It is no coincidence that latitude is indicated in degrees, minutes and seconds. —Patrice Quesnel, Captain of Cousteau Foundation’s turbosail ship, the Alcyone
Time and marine navigation have long been intertwined. If you know the time, and the speed, and direction of your boat, then you can calculate distance. If you have the exact time and latitude, then you can deduce the longitude. Armed with this knowledge, you can conquer the seas.
Among the most successful were the Portuguese. Under Prince Henry the Navigator, the African Coast and a large part of the Atlantic were mapped out. Those who explored these parts were Vasco de Gama, the first to go around Africa and bring the Portuguese fleet to India; Fernão Mendes Pinto, Diogo Zeimoto, and Cristovão Borralho, who reached as far as Japan. Other famous Portuguese navigators were Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus.
Five centuries after the Portuguese went on their world-changing expeditions, two more men from that seafaring nation would become involved in the birth of an iconic nautical instrument. At the tail end of the 1930s, two Portuguese businessmen wanted to import watches with the precision of marine chronometers. They ordered timepieces from the watch house in Schaffhausen, which was still known as the International Watch Company. In 1939, IWC unveiled the special wristwatch it named the Portuguese.
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2000 Portuguese Automatic.
2010 Portuguese Yacht Club set.
2005 Pink Gold Portuguese.
2011 Portuguese Perpetual Calendar.
2010 Grande Complication.
The first Portuguese used a hunter movement, normally used in pocket watches. This particular movement had the crown on the right-hand side, typical of wristwatches. The 1939 model featured a railway track chapter ring, with the seconds in a subdial at 6 o’clock, presented in an elegantly rounded steel case. Small details, like the appliqué Arabic numerals, the feuille hands, grooved bezel, and slightly recessed strap horns, gave the Portuguese a functional yet graceful mien, something that all iterations of the watch have maintained in the past 70-plus years.
Over the decades, notable versions of the Portuguese include 1967’s Yacht Club Automatic; the Portuguese Perpetual Calendar in 2003; the limited-edition F.A. Jones Hand-Wound in 2005, in honor of the company’s founder; and 2008’s Vintage Portuguese Hand-Wound, whose looks harkened back to the original 1939 model.