IWC has its home in Schaffhausen where watch and clock making skills have been long established and to where a young American, Florentine Ariosto Jones, who had been involved in watchmaking in Boston, emigrated in 1863. There he accessed the skills of the local workforce and added his own engineering knowledge to their expertise. In true pioneering fashion he took a new approach, moving from a domestic system of production to a factory one, aimed at making watches for the American market. Innovative from the outset, the skills of hand crafting, cutting edge development, targeted product design were set in place.
A balance was achieved which allowed for automation, when appropriate, in case manufacturing, but maintained their hand finishing.
However, in revolutionising production he did not dismiss the traditional skills and artistry he had sought on arrival. What he achieved was a marriage which allowed their co-existence and nurtured the same high quality and standards established in Schaffhausen. So it was that in 1868 IWC, the International Watch Company was founded and IWC’s reputation grew.
Today watches are still handcrafted and finished and a watch school in Schaffhausen ensures that the skill base continues. At the same time watches are rigorously tested so that IWC’s reputation for accuracy is maintained.
IWC watches are grouped into families with their own theme.
The Portuguese family of watches has a nautical link. The name derives from the order placed by two Portuguese importers for a series of large, high-precision pocket watches. The tradition of that larger watch was revived in 1993 to mark IWC’s 125 year anniversary. There have been various models, the Portuguese Tourbillon Mystere and the Portuguese Automatic, for example.
The Portuguese Yacht Club Chronograph, 3902-4-Yacht Club
Identifiable as a member of the family by the characteristic round face and case, it is the first model to bring a sporting note to the family. It has the same precision that is required of nautical instruments and is suited to the need of not only the sailor but those engaged in competition where timings are vital and also fulfils the desires of those who love precision crafted timepieces.
A bold face with unique features
This is the only watch in the family which features crown protection and has luminescent hands and indices. There is a choice of finishes but in all the models the numbers are depicted in bold Arabic numerals. Those of the red gold version are predictably gold. The dial of the gold version is “ardoise” coloured with matching totalisers.
The model I covet has the silver-plated dial and stainless steel case, with light silver numbers.
The black-dialled, stainless steel cased model also has silver numbers.
In all cases the hour and minute hands are long and sweeping, whilst the second hand stands out, an elongated vermilion line, a red circle at the centre and triangular tip, almost like an arrow delicately balanced on a red boss.
The two chronograph sub-dials, slightly recessed, are set at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock and have similar fine hands marking out minutes and seconds, the only hint of colour being the red “60” and “12”at the apex of the 12 o’clock minute number.
A simple rectangular window at 3 o’clock displays the date.
A Case with Nautical Feel
Differences in material and colour aside, the case of each watch has a sapphire crystal back which affords a view of the movement. And what a view! A marvellously majestic movement which I will revisit later.
The principle crown bears the IWC monogram and is screwed down, set between two sculpted shoulders. The two chronograph crowns which rest one on each side of the principle crown are reminiscent of capstans, echoing, perhaps, the nautical link.
Significantly IWC have brought out a special edition of the Portuguese Yacht Club Chronograph to mark the “Volvo Ocean Race 2011 -2012” and are the official sponsors of the race and the Adu Dhabi Ocean Racing team. IWC is making its debut in team sport.
The horns are unobtrusive but angled like the shoulders which appear to support the crown.
Practicality is evident in the choice of rubber for the strap, ideal for those engaged in water sports of any kind. It is also water resistant to 60 metres.
The 89360 calibre mechanical chronograph features a significantly improved self-winding system and has set new watch making standards.
The winding system has four pawls instead of two which increases the energy delivered by the rotor, upgrading its efficiency by 30%. The rotor is shockproof which suits its sporting purpose.
It has a fly-back function and an additional flange with quarter second calibration. The latter allows the recording of short periods of time and there is an analogue display for longer stop times on a sub-dial.
In addition it has a 68 hour power reserve.
The calibre operates at 28,800 vph (4Hz) and contains 40 jewels.
The specification is excellent but pales next to the aesthetic allure of the movement. I often place a loupe to my right eye and examine the work of watchmaking artisans. This movement is exquisite in its execution. A simple, yet considered detail are the apetures featured on the semi-circular shaped rotor. It allows me to absorb all the fine detail normally obscured by a rotor.
The rotor bears the wonderful words “Probus Scafusia” located above and below the “IWC” brand name. “Probus Scafusia” was first formulated in 1903 and stands for good, solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen, a claim many of us who own an IWC would not contest.
I have enjoyed a romance with IWC for most of my adult life. She wears many different costumes, but beneath lurks a beautiful persona which never ceases to captivate.
The IWC Portuguese Yacht Club Chronograph Reference 3902 is a beautiful watch, like all the other gorgeousl Portuguese models which pre-date it, but with the facility to be worn when pursuing nautical aquatic endeavours.
The only difficulty with this watch is having to decide which other wonderful Portuguese model you omit to buy from your finite budget. However, whichever Portuguese model you select, you will be wearing a timeless classic which will endure for many years to come and provide alluring adornment to your wrist.
Angus is a self-confessed watch addict and is frequently asked to contribute to various printed magazines and websites around the globe. He also writes for individual watch companies on matters of horology and has appeared on television and radio as an industry expert.