IWC Portugieser Automatic 40 Hands-On

In case you missed out on the quirky watchmaking trivia behind the Portugieser name, it was a watch that was never really meant to be. It started in the 1930s as a commission from a pair of Portuguese collectors. They wanted a wristwatch that ran like a pocket watch and IWC took them at their word. They packed a pocket watch calibre into a then-oversized 38mm wristwatch case, and the Portugieser was born.

Since then, despite being ostensibly a dress watch it’s always shared the same kind of large, oversized proportions as IWC’s sports watches, falling into the no-man’s land between the Portofino and Pilot. Now, the Schaffhausen-based watchmaker’s looking to change that by downsizing its elegant-yet-sporty collection to a svelte, eminently wearable 40mm.

Yes, it’s still not the now-diminutive 38mm of the original 1930s models, but by today’s standards 40mm is about as small as any non-archival designs are likely to get. Throw in a minimal dial with a sub-seconds ripped straight from the vintage Portuguese Reference 325 and you have a watch that’s perfectly in-line with current retro guidelines.

It’s still not small; at 12.3mm thick, it’s nicely chunky, more suited to the boardroom than a charity gala. It does sit comfortably all the same, with an ergonomic shape and comfortably standard alligator strap. Just don’t go thinking of it as a sports watch at all; it might be chunky but it only has 30m water resistance. It’s not a deal breaker, just be warned. The watch is a solid weight and for me is an ideal work watch, tasteful without being flashy. That’s particularly true of my favourite piece in the new 40mm collection.

IWC Portugieser Automatic 40 Hands-On

There are four pieces in total, three of which are in steel, one of which is in rose gold. Of those three steel models, two have white dials, one has blue. Of those two white dials, one uses gold indexes, the other uses blue. The steel and white with blue indexes is, to my mind, the perfect expression of casual, everyday elegance.

In some lights the blue-applied indexes appear black, but get some direct light on them and they shine as brightly as the matching hands. Blue and white is a classic colour combination for a reason.

IWC Portugieser Automatic 40 Caseback

The movement inside isn’t new here, though it’s the first time it’s been in the Portugieser collection. The 82200 automatic calibre was launched in 2018 and is one of the most efficient winding movements out there, with a partially ceramic Pellaton system winding up a solid 60-hour power reserve.

IWC Portugieser Automatic 40 Hands-On

You can see the movement through the sapphire caseback and it’s well worth taking a look at; it’s a cut above your usual ETA clones and hammers home IWC’s horological chops. The Portugieser itself may be simplicity itself; what powers it is not.

Alongside the 40mm, IWC has released a raft of smaller Portugieser models, fitting even a perpetual calendar in a nicely-sized 42mm case. The update brings the collection as a whole in line with what most of us are looking for in a watch like the Portugieser where previously its size has put some collectors off – myself included.

IWC Portugieser Automatic 40 Hands-On

Starting at £6,450 for the white and blue, steel-cased version, the Portugieser 40mm is a solid reason to invest in IWC beyond the Big Pilots of the world. You’d be hard-pressed to find a reason not to wear it. Except near water, of course.

Price & Specs:

Model: IWC Portugieser Automatic 40
Ref: IW358303 (stainless steel / silver-plated dial, gold-plated hands
and appliques); IW358304 (stainless steel case, silver-plated dial, blue hands and
appliques); IW358305 (stainless steel case, blue dial, rhodium-plated hands
and appliques); IW358306 (18-carat 5N gold case, silver-plated dial, gold-plated hands, 18-carat gold appliques)
Case/Dial: 40.4mm diameter x 12.4mm height, stainless steel or 18k gold (ref. IW358306)
Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)
Movement: IWC calibre 82200, automatic
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds
Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 60h
Strap: Alligator leather
Price/availability: £6,450 in steel and £14,900 in 18k gold

More details at IWC’s website.