It’s one thing to be the sad perpetuator of unrequited love — there are volumes of poetry, particularly good ones by Pablo Neruda and Edna St. Vincent Millay, that do just that — but worse than this is to gain purchase to nirvana, to that ethereal transept of cosmically aligned love, only to — in the poignant words of Mr. Bruno Mars — feel like you’ve been “locked out of heaven”. And worse yet is when you realize that the love you’ve lost is a direct result of your own profound dumb-assitude. For many years, this is how I felt every time someone brought up the subject of the IWC Portuguese Jubilee ref. 5441. I would feel the cruel sting of loss, made far worse by the understanding that it was I alone, the fool, the idiot, the moron, who had brought about this terrible shame. The ref. 5441 would be the subject of impassioned chest rending whilst deep in Burgundian cups, as the full moon shone cruelly down, revealing my full culpability in its loss.

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What exactly is the story of the legendary ref. 5441? In 1993, to celebrate the brand’s anniversary, IWC released a limited run of thin three-handed watches that would become one of the most iconic and collectible timepieces of the 20th century. This watch, known as the Portuguese Jubilee, was an extraordinarily faithful homage to the very first original IWC Portuguese watches created in the ’30s. Portugal in the ’30s was actually one of the world’s hottest horological hotbeds. So it was that two Portuguese businessmen made their way to Schaffhausen and requested a particularly intriguing watch that completely militated against the current trends in wristwatches.

In the ’30s, men generally wore small wristwatches, in keeping with the prevailing aesthetic themes of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods. But what these two gentlemen, Rodrigues and Teixeira, wanted was something totally different. They wanted a wristwatch that featured the type of precision normally found in a marine chronometer. Previous to the electronic era, every boat featured a highly accurate clock known as a marine chronometer, used to calculate longitude. IWC agreed to take on the project, but realized that the only way to achieve this goal was by using one of their pocket-watch movements. They selected the beautiful cal. 74 — a distinctive “full-bridge” movement where each key component of the train is mounted on a separate bridge, making it easier to service and adjust. The resulting watch was — in the context of the time — simply massive at 42mm in diameter. In contrast, a Cartier Tank from that period measures 33mm across its widest point.

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But at the same time, the Portuguese’s slim profile and stunning design were supremely elegant, making it something of a delicious contradiction. Even today, looking at a vintage ref. 325 watch — characterized by its regal leaf hands and remarkably modern Arabic hour indices, counterpointed by small, circular minute markers, a vast expanse of dial and an ultra-sleek bezel — simply takes your breath away. In the ’40s, the cal. 74 was swapped out for an improved version — the cal. 98. Production of the Portuguese started to dwindle in the ’50s, very conceivably because the size of the watch was not in keeping with the prevailing trend for small, thin watches. But a few watches were produced for the German market well into the ’70s, using the cal. 982, which added enhanced shock protection to the balance wheel. All in all, only 675 Portuguese watches were ever made, making these vintage timepieces extraordinarily rare.

Legend has it that during a visit to the manufacture, IWC’s watchmakers spotted a client wearing an original ref. 325 watch and were inspired by the sheer originality of the timepiece to create a tribute to it for the brand’s 125th anniversary. Like the original watch, the Jubilee featured the cal. 982 pocket-watch movement, and 1,000 in steel, 500 in gold and 250 in platinum were made. As a young collector, I found myself completely overwhelmed with affection for the watch. In fact, I even remember the first time I saw one — on the wrist of an ear, nose and throat doctor in Singapore, who was in the process of shoving a camera up my nose and into my sinus cavity. I remember leaping out of my chair, camera dangling from my nose, screaming, “You’re wearing the Portuguese Jubilee!” as he recoiled in shock from the deranged patient pointing spasmodically at his wrist.

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The problem was that the ref. 5441 watches were quickly snapped up soon after their launch; and later, when I began to consider buying one, the residual prices of these watches started to rapidly ascend. In 2000, IWC would launch another iconic timepiece, the Portuguese 2000, featuring its in-house, automatic seven-day-power-reserve cal. 5000, and usher in the era of the modern Portuguese. But for me and legions of horological devotees, the ref. 5441 is the watch that is the forefather to all modern Portugueses, and the most important link between this model’s past and its future. And while I was particularly enamored with the rose-gold watch, it would take another full decade after its launch before I was able to locate and afford a steel watch instead.

