For many years IWC has held steadfastly to its motto, “Engineered for Men” and its instrument watches have garnered the lion’s share of attention. There’s another side to the firm, though, that’s expressed in the Portofino wristwatches.
The Portofino collection got its start in the early 1980s and the ur Portofino is of course the famous ref. 5251 Portofino Moonphase, which itself is the younger sibling of a pocket watch –the ref. 5250, which went into production in 1979. The ref. 5251 is still one of the most collectible of all IWC wristwatches and with good reason; it’s a benchmark for style whose character is still a part of the Portofino collection today.
The Portofino collection got a refresh in 2011, including the most basic model, the Portofino Automatic. The case was slightly upsized, from 38 to 40mm and while an increase in case diameter’s usually a cause for hand-wringing among horological traditionalists, in this case it actually improved the proportions; the watch now actually seems thinner, though the overall thickness hasn’t changed (9.5mm.) Other changes include a thinner bezel, the addition of (very subtle) numbers to the minute track, and the replacement of the double marker at 12:00 with an XII, as well as an inverted VI at, natch, 6:00. The previous black-dialed version also had a white date disk and the new version replaces this with a black date disk –a better fit for the watch.
Though this is arguably the most “entry level” of IWC watches (you could also make a case for the Mark XVII) it’s more than just an entry level watch. Over the last several months, I’ve worn it almost every day and it wasn’t a conscious decision to do so. It’s just one of those watches that finds its way naturally onto your wrist in the morning. The watch is comfortable, very accurate (my sample runs, consistently, about 2 seconds fast per day when left dial up at night, which is excellent performance) and it’s extremely versatile, going from work to weekend attire without missing a beat (as it were.)
There’s a lovely, subtle sunray pattern on the dial which picks up the light beautifully.
The dial furniture –hands, markers, and date display –are executed cleanly and without fuss but there’s a rounded elegance to the hands that’s carried through to the markers and curves of the case. There’s just a single, Teutonically restrained deployment of color in the red 60 at 12:00. Setting the watch is simple and straightforward; there’s a stop seconds function and the hands move without backlash, nor is there any jumping of the hands when the crown’s pushed back in.
The date jumps instantaneously –on mine, at about two and a half minutes after midnight, which is also very good performance.
A word about the movement –it’s the automatic IWC calibre 35110; this movement is provided by a manufacturing partner, amd runs at 28,800 vph with a 42 hour power reserve. This is one of those situations that points out that while “in-house” certainly has its value and appeal, well-handled movements from good sources have their place as well; IWC of course has an impressive roster of in-house calibers but also has a long history of taking outsourced movements and tweaking them (sometimes extensively –probably the most dramatic example is the ETA 7750 which IWC metamorphosed into the super-complicated Il Destriero Scafusia —a grand complication created in 1993 for the 125th anniversary of the firm, and which included a rattrapante chronograph, minute repeater, secular perpetual calendar with four digit year display and a flying tourbillon; the movement was needless to say changed almost out of all recognition. The Valjoux 7750 never had it so good.) The IWC calibre 35110 is an excellent performer –marked “adjusted to 5 positions” on the bridge, and signed “International Watch Co.” on the rotor. Finish is clean, workmanlike and unfussy, well suited to the pragmatic dignity of the watch itself.
It’s hard to imagine what more you could ask from a daily wear timepiece –it’s solidly built, and while it’s unobtrusive it also has enough presence and idiosyncratic character to make checking the time what it should be –one of life’s small but distinct and consistent pleasures. It’s charming, durable, and will reward reasonable care with a lifetime of service. There’s something to be said –very much so –for a watch like this, which could easily be the only watch you’d ever need.
IWC Portofino Automatic, Ref. 3565 in steel on a black alligator strap. Movement: IWC calibre 35110, 25 jewels running at 28,800 vph, 42 hour power reserve, adjusted to 5 positions, with stop (“hacking”) seconds. Case, 40mm x 9.5mm; sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on both sides; water resistance 3 bar (30 meters.) $4500 as shown.