AN INTERVIEW WITH IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN CEO CHRIS GRAINGER-HERR ON THE NEW PORTUGIESER COLLECTIONPublished in Business Day Wanted
One thing that International Watch Company (IWC) fan, Instagrammer Déby Maldonado, and I agree on is our favourite watch from the new IWC Portugieser collection, launched virtually in May at Watches and Wonders 2020. We both love the IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide.
In his Zoom round table with select journalists from India, UAE, Lebanon and SA, IWC Schaffhausen CEO Chris Grainger-Herr shared the latest launches with us after due commiseration at not being able to meet up face to face at the annual Geneva watch fair due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Portugieser is at the heart of IWC’s DNA, which is engineering and design, and goes back to its story pertaining to navigation. “Our founder, Florentine Ariosto Jones, crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Boston to establish the International Watch Company in Schaffhausen, on the banks of the Rhine River, using the water to power his factory and make very precise pocket watches for the American market. These became deck observation watches (made for the British Royal Navy at that time),” says Grainger-Herr.
“IWC went on to make pocket watches and wristwatches for boats and ships all around the planet until two Portuguese businessmen came to Schaffhausen and asked us to make marine chronometer precision watches. The only way we could do that was by fitting those pocket watch movements into a wristwatch case, which resulted in the reference 325 with its oversized case, hand-wound movement, Arabic numerals, feuille hands, small seconds at 6 o’clock, and marine chronometer precision. This (1939 model) forms the basis of our Portugieser collection today.”
The second big invention for the line was soon after IWC’s 125th anniversary in 1993, when they showed the jubilee edition of the 325 and called it Portugieser for the first time. The Portugieser Anniversary Edition was limited to 1,000 watches in stainless steel; 500 in 5N gold and 250 in platinum. The watch measured 42.5mm in diameter, and was powered by the 9828 calibre, which was based on the 98 pocket watch calibre. This edition quickly sold out and set a trend towards larger-format wristwatches.
“It was the starting point for the Portugieser chronograph, released in 1995 and 1998. Then Kurt Klaus’s model, the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar, was revealed in 2003. It is so accurate that it requires correction by just one day after 577.5 years — this is the basis for all modern double movements in the perpetual calendar model. These are the milestones in the development of the Portugieser,” says Grainger-Herr.
The new Portugieser collection features all in-house movements, from simple automatic to very complicated sports and elegant watches, of which Grainger-Herr is understandably proud.
“The Schaffhausen manufacturing centre allows us incredible progress in terms of engineering and quality. Just having all teams working together directly, in logical sequence, breaking the communications barriers we used to have in the old building, enabled us to ramp up development of our in-house calibres very significantly,” he says.
“You see that across the full range ever since the launch of the IWC Pilot Spitfire collection last year when we introduced movements such as the 69 chronograph, 32 automatic, 82 automatic, and the Timezoners. This is the backbone of what we’re doing now in movement development. It’s enabled us to go into different thicknesses and diameters as well, and to provide a warranty up to eight years by registering on iwc.com.”
Grainger-Herr splits the collection into three pillars — the iconic 40mm automatic, the complicated watches and the sports classics. The Portugieser Automatic 40 features improved ergonomics in terms of fit. It has the very classic three-hand design, small seconds at 6 o’clock, Arabic numerals, big oversized dial, 40mm case, and the IWC-manufactured 82200 calibre with Pellaton winding. It has an alligator strap, secured by a reworked clasp system with a butterfly folding clasp. This watch is the entry point to the collection, coming in at 7,500 Swiss franc.
For the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar 42, the main complication is powered for the first time with an in-house movement from the 82000-calibre family. Control is at the crown. The dial displays the calendar information clearly on three subdials. The moon phase is machined from solid gold at Schaffhausen. “The remarkable thing about this is that it really is the Portugieser instrument-style case but it wears better, and a lot more ergonomically at 42mm and 13mm height,” says Grainger-Herr.
Selected models will be sold exclusively in IWC boutiques and online on iwc.com. They feature blue dials, blue alligator leather straps and cases in 18-carat 5N gold or 18-carat Armor Gold. Two noteworthy models in the haute horlogerie realm are the Portugieser Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph, which combines a tourbillon with retrograde date display and chronograph, as well as the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon, which features both complications on the dial.
The sports classic pillar sees the third-generation Portugieser Yacht Club return to classic proportions with a 44mm model to follow the 43mm version. The talking piece of that subcollection is the Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide, mentioned earlier. It is the first IWC watch to feature the newly developed feature that indicates high, low, spring and leap tides for the current location. It has a double moon at 12 o’clock and the mechanism can be reset at 6 o’clock. The piece has a single crown at 3 o’clock.
“This complication has been in the pipeline for a long time. We found that having the base of the 82 calibre allowed us to get to a dial layout I was happy with. We used the classic Portugieser chronograph layout with two counters and combined it with the double movement with tide indication at 6 o’clock, and suddenly it worked. It is unique and easy to operate. We don’t do complicated just for the sake of it. We want robustness and user-friendliness,” says Grainger-Herr.
“The new collection captures the essence of Portugieser, which is a timeless design based on Portugieser DNA, without ever feeling retro or vintage. The watch feels as modern now as it did 80 years ago and hopefully will continue to do so 150 years into the future.”
Asked about IWC’s response to the trend of consumers looking for substance, and brands going back to their roots, he says, “Generally we’re about understated confidence, never flashy. Portugieser happens to be that — an extremely well-made instrument that clients enjoy tremendously. It never shouts luxury as a statement. This is much more what people gravitate to in times of trouble — brands they trust, icons they trust, and something that is essential.
“This (coronavirus) crisis is teaching us so much about the way we consume. Our message in this context is that we’re making something responsibly, in the heart of Europe, preserving skills. But also we’re making something that can be repaired and will last forever. It’s a good moment to reflect on how we consume, how many iterations of an object we need, and the value of consuming things that can be repaired.”
For many, this will be an opportunity to get back to the core of luxury, which means indulging in products with which consumers have an emotional connection, that make them feel good, and that they can enjoy for a long, long time.