The IWC Portofino collection: A historical look at the classic wristwatches from 1984 until today

IWC Portofino

The IWC Portofino collection underwent a major revamp in 2015 but new or old, this classical timepiece has always been a favourite among connoisseurs

Life’s good in Portofino. If you’ve not yet been to this Italian fishing village along the Ligurian coastline, no offence but you’re probably not a Hollywood star. Dotted with colourful buildings lining the shore, the picturesque harbour here has welcomed dignitaries, royalty and numerous across the decades till today. With its easy, laid-back charm so richly redolent of the quintessential Italian dolce vita lifestyle, the village draws the elite and the adventure seekers, and so does the IWC Portofino timepiece.

Portofino Ref 5251
The Portofino was introduced in 1984 and the first model was known as Ref 5251

1984: When It All Began

A classic of the Schaffhausen manufacture, the Portofino was introduced in 1984 and the first model was known as Ref 5251. It was an elegant wristwatch that brought together bold elements (for its time) such as an oversized case albeit pared down by a relatively slim profile, with timeless design features which included long Breguet-style hands and elongated Roman numerals. What most collectors find especially memorable about Ref 5251 is the moon phase complication, displayed in an extra-large aperture at three o’clock, housing a gold moon against a backdrop of blue. The contrast between the white subdial and the golden moon reminds people of a fried egg and thus the watch came to be known as The Fried Egg. Ref 5251 also established the moon phase as the most exemplary complication of the Portofino line.

Against dimension trends, IWC persisted in creating its own style of watches

1970s: Dawn Of The Portofino Pocket Watch-Inspired Design

The design was no coincidence, as the timepiece traces its lineage back to the 1970s when IWC made a pocket watch based on a large Lepine movement. Even as the trends of that era dictated that average gent’s watch should not exceed 36mm in diameter, IWC never shied from producing oversized (again, for its time) watches because of something as ephemeral as trend. Rather, it persisted in creating its own style of watches – a trait that can be credited to the company’s founder, the American industrialist, FA Jones, whose philosophy was based on good engineering and practicality rather than plain ol’ tradition.

Calibre 98800, IWC
A beautiful view of the Calibre 98800 movement through a wide open caseback

2008: Happy 140th Birthday!

In 2008, IWC celebrated its 140th jubilee with a special collection of one vintage re-edition for each of its six product families, including the Portofino. This new-old model brought back the moon phase complication which had been missing in the Portofino line for years. Powered by the in-house Calibre 98800, which is based on an historical Jones calibre, it affords a beautiful view of the movement through a wide open caseback exposing everything including the elongated index.

IWC 37mm automatic
A 37mm automatic mid-sized model for lady connoisseurs of IWC

2014: The Collaboration With Peter Lindbergh

The collection took the spotlight in 2014 when IWC engaged fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh to work with all the friends of the brand to create a stunning photo spread showcasing the natural and timeless allure of Portofino, the location as well as the timepiece. Celebrities including Emily Blunt, Cate Blanchett and Zhou Xun flew into Portofino and pulled off what must have been the most epic photo shoot in watchmaking history.

As IWC gradually expanded its in-house movement production capacity, so did the Portofino become increasingly variegated. The collection today includes a basic three-hand model in different dial colours – this watch serves as an achievable gateway into the brand for many fledgling IWC collectors – a classic two-button chronograph, a moon phase model with power reserve and date indication, and a 37mm automatic mid-sized model for lady connoisseurs of IWC.


2018: What Lies Ahead

The latest chapter in the Portofino’s timeline includes new models made to commemorate the 150th anniversary of IWC’s founding. Like all its counterparts in other product families, the new models are made with white or blue lacquer dials with painted on Roman numerals and completed with leaf-shaped hands. Done in red gold or steel, the entire spectrum of Portofino models has been dressed in this elegant livery, prompting new reasons for the connoisseur, even owners of vintage Portofinos, to take a new and closer look at the rejuvenated designs. It’s like we said, life is good in Portofino and it’s hard to not go back to it over and over again.

IWC Schaffausen