The year 1995 was as eventful as it gets. It was the year the first Toy Story movie was released, the year Operation Desert Storm officially ended, and it was the last time AFC Ajax won the UEFA Champions League. It also marked the debut of a classic IWC timepiece: the original Portugieser Minute Repeater Ref. IW5240. This was from a time when minute repeater wristwatches were much, much rarer; the Portugieser Minute Repeater was, then, understandably considered a Schaffhausen masterpiece. The fact that the Portugieser Minute Repeater came only two years after the market launch of the Portugieser collection made it all the more impressive. Production of the limited edition model, consisting four variants, was completed in 2005 after a ten-year run.
In 2006, IWC began introducing its second generation Portugieser minute repeaters. The watches are strongly reminiscent of the seminal Ref. IW5240 but with subtle changes to the case and dial to carry it over to the modern era of IWC watches. Three variants of the second generation were released in its lifetime, including a rose gold variant that is perhaps the most evocative and classical of the trio. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the Portugieser Minute Repeater Ref. IW5242-02 in rose gold.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the Portugieser Minute Repeater Ref. IW5242-02 measures 43.00 mm in diameter and 12.50 mm in thickness. Inspired by pocket watches, Portugieser watches do tend to have larger cases. At 43.00 x 12.50 mm, the Ref. IW5242-02 can still be worn with no overhang on the average wrist despite being 1.00 mm bigger than its predecessor, thanks to sharply down-turned lugs. In comparison, its successor, the IW544907 that we know of today, has a whopping diameter of 44.2 mm and a thickness of 14.0 mm – dimensions that will certainly demand a larger-than-average wrist size to wield with panache. With a burly full-gold deployant clasp at the end of the brown alligator leather strap to act as a counterbalance, the IW5242-02 wears securely on the wrist and doesn’t feel top-heavy in spite of its large watch head.
Crafted in rose gold, the case is given a contrast of finishes, from satin-brushed flanks and repeater track to the polished crown, repeater slide, and bezel. Slim and concave in shape, the bezel accentuates the dial with tremendous efficacy. At the same time, the dome-shaped sapphire crystal gives the dial a sense of depth. The original Portugieser Minute Repeater was fitted with plexiglass instead, so the introduction of sapphire crystal to the second generation of repeaters can be seen as an inflection point towards more contemporary design.
The dial is distinctly Portugieser with the minimalist design, applied Arabic numerals, and feuille hands. For this rose gold variant, the dial is silvery opaline in execution, with a seconds sub-dial at 9 o’clock adorned with fine concentric guilloche pattern. The key differences between the dials of the first and second generation Portugieser Minute Repeater watches are found on the ‘IWC’ signature and the minutes and seconds tracks. In the second generation repeaters, the contemporary ‘IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN’ signature is used, whereas the ‘International Watch Co SCHAFFHAUSEN’ signature written in vintage font is used in the first generation. The railway-style minutes and seconds tracks on the Ref. IW5242-02 are another telltale sign of a newer Portugieser watch. Specimens from before mid-00s tend to feature dots for minutes and sticks for seconds.
While there have been changes to the case and dial relative to its predecessor, the movement remains a constant. Driving the Ref. IW5242-02 is none other than the 54-jewel Calibre 95290 that also powered the very first Portugieser Minute Repeater in 1995. In the spirit of the original Portugieser in the 1930s, the Calibre 95290 is inspired from an old IWC Calibre 95 pocket watch movement. The size of the movement is a dead-giveaway, with it filling up almost all 43 mm of the case. And there’s also the slow, huge balance wheel taking up one-third of the diameter of the movement.
All that said, it’s not just about size – it’s also the architecture. The Calibre 95290 has finger-style bridges that are typical of pocket watch movements and is open enough to reveal the entire gear train from the crown wheel, all the way to the escape wheel. It’s even got a proper centre wheel (one that’s actually located in the centre).
The construction of the Calibre 95290 is modular. The minute repeater mechanism – which was designed by Renaud et Papi – is not visible from the sapphire crystal case back as it sits just behind the dial. The chimes of the Calibre 95290 can be described as soft but sweet. It is clearly not going to be the loudest minute repeater around especially when compared to high-end specimens from the past decade, but it’s got a certain musicality to it that will stir emotions amongst connoisseurs. The beauty of the Calibre 95290 is that at the bottom, you’ve got an old-school pocket watch movement, while up top you’ve got “new-school” Renaud et Papi high horology – the best of both worlds.
The finishing on the Calibre 95290 is exemplary as evidenced by what you’d see through the sapphire crystal case back. The bridges are decorated with even Côtes de Genève, with edges beveled and polished. There aren’t just rounded angles on the movement but also sharp outward angles which are harder to execute. Ample perlage adorns the base plate while the heads of screws that secure the bridges are polished to a sheen.
The Competitive Landscape
The minute repeater is one of the most coveted and revered complication among watch collectors and it’s easy to understand why. Firstly, it is difficult to assemble and even more difficult to perfect, making it fairly rare. Secondly, the way it tells time sonically – in an era where time is sterilely displayed on a smartphone – is whimsical and stirs all sorts of emotions. While the number of minute repeaters hitting the market increases with each passing year, the Portugieser Minute Repeater Ref. IW5242-02 manages to remain more than relevant with its elegant dial design and fascinating movement. Only 250 pieces of the watch was ever made and production ended thirteen years ago in 2009. To buy one of these beauties today, you’ll have to dive into the secondary watch market.
And if that isn’t your thing, why not take a chance with the current IWC Portugieser Minute Repeater? The Ref. IW5449-07 gives off a similar vibe to the Ref. IW5242-02 and would look indistinguishable were it not for the relocated seconds sub-dial and the larger case. Beating inside the case however is an in-house manufactured IWC movement, also pocket watch-inspired: the Calibre 98950. The Calibre 98950 has a three-quarter style bridge, a true center wheel, and an immense balance wheel beating at 2.5 Hz. The minute repeater mechanism, once again, is found underneath the dial and cannot be seen through the sapphire crystal case back. The sound profile of the repeater is similar to that of its predecessor: soft but sweet. Priced at CHF91,000, the Ref. IW5449-07 is limited to 500 pieces.
For a minute repeater that is a tad dressier, look no further than the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin. With such a clean and pristine dial, and a thickness of just 8.1 mm, minute repeater wristwatches don’t get much more elegant than this. In spite of its slim case, the Patrimony Minute Repeater Ultra-Thin produces very audible chimes with musicality that is almost unparalleled in the industry. The platinum variant of the watch made its debut in Watches and Wonders 2015, seven years ago, but remains the gold standard for minute repeaters today. Priced at well over half a million Singapore dollars when first introduced, this – like the IW5242-02 – is another rare bird that can only be acquired in the secondary market since it is no longer part of the current Vacheron Constantin collection.
The Ref. IW5242-02 is true to its DNA. From its case size and dial design, to its pocket-watch-esque movement, the piece serves as a bridge between the first and latest generations of Portugieser Minute Repeater watches. It is a watch that oozes class in spite of its sizeable proportions. It does not seek attention, but reserves all pleasures associated with it – mechanical or musical – for its owner to enjoy in private.