It’s Crystal Clear: IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition 75th Anniversary
“New” versus “last year’s model” is an age-old debate.
For the consumer, the “latest upgrade” is generally neither the best nor the most exciting description of a product. Companies spend billions of dollars every year developing the hot new thing or the killer app. Then the “new and improved” version launches and is panned by critics and the general public for losing its focus or simply seeming like a step backward.
Take Crystal Pepsi, for example. When Pepsi announced the introduction of this clear cola in 1992, it initially had a good reception. Launched nationwide in the United States in the beginning of 1993, Crystal Pepsi actually captured a full one percent of the U.S. soft drink market, an impressive feat for a single new product. But by fall of the same year Crystal Pepsi had been pulled from the market and the final bottles were delivered in the first quarter of 1994. Consumers just wanted the old Pepsi back; the new clear cola fad had faded fast.
It wasn’t that people didn’t like Crystal Pepsi; due to some odd competition from Coca-Cola and some falsities believed about Crystal Pepsi – including that it did not contain sugar (it had plenty of sugar) and was therefore a healthy alternative to regular Pepsi (kind of shooting yourself in the foot there, eh, Pepsi?) – people just wanted to drink the familiar version of Pepsi.
This is, of course, an extreme example, but it goes to show that at times new products won’t perform as well as previous versions due to the overwhelming success of its predecessor; this happens with product updates all the time. In the watch industry, brands can be hesitant to change anything too much lest it be scolded by disappointed enthusiasts. Yet, sometimes, a brand just has a really good year of updates and then must figure out how to compete with itself.
For me, this describes the last couple years at IWC.
A tale of two collections
IWC’s focus for SIHH 2016 was its line of pilot’s watches (see IWC Updates Pilot’s Line At SIHH 2016); however, I’ll always be a Portugieser man.
And that is why even though the Pilot collection had a solid smattering of updates and refinements in 2016, I can’t get the 2015 Portugieser updates out of my head, specifically the Hand-Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary edition. Its release gave IWC fans a much-desired vintage-inspired timepiece complete with the original International Watch Co. script across the dial. Basically, I still want last year’s watches, while the new releases have left me wanting.
Perhaps this is because I am not a pilot. A pilot’s watch fills a niche in a collection but, according to my viewpoint and tastes, doesn’t require updating to the next greatest thing or a slightly different style (though the addition of Vogard’s Timezoner function, which IWC acquired in 2015, is a great reason to bring out a new pilot’s watch version with world time).
When it comes to the Portugieser collection, as it fills no niche style requirements, it can always be updated, “vintageafied” (it’s a word now), or rebooted. The direction for the Hand-Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary is a direction I can get behind. It really comes down to a feeling as to what different details can achieve.
When vintage-inspired watches are designed, the result can be a timepiece that looks removed from its history and context and feels lacking in substance. Other times, the product is a watch so closely modeled on the original inspiration that one could travel back in time with the watch and nobody of the era would know the difference.
The Hand-Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary edition is a subtle mix of original styling and accurate sizing combined with improvements that don’t detract from the soul of the watch.
When reissuing a design or creating something that borrows heavily from an original, it is easy to forget that design choices were made for the original based on what the goal of the watch was. Many times this results in modern designers picking features and details in an à la carte manner to mix with modern touches without regard as to why things were originally designed in a specific way. The Hand-Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary edition avoids this by clearly understanding the design language intent for a watch of this style. The only modern change that could be argued against is the date window at 6 o’clock, but we’ll get to that.
The original Portuguese watch was a commissioned piece from a pair of Portuguese businessmen (no surprise considering the name) who wanted a wristwatch that could match the precision of a marine chronometer. This meant that a pocket watch movement was the best solution, and a watch was designed based on an earlier hunter-style pocket watch. To this day, no official description or photographs of this watch have been found, but the design is described as having resembled that earlier pocket watch.
The main features, therefore, stemmed from pocket watch design with a railroad track chapter ring, minimal Arabic numerals, and an inset subsidiary seconds dial. The numerals were subtly styled but definitely unique from other sans serif typefaces. The proportion and spacing was conservative and led to a very legible dial. All of these features found their way onto the Hand Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary edition, including the style of the numerals and the original International Watch Co. logo.
