with a 60-minute chronograph counter. The latter scale framing the former display. Red text is used at “60” minutes and “12” hours and provides a mischievous smattering of colour.

A date aperture resides at 3 o’clock with the applicable value shown in black text against a white background.

The chapter ring has a nostalgic feel, with small applied batons and a traditional minute rail.

The case

Measuring 42 mm in diameter, the watch is certainly larger than many watches from the pre-war era. However, by modern day standards it is not unduly voluminous and should prove suitable for the majority of potential suitors.

The domed glass fools the eyes into thinking the watch is more diminutive than the specification sheet would suggest. IWC have repeatedly embraced the classical styling of yesteryear and the result is very appealing.

The capstan like push-pieces of former Portuguese models have been retained. They continue to look beautiful and I am heartened to see they have been preserved.

I am often irritated by the sight of copious quantities of daylight peeping between the strap and the case. It just seems wrong and affronts my need for order and neatness. Thankfully, IWC have fitted short lugs to this watch that draw the strap close to the caseband.

IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic

An exhibition caseback reveals the IWC movement and the glorious finishing residing within the case.

The Santoni leather strap, with its antique brown appearance, is exceptional and worthy of special mention. IWC first featured Santoni straps on the Portofino range a few years ago and the tactility proffered is magnificent.

The movement

The original Portuguese models housed pocket watch movements which delighted avid watch collectors with their honest engineering integrity. They leant themselves to being worked upon with straightforward architecture.

IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic

This latest member of the IWC Portuguese family, the Chronograph Classic, incorporates a modern self-winding movement. The 89361 calibre is manufactured in-house by IWC and designed specifically to record 12-hour intervals on the aforementioned subdial located at noon.

This is a flyback chronograph allowing the wearer, to stop, reset and restart the stopwatch function with one press of the push piece at 4 o’clock whilst the chronograph is running.

IWC purists will appreciate the hacking seconds typical of the brand’s famous pilots watches of the 1930s and 1940s. The power reserve is an impressive 68 hours and the frequency again embraces modernity, oscillating at 4 Hertz.

The bridges and open-worked oscillating weight are adorned with circular Côtes de Genéve motif. Sunray brushing is exampled on the barrel cover and the wheels feature circular graining. IWC have adhered to watchmaking etiquette bequeathing magnificent finissage to the 89361 calibre.

The watch is a column-wheel chronograph, typical of the finest watches equipped with the stop-watch complication and completing the no-compromise specification of this watch.


There is much to like about the IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic, it fuses good looks with teutonic engineering.

IWC have revisited a classically styled watch, distilled it and produced a virtuous model to enhance the existing model line.

I applaud IWC for taking the brave and bold step to revisit one of the great designs of the watch world and to create a new model, imbued with some of the DNA of the 1930s model.

IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic

Image – © IWC

Some will ask whether this new model has turned my head and encouraged me to abandon my long held desire to own a 2005 IWC Portuguese F.A. Jones Hand-Wound Limited Edition. Sadly, no. This does not diminish the merit of this latest model, but shows a personality trait I possess.

I am still in love with the view of the pocket watch movement housed within the 2005 model. I adore its combination of white chaste dial and blued steel hands.

New attractive Portuguese models may well come and go but, like the girl I fell in love with many years ago, I remain head over heels in love with the model which first caught my eye. My Portuguese romance continues unabated

Technical Specification

  • Model: IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic
  • Reference: IW390402
  • Case: 18-carat red gold; diameter 42.00 mm; height 14.50 mm; water resistant to 3 bar (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; subsidiary seconds; date; flyback chronograph.
  • Movement: 89361 calibre, self-winding movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 38 jewels; power reserve 68 hours
  • Strap: Dark brown Santoni alligator leather strap with an 18-carat red gold pin buckle

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