The IWC Portugieser Chronograph Classic, reference 3903, is exactly that, a classic. The Portugieser Chronograph has been in IWC’s collection from 1996, when it was the Portuguese Rattrapante; the Portuguese Chronograph was introduced in 1998. From the start, it had Arabic numerals and vertically-arranged subdials. In 2013, the watch acquired the combined minutes and hour counter, along with the in-house movement 89361. This year, IWC presents a new version of the watch.
Creative Director Christian Knoop and his team of designers seem to have wanted to give the watch more modern looks. Subdivisions of the seconds have been removed to leave the typical Portugieser railway-track chapter ring. Does anyone ever need quarters or fifths of seconds when they are using their chronograph? IWC thinks not, and I’m sure they did some market research to find out. The date window is balanced by the brand’s logo on the left, but for some reason the logo is slightly above the horizontal median line of the watch.
Three versions, gold, steel, blue dial
The watch is available in red gold with silver-plated dial, with brown alligator leather strap, and in two steel versions, one with silver-plated dial with blue hands and numerals, and one with deep blue dial and rhodium-plated hands and numerals. The gold version remains a prestigious, sophisticated watch: the steel versions are more youthful, and the blue dial corresponds to the latest watch trends. The case is a moderate 42 mm in diameter, 14 mm thick.
Classic 89361 calibre
The IWC Portuguese Chronograph Classic is special for its movement, displayed by the sapphire crystal display caseback and with finish expressing all its engineering fascination. Calibre 89361 is the most prestigious type of chronograph movement, with column wheel and vertical clutch. The latter is a system that provides a smooth start when the chronograph starts running, and no increase in gear-train friction. This in turn improves timekeeping precision by not affecting balance amplitude. It also offers the advantage of being able to leave the chronograph running all the time, without any extra wear. As the chronograph subdial has both hours and minute hands, it can be used to indicate the time in a second time zone.
The balance runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour, 4 Hertz, with automatic winding and a power reserve of 68 hours, just under 3 days. IWC calls the chronograph control mechanism a double clutch system, because the coupling for the chronograph seconds hand is separate to that for the chronograph hours and minutes hands. It is a fully integrated chronograph calibre, so it’s not a base movement plus chronograph module, but was designed from scratch as a chronograph.
The chronograph has the flyback function, so that when it is running, a press on the pusher at 4 o’clock sends all the chronograph hands back to zero and immediately restarts it. This function would make the watch ideal as a regatta chronograph, restarting the chronograph at each sucessive pre-start signal so that you’re bang on time when the one-minute signal arrives. But this watch has none of the nautical feel that hallmarked some earlier IWC Portuguese watches; it has a standard water resistance of 3 bar, 30 metres, resistant to water splashes only and absolutely forbidden to use the chronograph pushers in the presence of water. No SuperLuminova on hands and hour markers. It’s a prestige everyday timepiece, not a tool watch.
References and prices
The Portugieser Chronograph Classic in red gold, reference IW390301, costs 21,500 Swiss francs; reference IW390302, in steel with silvered dial and blue hands, costs 12,200 Swiss francs, and reference IW390303, with blue dial, also costs 12,200 Swiss francs.