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The history of the IWC Portugieser starts with the story of two Portuguese businessmen named Messrs. Rodrigues and Teixeira. They approached the IWC in the late 1930s, explaining the rise in demand for wristwatches in Portugal. The two businessmen also explained that the demand for wristwatches was not just for the standard pocket watch or women's dress watch. The Portuguese actually wanted wristwatches that would have the capability and precision of marine chronometers.
The IWC firm underwent carried out numerous testing before creating a timepiece that could achieve the highest level of accuracy. The readability was also ensured owing to the pocket watch movements. As a consequence, IWC introduced the hunter-style IWC Portugieser watch in 1939.
The first Portugieser watch had a diameter case of 43 mm, and it was considered oversized compared to wristwatches prevalent in 1939. Watches were generally below 33 mm in those times. In this way, the Portugieser was a forerunner of today's oversized wristwatches.
1939 IWC Portugieser
The 1939 IWC Portugieser watch was powered by the powerful IWC 74 calibre bar movement in savonnette build. It was known by reference 325. The crown of this watch, unlike most stopwatches, was situated on the right-hand side of the case rather than on the top. The 74 calibre movement came in a 43 mm stainless steel case. The size of this watch was an instant highlight.
The most striking design elements of the IWC Portuguese were a streamlined dial with Arabic numbers. It also had a very thin bezel, which in turn made the watch look even bigger. With the expertly designed leaf hands and a large sub-dial at six o'clock for the seconds, the visual appeal of the watch was awe-inspiring. In subsequent models, IWC made use of many dial variations, hands, and indices for the Portuguese ref. 325. The most common combination comprised of a silvered dial, embossed Arabic numerals, and leaf ("Feuilles de sauge") hands.
Decline of the IWC Portugieser after 1939
Owing to its innovative design and blend of diverse components, the elegant IWC Portugieser wristwatch was decades ahead of its time. As a result, IWC only sold around 690 pieces from the watch's inception to the late 1970s.
In spite of the failure of the Reference 325 Portugieser to find a customer base, IWC continued to work on its design and structure. In this period of low sales, the watch did gather a loyal customer base in the form of collectors and connoisseurs.
In a fortunate turn of events, the IWC Portugieser saw its heyday again after a period of struggle. As per the legendary watchmaker Kurt Klaus, during the visit of a customer to the workshop, the watchmakers working there noticed that this person was wearing an original Portuguese wristwatch reference 325. Kurt Klaus, nicknamed Einstein of Schaffhausen for his watchmaking genius, claims that at this point, all the watchmakers got together and decided to work on the reference 325 once more.
Following the moment of inspiration, actions were taken in a short time to revive the Portuguese. As a result, the IWC decided to develop a complete collection line around the old IWC Portuguieser reference 325. The 125th anniversary of IWC Schaffhausen was scheduled to fall in 1993. IWC capitalized on this landmark achievement and chose to introduce the new Portuguese in a celebratory limited edition to mark its revival.
The limited-edition Portuguese ref. 5441 featured a case diameter of 42 mm and a thickness of 9 mm. It also came with a silver dial with applied platinum Arabic numerals. Dot Indexes and typical Feuille hands were also present. Only about 1750 pieces were manufactured. One thousand of them were in stainless steel, 500 in rose gold, and the rest 250 in platinum.
IWC Portuguese watches effectively blended classic design elements with sophisticated complications. The design aesthetics of these upgraded Portugieser timepieces retain the iconic characteristics of their original versions despite significant revisions. The chronometric precision and artistic aspects of the timeless IWC watch have been highly recognized since the presentation of the Portuguese line in 1939. This new version's design components, including the large case, indices, and symmetrical dial, all draw inspiration from the 1930s IWC Portugieser line. It bridged the gap between contemporary and traditional models.