IWC’s Pocket/Wrist Watches

By foie gras and Michael Friedberg


This article describes two unusual large wristwatches made
in this decade by International Watch Company in Schaffhausen, Switzerland.
These watches are the Jubilee Portugieser, reference # 5441, and the Portofino
Pocket Wrist Moon phase watch, reference # 5251. As discussed later, both
watches use interesting and sport similar movements, which have antecedents in
IWC’s long history.

The Portofino Pocket-Style

The Portofino Pocket-Style wrist watch, pictured above,
has been produced since at least the 1970s. The styling of the watch formed the
basis of IWC’s “Portofino line”, which consisted of small round
watches, with straight lugs and Roman numerals -the perfectly simple, classic
watch. Unlike the other Portofino models, the gargantuan Pocket Wrist Moon Phase
model utilizes the in-house caliber 9521 gold plated pocket watch movement,
which has19 jewels and is adjusted to 5 positions.

The case, made of 18kt. yellow gold, is nothing short of
enormous, measuring 46mm across (including the gold crown), 51 mm from end of
lug to end of lug, and only 6 mm thick (without the lugs), 1.0 mm thick (with
the lugs). The case is essentially flat, like a pocket watch, and the only
apparent tapering is from the lugs. At 2.5 mm thickness, the crown is small, and
a little difficult to pull out for time setting, as well as hard to wind.
Presumably the size of the crown was chosen for aesthetic reasons. There are
only 2 positions on the crown; pushed in is for winding and pulled out for time
and moon phase settings. The moon phase is easily set, by cycling between 10
p.m. forward to 2 a.m., and then back again, each cycle advancing the phase of
the moon by one day. Setting the time to a signal is also easily done, since the
seconds subdial hacks when the crown is pulled out for time setting. The watch
comes with a unique tan crocodile band with gold buckle, and measures 22 mm at
the lugs and 18 mm at the buckle, hence tapering to a wider buckle than standard
leather bands.

The dial is white, with black Roman Numerals, fine Breguet
hands, and two subdials. At top center is written “International Watch Co.,
Schaffhausen,” in script. The running seconds subdial, without any numeral
markings, is located at 9:00 o’clock, and the moon phase is at 3:00 o’clock,
with a gold moon on a twinkling black sky. Having the seconds subdial at 9
-across from the winding crown- reflects that the movement was originally
designed for Savonette-type pocket watches (with the crown at 12 and seconds at
6). A sapphire crystal display back shows the beautiful gilded movement, however
the front domed crystal is made of acrylic.

Although reference # 5251 theoretically is still in
production, it is a hard-to-find special order item rarely offered for sale,
especially in the United States. We know of one large American IWC dealer who
ordered one of these for himself almost a year ago, and has still not received
it from IWC. U.S. list price for this watch is $14,000..

The Jubilee Portugieser: History

Pictured above is the Jubilee Portugieser, which uses a
similar movement and has an interesting history.

The original large “Portugieser” wristwatch was
initially produced in the 1940s, on commission from two Portuguese watch dealers
named Rodriguez and Teixeira, one from Lisbon and the other from Porto. They
requested a large watch be made by IWC, which ran counter to the taste of the
times which tended toward smaller and smaller wristwatches. The intended watch
would have a diameter of 43mm, unlike many wristwatches of the period which were
31mm in diameter. IWC chose to use their flattest and most reliable pocket watch
movement, which at the time was their Cal. 98, evolved from their earlier
caliber 74, which had ceased production in 1930.

Orders for this watch came in irregularly, and were
generally for fairly small numbers of pieces. In addition to Portugal, a Zurich
based export company called “Color Metal,” had found demand elsewhere
in the world for this watch. As originally produced in the 1940s, this watch was
available with a silver plated dial, embossed gold figures, and blued steel
hands; another version had imprinted black figures and blued steel hands.

After a few years, this watch ceased production until
unexpectedly an order came in during the late 1970s from Germany. A few old
watch cases were found, new dials were produced, and the order was filled with
watches differing minimally from the originals produced in the 1940s. An
additional order came in and could not be filled, due to the absence of
additional watch cases, and a lack of sufficient demand to justify
re-manufacturing of the cases required. In addition, by then IWC was already
manufacturing the reference # 5251 pocket wrist moon phase watch referred to
above, and they did not feel there was sufficient demand for two such large
watches in their range.

