Searching for the Holy Grail:
The IWC Jubilee Portugueser

Posted by William Massena on March 21, 1998 at 23:30:21:

Well, I promised to myself that I would post this story one day if it had a happy ending. (In advance, my apologies for my poor English)

It all started in late 1993 in a plane ride between Geneva and Zurich. Before my flight I managed to stop by a couple of watch stores and to pick up the latest catalogues from the major watch manufacturers to savor during my 45 minutes trip to Zurich. I was reading the 1993/94 IWC catalogue when the IWC Portugeiser caught my eyes and captured my heart. She (a watch is feminine in the language of watchmakers) was exactly what I was looking for in a watch. She was huge but discreet, robust yet classic, a somewhat minimalist (some would call it unfinished) dial that gave her a certain charm which I could not resist. Her movement was an old pocket watch caliber which gave her some aristocratic cachet. She was “The Watch Fatale”

When I arrived in Zurich, a started to run up and down the Bahnofstrasse looking for my beloved and I soon realized that she was gone. She had been snatched by the Watch Robber Barons. A store clerk even laughed at me when I mentioned her name, telling me that a lady of this class is never shown in a window display and that I was much too young to even lay my eyes on her. After much begging, he managed to show me a model which was on hold for an anonymous rich collector. My hands touched her in her magnificent (and heavy) platinum dress for about 30 seconds knowing that she will never belong to me. It was the first but may be not the last time that I was holding a 1993 Portugeiser in my greasy paws. I promised her that I would track her down but I also knew that she was a watch beyond my means. My only chance was to find her in a simple steel robe and to imagine that a rich Tycoon would abandon her for a pittance.

Between 1993 and 1997, I looked for her at her usual hang out places; Sotheby’s, Antiquorum, and major watch dealers. Sometime, I would stumbled on her picture in those glossy auction magazines but I was too often a day late and always a dollar short. One day in 1997, an IWC dealer from San Francisco got his hands on a Pink Gold model and she was “exchanged” in three days for a ransom of $8,000. He had posted her picture on TZ while I was traveling to Europe. But my spirit was up, she was back and was infatuated again. October of 1997, a major vintage watch dealer from Dallas was selling a SS model for $2,995, a sensible soul (Michael Friedberg) posted on TZ her Internet address and price but again some mysterious kidnapper had stolen her at that bargain price. I pleaded with the Dallas dealer claiming that I was calling from the Far East (NYC is the Far East for a Dallas Dealer) and to give me the name of the criminal. He did not oblige. So, I started my own private investigation, the kidnapper had bought the watch a couple of hours after Michael’s post so I based my list of suspects entirely on the eminent TZ regulars (sorry guys!). The El Primero suspect was that infamous IWC dealer from San Francisco, his motive: Profit and Love , his alibi: none, Furthermore he had inside knowledge about the true value of this watch. A phone call was in order, a soon as I mentioned her name he immediately acknowledge that indeed he was the kidnapper. I asked him to set a ransom, but alas she was not for sale. She was for him and he would not share or give her away for all the gold in the World. I pleaded in vain, he knew his luck and he would not let her go. but he promised that he would let me know if he grew tired of her.

After this letdown, I decided to tell a couple of Tzers that I was hunting for this beauty and I soon received a couple of leads. Unfortunately, again I was always too late. In December of 1997, a famous watch store in Italy had ordered from IWC a Special SS model of 50 pieces to commemorate its 50th Anniversary. After a little phone call, I was told in Franco-Italo English that the watch was oversold. In February, Michael Friedberg, mentioned in a private Email that there was a Pink Gold Portugeiser coming up for sale at the NY Christie’s auction at a ridiculous price. They did not even mention her maiden name in the catalogue which may give me a little advantage. Two weeks before the auction, an Italian friend mentioned that he had located one of these new Commemorative Italian Portugeiser and had deposited in my behalf a refundable deposit. I was ecstatic now she was waiting for me and I won’t let her go. Now I had a choice, would it be the Pink dress or the colder steel? I walked serene in the auction room and I let my wallet bid instead of my heart.

She is laying on my wrist as I am typing this long post, I waited 4 years and 4 months. I am admiring her case, she is pretty in pink. She could have been Rubens Muse but she is mine.

Big is truly beautiful

William Massena

PS: For a History and Critique of the IWC Portugeiser check Michael Friedberg’s post in the Archives.