An additional layer of tracks was added to the chapter ring, adding contrast, providing a tie-in with the case color, and filling in the dial just a tiny amount more. The one thing that jumps out from the simple and perfectly constructed dial is the date window squeezed into the subsidiary seconds dial. Since on the gold version the date disk color does not match the ivory of the dial it seems a bit out of place. As it fits nicely into the confines of the subsidiary seconds ring, it doesn’t disturb any of the major layout, but it strays a bit with the different typeface and a seeming lack of design intent in relation to the rest of the dial.
The stainless steel version does a much better job at integrating this feature into the dial since the date disk and the dial are both black, and the numerals are light-colored making for a much more consistent look. Even given that small issue, the watch does not seem like a conglomeration of ideas from a variety of watches or designs, but instead like a closely considered re-issue of a little known historical design.
What’s better, the Hand-Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary edition’s awesomeness isn’t just skin deep. It boasts a very well-executed hand-winding Caliber 59215 filling out the case nicely thanks to its 37.8 mm diameter. This size resembles the original Caliber 74, which results in a case size of 43 mm, also like the original watch. The Caliber 59215 is a straightforward eight-day movement, even though the mainspring has enough power for nine days. To make sure the watch isn’t ever without adequate power for the escapement to function at the proper rate, a stop has been added so the mainspring can only unwind for 192 hours, which is precisely eight days.
The movement layout is a somewhat standard three-quarter plate scenario, even though the upper plate is split into two parts and there are two cocks for the balance and escapement. On the rear of the movement, in an attempt to maintain the visual integrity of the dial, there is an added power reserve indicator pierced through the upper plate showing the underlying gears and adding a bit of watchmaker flair for only you (and whoever you show) to see.
The rather clean and simple case is probably the most modern feature simply because a) it is not a hunter-style case like the original, and b) it doesn’t attempt to make the case a focal point by being overly vintageafied. Instead, it does its job quietly while the styling is allowed to shine. Clearly the design is the star of the show and the final product emphasizes this. You don’t get any sense of design compromises that had to be made; instead, you understand the history it is trying to evoke and forget that this is both a new watch and heavily vintage-inspired.
The Hand-Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary is one of those timepieces that may end up going down as a watch “without a decade” since it seems rather transcendent. No, it won’t help you understand the meaning of life or open your mind to the cosmos, but it doesn’t necessarily force you into a time period in which the watch makes sense. It is as if it has always been there, which is, to me, the best possible feeling a vintage-inspired watch can inspire.
It may not be chock full of crazy mechanics or groundbreaking design language; it may not have 50 years of slow design evolution behind it; and it isn’t a pilot’s watch (which IWC is most famous for), but the Hand-Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary doesn’t care.
It is simply a fantastic watch that will look great for years to come and provide the time with just the right amount of subtle flair.
So while many are focused on 2016’s Pilot’s watches, and while IWC is undoubtedly putting another collection under the loupe for SIHH 2017, I am sticking with the Portugieser collection and its champion release, the Hand-Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary edition.
But while we wait to see what IWC is going to come up with next, how about a breakdown!?
- Wowza Factor * 8.4 Surprising vintageafied design that is nearly perfectly thought out.
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 80.4 » 788.454 m/s2 A stout lust appeal to be sure, and nearly enough G-force to knock the toughest professional football players smack on their behinds.
- M.G.R. * 58.9 A solid movement with a very impressive eight days’ worth of power reserve from a single spring barrel.
- Added-Functionitis * Mild Another manually winding watch with a secret power reserve. Though you have so much time between windings you may feel like you have an automatic! That’s why you would need a little regular-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for some modern vintage swelling.
- Ouch Outline * 9.84 Getting scalded by the shower when someone decides to flush a toilet in the house! Roommates. But I’d dive right in to that terribly hot shower if it meant finding the Hand Wound Eight Days 75th Anniversary edition waiting for me afterward.
- Mermaid Moment * Uncanny historical feelings. Even if you don’t know why you love it so much, you definitely do. Better book the Plaza for November!
- Awesome Total * 651 Subtract the first two digits in the caliber number (59) from the number of pieces in the steel edition (750), add to the result the number of pieces in the gold edition (175) and then finally subtract the remaining three numbers from the caliber number (215) for a vintageafied awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.iwc.com/portugieser/IW5102_Anniversary
Case: 43 x 12 mm, stainless steel or red gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber 59215
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve
Limitation: 175 in red gold, 750 in stainless steel
Price: $22,200 in red gold, $10,600 in stainless steel