As luck would have it, however, 10 years later the 125
year jubilee anniversary of IWC was approaching, given the founding of the firm
in 1868. A decision was made to celebrate this anniversary with a limited
release of a new series of the large Portugieser wristwatch. Although these were
almost exact replicas of the original circa 1940s Portugieser, IWC considers
them more to be a brand new series of the original than a re-issue. Like the
originals, they utilize the same matte silver-plated dial, gold plated Arabic
raised numerals, and identical, lance-shaped hands with a slightly sunken sub

In 1993, the Jubilee Portugieser was produced in a limited
series and in 3 metals –stainless steel, gold, and platinum. A slight variation
of the dial was present in the platinum version, wherein the color of the
numerals and the hands would match the case color in this version only. The case
is exactly the same size as the original watch made in the 40s, and insofar as
possible, was made using the same tools used in the earlier period. One new
feature would be a sapphire crystal back, to allow unimpeded viewing of the
movement. In addition, there would be special engraving on the movement,
consistent with the special circumstances surrounding the re-release of this

The authors are privileged to own examples of this watch,
whose limited series included 1000 numbered watches in Stainless Steel, 500 in
18 kt. Rose Gold, and 250 in Platinum. Of these, 125 were sold in sets of one
watch of each metal, e.g. one steel, one gold, and one platinum. It is our
understanding that an additional series of 50 watches in SS only was released in
1997 to an Italian watch dealer, in conjunction with the celebration of an
anniversary of the store itself. That model, the so-called Pisa Portugieser, had
the variant dial described above, with black Breguet-style numerals and blued

The Jubilee Portugiesers were released and sold out in
1993. U.S. suggested list prices for these watches were quite expensive; $8,500
for the Stainless Steel, $12,500 for the Rose Gold, and $21,500 for the Platinum
versions. The authors, however, were very fortunate in their own acquisition and
did not pay prices resembling these. Actual selling prices are unclear, since
these watches are unavailable in the “new” market. Very few of these
have been resold, although at least one has come up at auction and a few have
been listed for sale in European watch magazines. The thinness of the market
makes pricing difficult to determine. For an excellent story of one watch
lover’s incessant search for this watch, at almost any price, see William
Massena’s posting “Searching for the Holy Grail” in the TimeZone

The Jubilee Portugieser: Detailed Description

The Jubilee Portugieser measures 43 mm across, including
the crown, 48 mm from end of lug to end of lug, and about 8.5 mm in thickness,
1.1 mm if the lugs are included. Hence, it is a little smaller In cross
sectional area than the reference # 5251 above, but slightly thicker. It still
is very thin for a large watch, and compared to other wide wristwatches of the
1990s (like the Eberhard Traversetolo), it feels light on the wrist.

In addition to the description of the dial above,
“International Watch Co.” is written in script at the upper mid
portion of the dial, and just below, in printed smaller type, is “Schaffhausen..”
The case is a bit more tapered than on ref. # 5251, which in contrast seems
essentially flat, like its pocket watch descendants. In other words, the Jubilee
Portugieser, although large, is shaped like a wristwatch case, whereas the #
5251 Portofino, although thinner, is not. The side of the case at 9 o’clock is
has the number of the watch and the total of the edition. The crown is 4 mm in
diameter and much easier to grasp and manipulate than the crown on the # 5251.
Once again, this watch also, has 2 positions; against the case is for winding,
and pulled out is for time setting. The movement in this watch also hacks,
allowing accurate setting of the watch to a reference time source. The leather
band, a black shiny crocodile, has the same unusual dimensions of the band which
comes with the #5251 above; 22mm at the lugs, tapering down to 18 mm at the
buckle, which incidentally is made of the same metal as the case of the
particular watch.

Like the # 5251, the display back of the Jubilee
Portugieser is made of sapphire crystal, but the front crystal is acrylic. In
the case of both watches, this most probably was done for reasons of economy;
limited runs of huge domed sapphire crystals would be prohibitively expensive to
produce. The back sapphire crystals are flat and smaller.

As discussed in detail below, both watches utilize
essentially the same movement, with the ref. # 5251 having the additional moon
phase complication. The movement in the Portugieser Jubilee is not gilded (like
the one in ref. # 5251), and has been assigned caliber # 9828 in recognition of
its unique decoration in commemoration of the jubilee anniversary. This
engraving includes the following text; “International Watch Co., 1868 –
1993, Switzerland.” Also included is, “Cal. 9828, Nineteen (19)
Jewels, Adj. To Five Pos.” A round stamped insignia, bearing the letters
“IWC” is present just opposite the crown, and this is not present on
the decoration of the movement in the ref. # 5251 watch. Incidental note is made
of the obvious, beautiful jewels -which are set in chatons–and the readily
visible balance wheel in both watches. Observing the movement in motion
approaches a “religious” experience!

