IWC Portugieser IW3716
Ten years ago, if you wanted a chronograph with an in-house, automatic movement for mid-level money—well, it was the Rolex Daytona and not a whole lot else. The Valjoux 7750 chronograph movement was as commonplace as pink on a pig, and that was fine. But now things are different; if you want to stay in the game, you’ve got to think bigger. And the latest entrant is this, the IWC Portugieser IW3716. Should Rolex be scared?
Back in the day, when nobody thought twice about whose movement was powering what, the IWC Portuguese—as it was known then—was widely considered a hot classic. I mean, if you’ve got eyes in your head, you’ll know that the Portuguese Chronograph is an attractive thing to look at, somehow combining IWC’s love of engineering precision with a sense of effortless style that leaves me pondering if there’s as much Italian in this thing as there is Portuguese.
If you’re wondering why it is indeed called the Portuguse—or Portugieser, which is German for Portuguese, because IWC is based in Schaffhausen, in a German-speaking part of Switzerland that is in fact almost entirely surrounded by Germany—it’s because the clients who asked IWC to make the watch that this series is descended from were from Portugal. I guess IWC doesn’t like wasting time thinking of flowery names and just says it how they see it. Ingenieur. Aquatimer. Big Pilot’s Watch. Very literal, no guesswork needed there. You can tell IWC was founded by an engineer.
The Daytona, on the other hand, is a different story. Cosmograph, Le Mans, Daytona … Rolex spent the better part of a year figuring out what its new chronograph should be called, and that’s because they didn’t really know what it was for. Omega did a number on the industry in 1957 with the big, bold, sporty Speedmaster, part of a trifecta of watches designed to put Rolex back in its place after being shown up by the Submariner in 1953, and now it was Rolex’s turn to react.
The Mercury-Atlas 8 mission of 1962 gave Rolex an inkling that the role of space watch might be up for grabs, and so a year later it presented the Cosmograph for the consideration of NASA. Testing began in 1964, but given Omega’s track record, Rolex knew the gig was up. Instead it turned to motorsport, to Le Mans first, then the race it sponsored at the Daytona Speedway, Florida. It was a faltering start for this chronograph icon.
Not so for the Portuguese. It was really rather simple, actually. IWC, as a manufacturer of extremely high quality, chronometer-grade pocket watches, was finding the change in trend to wristwatches, like many other watchmakers, a bit of a challenge. It was the 1930s, the era of art deco, and such were IWC’s new range of wristwatches styled.
But a Portuguese retailer had other ideas. IWC was known for its accuracy and reliability, not for something as trivial as fashion. He saw a market for a watch that combined wrist-worn practicality with chronometer precision, and IWC obliged. The watch was large and simple, big enough to hold a marine chronometer movement and designed as an instrument and not an accessory.
This one watch, this one idea completely reshaped the future for IWC. It would become the benchmark for the Big Pilot’s Watch, set in motion the wheels of IWC’s long and fruitful partnership with aviation. But that was almost a century ago, and times have changed. How does it fare today?
This Portugieser IW3716 isn’t the first time IWC has married this line with an in-house calibre. The 2013 Chronograph Classic fused the calibre 89361 with a revised Portuguese chronograph case, and although a fine watch, it took it in a sportier, chunkier direction to the original. Those who wanted the effortless design of the Portuguese Chronograph with the allure of an in-house calibre would have to wait seven years, one name-change and a whole new movement to get one.
But now, the wait is over. For the people who did, good things, as they say, are here. You know IWC has deliberated over this thing because it is very keen to impress that the dimensions of this revised watch with its new calibre 69355 are just as they were in the outgoing Valjoux-powered version, give or take a few tenths here and there. It’s like an old pair of slippers, familiar and comfortable—but now they’ve got a fancy memory foam insole.
On paper, the IW3716 doesn’t hold a candle to the Rolex. Thirty metres of water resistance versus one hundred; forty-six hours of power reserve against seventy-two. The Rolex has a screw-down crown and pushers, a tachymeter scale, ceramic bezel, antimagnetic balance spring—the list goes on. They’re chalk and cheese, different tools for different jobs. They’re hardly worth comparing, you would think.
Except, I don’t know about you, but I’m not likely to be timing laps or deep-sea diving with my chronograph any time soon. So, when you strip away the intended function of the watches and appreciate them simply as pieces of indulgent luxury, they’re not so different after all. There aren’t many, if any, practical instances where you’d find yourself wishing after one over the other.
So, how do you decide? If you like the look of one over the other, prefer IWC to Rolex or vice-versa, it’s easy. If you’re the kind of person who wants to see what’s going on under the hood, it’s even easier. Rolex may have a few trick features going on in the calibre 4130—but if you can’t see them, there’s very few scenarios where they’d make themselves apparent.
But there’s another string in the IWC’s bow that we’ve yet to mention. These two watches may differ in style and specification, but there’s one assumption on which we’d all expect them to sit level: the price. Here’s the thing: the IWC is almost £3,500 cheaper than the Rolex. And that’s if you can even get the Daytona at RRP. At £7,050, the Portugieser offers a legend of style, an icon of history—now complete with an in-house movement, I might add—for a price that’s more comparative to the Omega Speedmaster than the Daytona. It’s hard to argue with that.
I don’t know about you, but this really feels like one of those have-your-cake-and-eat-it moments. For so long the Daytona has been the de facto chronograph of choice, the Portuguese Chronograph left behind with its Valjoux-powered internals—but not anymore. It’s like a strange kind of revival, like meeting a friend you fell out of touch with so long ago—but now they’ve got a good job and have settled down with a family. And if the Daytona’s the kind of friend who’s always too busy to meet and cancels on you all the time, the Portugieser’s the type that’s not only free to catch up, but will buy you a drink, too.
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