This Simple Watch Has Haunted Us Since SIHH
It's been more than a month since SIHH ended, and a lot of great watches were shown this year. But there's one that is still on the lips of watch aficionados: IWC's Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition "75th Anniversary." After a few years where dedicated collectors became largely disappointed with IWC's oversize, commercially oriented sport watches, IWC has created a hit. How the company did it is one of its greatest engineering accomplishments in recent memory.
Creating an anniversary edition of a well-known watch like the Portugieser is one of those tasks that is difficult to do well, and extremely easy to totally mess up. One wrong new feature or a botched attempt at achieving a "vintage" look, and the whole thing comes across as caricature. What makes this watch so great is how balanced and even-handed the design is. Even if it wasn't a re-edition, people would take second looks.
At 43mm, the original Portugieser from 1939 was massive for the time, and the anniversary model is exactly the same size (and only a little thicker). This means that for guys who are onboard with the modern big-watch trend, it won't appear teensy, while the vintage die-hards can snottily recount this detail to anyone who notices them wearing one. There's also the vintage International Watch Co. logo, in script, at 12 o'clock instead of the modern serifed IWC. Other brands, like TAG Heuer, have found a lot of success with these throwback logos, and it's a little detail that makes the whole package feel more harmonious.
Setting aside aesthetics, the watch also sits in a technical sweet spot. The movement is an in-house caliber, meaning IWC designed it and makes it itself, something that's almost a requirement for collectors today. It's manually wound, has an eight-day power reserve, and the seconds "hack" (or stop) when you pull the crown, letting you set it precisely to the second. The finishing on the movement is nice and catches the light, but it still has that slightly industrial feel that sets IWC apart. Overall the movement is very nice, but not so ornate or technically complex as to intimidate anyone, or to drive the price of the watch too high. It's the right fit for the job.
This isn't to say the watch is perfect. It's close, and I'd love to have one strapped to my wrist as I type this, but it has its foibles. That date window tucked into the subdial at 6 o'clock is unnecessary and the only major deviation from the original 1939 Portuguese. To me it looks a little like someone took a hole punch to the dial, but it's not a deal-breaker. The name could also use some work; unwieldy names are something of a trend these days, but IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition “75th Anniversary” sounds like a design brief, not something you put on a fancy box. (Then there's the business about the 75th anniversary actually having been last year, but we'll leave that well alone.)
There are two anniversary models. The first is stainless steel with a black dial, limited to 750 pieces ($11,500), and the second a red gold version with a silver dial limited to 175 pieces ($22,000). For both, the limited editions are noted with a "One of 750" or "One of 175" engraving on the caseback, meaning there will be no squabbles over who gets the best and worst numbers. Yes, that actually happens, and while some people don't like IWC skirting the issue, it's a smart strategic play to ensure unlucky or unremarkable numbers don't sit in boutiques too long.
At SIHH, a show best known for opulent and extravagant releases, it's exciting to see a watch that people will actually buy steal the show. Here's to watches on wrists and not in safes in 2015.