Regarding wearability and function, there is really no
comparison between these two watches. The reference # 5251 is at the same time
the more striking and the less wearable of the two. The Jubilee Portugieser
COULD become your “regular” watch, if you like wearing a large watch
and don’t mind that it is manual winding. The ref. # 5251, on the other hand,
seems destined to be treated as a curiosity, for occasional wear by a watch
collector. Both watches, due to their large size, are perhaps a bit more likely
to be banged against their surroundings, as many people owning oversized watches
can attest. In this regard the plastic crystals are both a blessing and a curse;
a blessing since replacement or polishing should be fairly simple and not too
expensive, and a curse due to the inherent ease with which this material is

Movement Notes

Aside from their size and distinctive, yet classic,
styling, the raison de’ etre for both these watches is their movements. The Cal.
9521 of the Portofino and the Cal. 9828 of the Portugieser reflect, in many
ways, the best of IWC’s watchmaking history.

Both movements follow IWC’s watchmaking tradition. They
are both 17 ligne in size (many pocket watches used a larger 19 ligne movement)
and are successors to a history of famous 17 ligne thin IWC movements.

Perhaps IWC’s most classic 17 ligne pocket watch movements
were its companion Calibres 73 and 74 designs, produced from about 1913 to 1930.
The Cal. 74 was a Savonnette or hunter style (with a cover over the dial), which
has the seconds subdial at 6 and the crown at 3 -like the Portugieser uses. The
Cal. 73 was a Lepine or Hunter styled movement, with the crown and small seconds
in a line like the Portofino uses. These movements are noted for their ‘full
bridge’ design, with a divided barrel bar, a large screw-type compensation
balance, a Breguet hairspring and a Swan’s neck regulator. Most noteworthy,
these movements were extraordinarily thin, with a height of about 4mm.

In 1930, IWC apparently replaced the movements with new
designs, which again were 17 ligne in diameter and remarkably thin at 4 mm in
height. Calibre 97, the Lepine style movement, had 19 jewels -two more than most
fine movements of the times. The corresponding Savonnette style Calibre 98 was
introduced in 1936. Production of both movements was quite small –2000 Calibre
97s apparently were produced and only 1200 Calibre 98s. The distinguished
quality of the thin Cal. 98 was reflected by the fact that the IWC owned by
Winston Churchill –given to him by Zurich physicians– had this movement..

The Calibre 97 and 98 movements evolved to the movements
used in the Portofino Pocket-Style and Jubilee Portugieser watches. The 9521
used in the Portofino apparently is a gilded version, and the 9828 used in the
Portugieser was the Cal. 98 apparently with shock resistance added (as the Cal.
982) and with special anniversary engravings (as the Cal. 9828).

mentioned, both movements are full bridge movements, with 6 bridges, if one
counts the balance bridge (technically, the movement has two bridges and four
cocks, since the transmission wheel, fourth, escape, and balance all use cocks
instead of bridges –that is, the plates are attached at only one end). This was
considered an improvement over 19th century full plate and ¾ plate movements,
allowing easier adjustment and repair. Since each wheel usually had its own
bridge, replacement could be done separately. The use of so many bridges,
however, required significantly more finishing.

Looking at Cal. 9828 (see Fig 1.), note that the barrel
has its own bridge (red arrow), the transmission wheel its own bridge (a very
elegant design touch, yellow arrow). The center and third wheel share a bridge
(green arrow, the center wheel pivot at the blue arrow). The rest of the
bridges, moving counter-clockwise, are fourth wheel, escape wheel, balance
wheel. As one esteemed TimeZone contributor has described this design:
“very elegant, very easy to work on, very smart”.

Some Concluding Thoughts

The question “what makes a great watch” is not
easy to answer. A simple answer, perhaps applicable to many endeavors, is
“design and execution”. In the authors’ opinion, these two watches
have both to an extraordinary degree. These also reflect history – of movements
and of the International Watch Company itself. These watches have charm and
style – and just happen to be huge.

It’s a shame that these watches are not easily available today. But perhaps that’s part of their charm as well.

The authors thank Walt Odets and Jack Freedman for their review of portions of this article. However, the authors will accept all blame for errors: which presumably are numerous given the scant information available about these watches and IWC’s history.