Despite Portugal’s important maritime history, it was neither Vasco da Gama nor Bartolomeu Dias nor Fernão de Magalhães (Magellan) who inspired a modern-day nautical watch with a 77-year history. Rather, it was two Portuguese businessmen who, in the late 1930s, approached the luxury watch brand, International Watch Company, and requested wristwatches that were as precise as marine chronometers and were also easily legible. Traditionally, this level of precision was only achieved in bulky pocket watches. But the International Watch Co. (today known as IWC), made this happen. The result: the IWC Portugieser Chronograph Watch.
What was revolutionary about this particular watch was that it incorporated a traditional 74-caliber hunter pocket watch (with the crown on the side, rather than the top like a normal chronograph) into a wristwatch that could be used whilst sailing.
When it hit the market in 1939, it was about 35% bigger than most other watches at the time. It has been argued that the IWC Portuguese (Portugieser, in German) was the first of today’s large watch dials. The Portuguese line continued, over various editions, throughout the next few decades, until its sales started to dwindle in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1990s, an IWC watchmaker by the name of Kurt Klaus (who loved the old Portuguese watches) decided to bring back the collection by introducing new models, just in time for the company’s 125th anniversary in 1993.
Today, the Portuguese IWC 3714 (cover image) is the best-selling IWC model of all time. I’m not saying that Portuguese people influenced Swiss watch-making and the design of modern-day timepieces, but… oh, wait, I just did.