Borrowed Time: A Week in Geneva with the IWC Portofino Hand Wound Eight Days

You’re spending a hectic week in Geneva covering the SIHH watch salon and jumping from presentations to meetings to dinners to après-dinner cocktails with nary a moment to wind your watch. What better timepiece to have on your wrist for such a mission than a luxurious yet versatile watch equipped with an eight-day power reserve? Read on to discover more about my ticking travel companion for SIHH 2019, the IWC Portofino Hand Wound Eight Days, with a striking sunburst blue dial.

IWC Portofino Hand Wound 8 Days Blue Dial - Front
The IWC Portofino Hand Wound Eight Days with blue dial debuted in 2018.

IWC revamped its Portofino series, which debuted in 1984, in 2011, which does not seem that long ago but for an industry in which reinvention can occur several times within a decade, the longevity of its classical design almost qualifies it as timeless. The very first Portofino Hand Wound Eight Days watch was introduced as the flagship of the modern collection, with different dial and strap versions added in the years since, including this very au courant blue-dialed model in 2018, whose release was perhaps a bit overshadowed by IWC’s bigger story that year, the launch of its Jubilee Collection of 150th-anniversary-inspired limited editions.

Compared to IWC’s sportier options, like its Pilots (which took the spotlight at this year’s SIHH) and Aquatimers, the Portofino is suitably dressy albeit not shy or overly subtle: the case dimensions are a very contemporary 45 mm in diameter and 11.7 mm thick, with a gleaming mirror-polished finish. The bezel is thin to allow for an expansive dial, and frames a somewhat low-slung sapphire crystal with only the slightest hint of curvature. The profile is an elegant one, with the shiny case middle tapering off into the very thin teardrop-shaped lugs, which call to mind those of early pocketwatches converted by owners into wristwatches by soldering wires to the case. (Of course, since it made its debut in the 1980s, long after the reign of pocketwatches, the Portofino model has always been a purpose-built wristwatch.)

IWC Portofino Hand Wound 8 Days Blue Dial - reclining
The wide dial features bar indices and leaf-shaped hands.

The dial itself displays a not-quite-symmetrical but distinctly harmonious arrangement on its midnight blue field. One applied Roman numeral XII stands at attention at the top, while thin bar indices mark the remaining hour positions, expect for 3 o’clock, where a date aperture appears, and 6 o’clock, which is dominated by a small seconds subdial. At a close glance, the attention to detail in each index is evident; some are slightly shorter to accommodate other dial elements, like the 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock indices that butt up against the edge of the seconds subdial, and the 9 o’clock marker that gives way slightly for the power-reserve display for which the watch is named. Small white hash marks, and Arabic numerals at the five-minute positions, comprise the minute track on the dial’s periphery.

IWC Portofino Hand Wound 8 Days Blue Dial - power reserve
Red highlights are judiciously used in the power-reserve display and small seconds subdial.

The Portofino’s leaf-shaped hour and minute hands are made of the same polished steel as the case and hour appliqués, including the small hand on the seconds subdial and the indicator hand on the power reserve. The date window, with its black numerals on white background, takes a bit away from the harmony of the dial but is very legible — often more so, in fact, than the time reading itself. The hour hand and minutes hand are a bit too similar in size for my taste: the tip of the hour hand overlaps some of the longer indices rather than just brushing their edges, which might have made for a more intuitive reading. There is also no luminous material on the Portofino’s dial, an aesthetic decision that preserves this model’s classical elegance but hinders legibility in the dark; the shiny hands and indices, so bright against the dark blue dial in the light, get a bit muted in low light.

More attention to detail is found in the subtle and judicious use of bright red for the “60” on the small seconds scale and for the “red zone” low-energy sector of the power reserve, i.e., the final two days. As one would expect, winding this watch’s movement to fuel up the full week-plus of running autonomy takes longer than winding up a watch with a more conventional power supply; I think it took me at least 80 turns of the small, fluted crown to move the little hand all the way from the rightward, red-colored edge of the arc to the “8” at the leftward edge. Once this was done, however, I was set for the entire week with a watch that kept very reliable time while also looking really good with the “business casual” outfits that one is expected to don during the week of SIHH.

IWC Portofino Hand Wound 8 Days Blue Dial - seconds subdial
The polished steel indices are shorter where they intersect the 6 o’clock subdial.

The movement that supplies all this power is IWC’s manufacture Caliber 59210, a hand-wound movement that promises 192 hours, or eight days, of reliable, accurate running time when fully wound, all stored in a single, oversized mainspring barrel. It’s a breathtakingly large pocketwatch-style caliber, nearly 38 mm in diameter, with an enormous mainplate embellished with côtes de Genève dotted by rubies, and engraved with golden text, including IWC’s “Probus Scafusia” motto in the center (It’s a Latin phrase meaning “good, solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen,” in case you were wondering, and IWC has been using it since 1903). There’s no wasted space inside this large case, either, as the movement reaches all the way to edges of the thin, screwed back bezel that frames it.

Among the movement’s technical talking points are its indexless balance, on view in the lower right sector, which uses a Breguet spring and beats at a frequency of 28,800 vph. It is distinguished by its ability to stop after eight days, the period for which it is designed to have a constant driving torque, even though the movement itself, IWC says, could run at a slightly diminished accuracy for a ninth day (good to know, since I was concerned that harsh winter weather back here in the U.S. might cancel my flight back from Geneva and give me an additional day on the ground there). Of course, thanks to the prominent power-reserve display on the dial, the wearer will always know when it is time to rewind the watch. A hacking seconds, or stop-seconds function is also incorporated for a precise re-setting of the time.

IWC Portofino Hand Wound Eight Days - back
The movement is IWC’s hand-wound Caliber 59210.

The black alligator leather strap with tone-on-tone stitching — crafted, as are most IWC straps these days, by the maestros at the Italian shoemaker Santoni — completes the picture, fastening this big watch to the wrist with a basic pin buckle of polished steel, which is engraved with a small and subtle IWC logo. A knee-jerk reaction here might be wishing the strap was of blue leather instead, reflecting the dial color as on so many of the blue-on-blue timepieces of recent years, but I give thumbs up to the choice of black, which gives the watch a more classic versatility that a more monochromatic look would not; I wore it with black, navy, and gray suit jackets and it accessorized perfectly every time.

The IWC Portofino Hand Wound Eight Days retails for $9,900.

IWC Portofino Hand Wound Eight Days - wrist
The watch proved a great match for various types of formal wear.
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