IWC CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr On The 2020 Portugieser Collection, COVID-19, And His All-Time Favorite Portugieser
by Martin Green
One of the things that I thought that I would profoundly miss with the fairs being canceled this year was talking with brand representatives about new watches.
My fear, though, was somewhat misplaced as many Skype and Zoom calls showed what a tight-knit community the watch world still is. Alongside the fact that, during these unprecedented times, it is very pleasant to connect with people that you have known and worked with for years, it also brings a sense of hope that the watch industry is robust enough to survive this.
The COVID-19 pandemic was often a topic of discussion during calls with brands as they worry about the safety of their staff and clients, coping with the unprecendented situation, and getting a sense of what the world will look like after the pandemic.
One of the people I was able talk to recently was IWC CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr. He explained that IWC decided to introduce its newest watches as planned, with more locally aimed limited editions to be released at a later date.
The power of adaption to this new situation is what makes a difference. For IWC, there was a lot to cope with because just as the brand introduced its revamped Portugieser collection, Watches & Wonders 2020 was forced to go completely digital.
“We immediately jumped on board,” said Grainger-Herr. IWC went all in, offering visitors a 360-degree virtual walk around what would have been this year’s fair booth. By utilizing an innovative augmented reality app, press, retailers, and clients are able to experience the new Portugieser models in the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Grainger-Herr does think that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect. “The digital proximity we are experiencing right now may have a lasting effect on how we communicate with our customers, partners, and journalists. I think it is likely that we will put an even bigger emphasis on video content in the future.”
IWC is fully embracing this; the brand’s “Time Well Shared” initiative sees a broad range of content from different brand ambassadors and partners published at regular intervals. The goal is to entertain and inspire people as well as keep them connected and engaged during these challenging times.
IWC Portugieser: a model of eternal youth
IWC has declared 2020 the year of the Portugieser and has launched a variety of new models.
The Portugieser collection has come a long way since the original Reference 325 was made in the 1930s, but in terms of style the watch has always stayed true to its roots.
Asking Grainger-Herr about this, he answered, “The fantastic thing about the Portugieser is that it has hardly changed since the day it was created. The clear, functional design looks just as fresh and contemporary today as it did more than 80 years ago. At every point in history, this was a modern watch. Our new collection cautiously evolves the iconic design and introduces new details and small improvements. For the third-generation Portugieser Yacht Club, for example, we have returned to a case size of 44 millimeters, slightly larger than before, but with the original slender proportions. If you have a product line with such a heritage, the challenge is to stay true to its ‘DNA’ and still introduce new and surprising elements.”
He considers it a vital part of his job as CEO to ensure that every new product stays true to IWC’s brand heritage and “DNA.” The mission for the brand is also very clear for him: “We develop ingenious and user-friendly solutions to solve specific engineering challenges. The Portugieser Yacht Club Moon & Tide is an excellent example of this.”
The Portugieser has always been an oversized watch, and Grainger-Herr came to the realization that a group of clients love the look, but not all of them love the size. And it is specifically for these people that the Portugieser Automatic 40 was created. “We took the timeless design established by [the original] Reference 325, gave it contemporary expression, and then packaged it into a more compact case. The watch is exceptionally wearable but still feels like a real Portugieser on the wrist.”
A question I always like to finish an interview with is what somebody’s favorite watch is from a collection. That these answers can be very interesting is proved once more as Grainger-Herr picks a watch that is perhaps not such an obvious choice.
“Maybe the Portugieser Chronograph from 1998 [Reference 3714], which has turned into the most popular Portugieser in history. The chronograph managed to establish a sportier design code within the family, which is characterized by the two recessed totalizers and the distinctive inner flange printed with a quarter-second scale. The thin bezel opens up the dial and gives it this unique pocket watch and instrument look.”
“In February 2020, we presented the reworked version of the Portugieser Chronograph. We have maintained both the iconic dial layout and case proportions. For the first time, we have integrated the IWC-manufactured 69355 caliber, which is visible through the sapphire crystal case back. In April, we added two new versions of this modern icon with burgundy and green dials.”
For more information, please visit www.iwc.com/en/watch-collections/portugieser.
Quick Facts IWC 2020 Portugieser Chronograph
Case: 41 x 13 mm, 5N red gold or stainless steel
Movement: automatic manufacture Caliber 69355, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 46-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds; chronograph
Price: €17,400/$17,800 (pink gold); €7,850/$7,950 (stainless steel)