When Boston native Florentine Ariosto Jones arrived in Switzerland in the mid-1860s to set up a watch company based on the modern industrial techniques of the American watch industry, he found little welcome in Geneva. So he headed east to Schaffhausen, where he found a small community of watchmakers who built timepieces in the German tradition — less artisanal flourish, more overbuilt sturdiness — and a river to power a factory. It seemed an ideal place to put down stakes; Jones settled there, built workshops on the bank of the Rhine and called his new company the International Watch Company.
Throughout the 20th century, IWC watches evolved from its first sturdy pocketwatches to the pilot’s watches worn by both German and British air force flyers to groundbreaking dive watches and antimagnetic scientists’ timepieces. The overriding theme of all of these watches was rugged and innovative practicality. In the 1930s, some Portuguese watch retailers approached IWC with a request to build a handful of oversized watches with accurate pocket watch movements. These large wristwatches went against the trend of the day, which favored smaller diameters, but swimming against the tide was not unusual for IWC and the Portuguese went on to become perhaps IWC’s most recognizable and beloved watch line.
Any deeper and it dips into dive watch territory, a place no skipper wants to be during an afternoon on the water.
At the SIHH watch fair in January, IWC debuted a refresh of its Portugieser (auf Deutsch, natürlich) family of watches. Cases returned to traditional design cues, with more graceful lines and some vintage-inspired dials. New movements and complications were added, like a beautiful annual calendar and a halo timepiece, the grand complication. One piece carried over from the previous generation is the Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph, a decidedly sporty watch with a name that is a nod to both the historic Portugieser family and a 1970s IWC called the Yacht Club.
IWC has always been known for its oversized watches and the last iteration of the Yacht Club Chrono was no exception at a burly 45mm. But the new version received a slight tweak and now comes in at a more svelte 43.5mm, which doesn’t seem like a big change, but on the wrist it is a far better-proportioned and more comfortable watch. The movement inside is IWC’s innovative in-house 89365 calibre, with a healthy 68-hour power reserve and a combined hour/minute counter that makes elapsed time read-off intuitive and quick. With its seafaring name, it stands to reason that IWC fits the watch with a rubber strap and a screw-in crown, giving it a respectable 60 meters of water resistance. Any deeper and it dips into dive watch territory, a place no skipper wants to be during an afternoon on the water.
Since 2011, IWC has been the official timekeeper of the round-the-world sailing Volvo Ocean Race, and the Yacht Club Chronograph, the watch given to the team that sets the record for the fastest 24-hour time during the race. It is a fitting watch for this epic race, in name and design, though, bashing through 40-foot waves rounding Cape Horn, we might be inclined to stow it in our kit bag, given its $12,000 sticker price.