For me, the most impressive element of the 2021 IWC Portugeiser Annual Calendar watch replica is the movement. Flip the large 44.2mm wide case on its rear, and through the expansive sapphire crystal caseback window, you’ll see what is a fantastic example of modern mechanical watch movements – the in-house made IWC caliber 52850. IWC did a fantastic job giving us a deep view of the various valleys and mountains within the architecture of the movement. And the movement takes up much of the case, which is also a major plus.
In the link above, you can read our initial aBlogtoWatch report when IWC debuted the IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar around SIHH 2015. Shortly thereafter, we were able to experience what was the only really “new” version of the Portuguese family. We are still not sure it was a good idea for IWC to literally rename each Portuguese watch to “Portugieser.” That latter name might be more “historically accurate” given the history of the brand – but to us English speakers saying “Portugieser” just lacks a lot of class and doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Why would you want to add something like that to a brand’s flagship dress watch collection (no, we don’t think the Portofino is their flagship dress watch)?
Well, the answer is that Portugieser is the exact same thing as Portuguese, but in German, versus… French and many other languages. IWC is Swiss, where most of the watch world speaks French, but IWC is located in Schaffhausen which is near the German border, and they they speak German. So, moving on…
IWC didn’t please everyone when they released the IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar despite the novel movement and the useful complications. Yes, a lot of people did like the IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar, but many complained that the watch size was too large and that it was also very expensive.
Some people also simply didn’t like the dial. It does add some elements to the otherwise clean and nicely balanced classic look of the IWC Portugieser with the in-house seven-day automatic movement. However, part of what the Annual Calendar adds to the IWC Portugieser is the very personification of happiness. Simply turn the dial upside down and you’ll get one hell of a smiley face, with the subdials as the eyes and the annual calendar windows as the happy mouth. See that now? If you are ever having a bad day, you can just wear this watch upside down.
While the caliber 52850 automatic movement is impressive in its performance and its looks, it is rather large, which makes it easier to fit more into it. People prefer large movements today, but most fail to consider that in a sense it is cheating for the brands. Much of what watch companies struggled to do in the 20th century was miniaturize mechanical systems to create smaller and smaller movements. The space in a large-sized movement makes it much easier to include a lot of complications. In many ways, the 52850 is the same size as some small pocket watch movements. Perhaps this is why IWC is able to easily get that wonderful 168 hours of power reserve (one week), while the movement still operates at a rate of 4Hz (28,800 bph).
The IWC 52850 also has some special additions to the Pellaton winding system which are meant to make it more wear resistant. This is all about increasing the longevity of the automatic winding system that we heard had some durability issues in the past. The solution for IWC was to use some ceramic parts for the automatic winding system. One large cylindrical part is easily seen though the rear of the watch and has the rather necessary term “ceramic technology” written on it. However, if this all does in fact make the winding system more durable, then it is a big plus.
I personally think the all-windows display for the annual calendar system is a good thing. With that said, there are some quirks. The way the date is read is not how either Americans or Europeans do it. Americans would say “Thursday, February 2,” and many Europeans would say “Thursday, 2 February.” I am not sure who would say “February 2 Thursday,” as is the layout on the dial. IWC, however, more than likely had technical reasons for this. The date would naturally be the smallest window, so being in the center makes sense for symmetry. I wonder what prevented them from putting the day of the week first rather than the month. This is one of those questions I may never get an answer to.
With all that in mind, I really find reading calendar information via windows much more comfortable in comparison to dials. I agree with pretty much everyone that saying “Annual Calendar” under the windows was probably not necessary. Some designer put it in there to satisfy some aesthetic idea, but it is an unnecessary addition to the dial, in my opinion.
In addition to the annual calendar windows for the month, date, and date of the week is the bi-compax style subsidiary seconds dial, as well as the power reserve indicator. These are pretty much what you know and love from IWC Portugieser models, as are the hands and hour markers. For 2015, IWC offers two dial colors for the IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar, with the lovely “Midnight Blue” as well as “Silver-Plated” dials. The latter is available in both steel as well as the 18k red gold case. The former is available only in steel.
At 44.2mm wide on the wrist, the IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar is not super large but it is up there for a classy dress watch. I don’t think I’d want to go much larger than that. 42mm wide feels a bit better for a watch of this style. I think lots of people will enjoy the 44mm size, but at 42mm wide, IWC would likely attract more people. I do think the large case size also has something to do with the movement, which while great looking, might benefit from some size reductions. Though, who knows, it is possible that IWC could fit the same movements in slightly smaller cases. What really gets the IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar in terms of size is the 15.3mm thickness of the case. Even if 44.2mm wide was a good mainstream size, it feels much larger, given the thickness. If you are up in the air about the watch, I simply suggest trying one on.
IWC excited a lot of people at first when announcing that the IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar would be available in two steel versions. That is all good, but the price for the steel watch is still rather high. I want IWC to sell a bunch of these, but in steel, the IWC Portugieser Annual calendar is the same price as a lot of watches in gold. I suppose the good news is that the gold version isn’t double the price of the steel version.
For all its quirks and controversial design elements, I still find myself liking the IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar Replica a lot – and that is coming from someone who isn’t traditionally a Portuguese watch lover. For me, it hits the right marks of visual presence and complication – and I happen to like the blue dial of the reference IW503502 in steel a lot. There is also the IW503501 with the silver-plated dial in steel, and the IW503504 with the silver-plated dial in 18k red gold.