Until one day, in a moment of profound myopic foolishness demonstrating the full folly of my youth, I sold it to fund the purchase of another IWC watch — the famous Deep One diving watch, featuring an integrated bourdon-tube depth gauge. Amusingly, this watch now sits on the wrist of my business partner Bruce Lee, as I gave it to him to replace the exact same watch that was unfortunately stolen from him.

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As the 10th anniversary of REVOLUTION began to roll around, and I started to contemplate asking IWC if they might consider creating a REVOLUTION-edition watch for me. I should pause to say that of all the watch CEOs in the industry, Georges Kern has been one of our greatest supporters and an unwavering champion for us. He has also been one of our generation’s most dynamic leaders in the luxury industry. He has taken IWC from a brand that created beautifully engineered, rugged, utilitarian timepieces, and made it one of the most institutional luxury-lifestyle brands on the planet. Importantly, he has revolutionized the watch industry by using the communication tools of the contemporary world, in particular television and cinema, to grow an all-new audience for IWC. He is also a man whom I bicycled with during a nonstop 1,000km race around Switzerland, and I can tell you from experience that his leadership skills extend far beyond the boardroom. But anyone who knows Georges knows that he can also be an intimidating man. So it was that I trepidatiously approached him with my idea. Incredibly, he replied, “We don’t do this. It’s an absolute exception, but as you know, we love your magazine. It was the first magazine to feature style, fashion and watches, which was absolutely where we wanted to be. So it’s just perfect for us. That’s why I am saying yes, and that’s why we are doing this. We love your readers and we want to do something special for them and for you. This is the first time ever in our history that we are doing a limited series for a magazine.” I was simply blown away by his incredible kindness.

So design drafts started going back and forth between IWC’s product team and us at REVOLUTION. Then suddenly, I received one of the most incredible emails I’ve ever read. Georges wrote, “We were looking around for the plans for the 5441 and we found someone in the service department who was completely crazy about this watch. And he explained that we can provide 10 new old-stock red-gold cases, 10 dials and 10 acrylic crystals — basically the parts to recreate 10 more 5441 watches.”

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Everything in this 10-piece REVOLUTION 10th Anniversary Special Edition ref. IW544001 is identical to the original Jubilee watch, except for the movement, which is a variation of the original cal. 982, the cal. 98200. Stefan Ihnen, the brand’s technical director, explained, “We make only very limited quantities of the cal. 98200 every year — between 20 to 30 movements. It’s used wherever an IWC watchmaking class is taking place, anywhere in the world. That’s why a lot of collectors will have had the opportunity to know this movement well, even though, as we said before, it has never appeared in a commercial IWC watch. Besides the engraving done on the ratchet wheel of the barrel, the only difference is that these movements are regulated to the same high standards that we apply to our minute repeaters and tourbillons. It’s the same guys working on them and the same quality of production and checks.”

Needless to say, by the time you read this, I and nine other very lucky people will be wearing these REVOLUTION IWC Portuguese Hand-Wound ref. IW544001s on our wrists. And this time, mine is staying with me till the day I shuffle off this mortal coil.

* One piece of the IWC Portuguese Hand-Wound Special Edition “REVOLUTION 10th Anniversary” will be auctioned off to benefit the charitable organisation Operation Smile, which provides free corrective surgery to children around the world suffering from cleft-lip and cleft-palate facial deformities.

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THE IWC PORTUGUESE HAND-WOUND SPECIAL EDITION “REVOLUTION 10th ANNIVERSARY” ref. IW544001

Unique edition of 10 pieces, available exclusively at selected IWC flagship boutiques (Singapore, New York, Hong Kong). Retail price CHF 22,000 (SGD 29,000/EUR 18,400/USD 23,000). On display from Wednesday 17 December at the IWC boutique in ION shopping mall, Singapore

Movement:  Mechanical, hand-wound in-house cal 98200, 2.5Hz (18,000vph), 18 jewels, 46 hours power reserve, small hacking seconds, Glucydur® beryllium alloy balance with high-precision adjustment cam on balance arms, Breguet hairspring, plate and bridges made of nickel-silver, barrel ratchet wheel with special engraving “REVOLUTION • 10th ANNIVERSARY”

Case: 18-carat red gold

Dial: Silver plated, Arabic numerals in 18-carat red gold

Strap: Brown alligator leather, pin buckle in 18-carat red gold

Glass: Acrylic glass (PMMA)

Back: See-through sapphire-glass

Diameter: 42 mm

Case height: 9.8 mm

 

 

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