IWC Portofino Ref. 5251

Except for a bit of introduction, I am going to allow this extraordinary watch to speak for itself. The source of my factual information is Terry Russell's fanatical and entertaining opus The Elusive IWC 5251, as well as Michael Friedberg's and Ken Fox's apparently no longer posted IWC's Pocket/Wrist Watches. This watch, the original Portofino and ancestor and inspiration for IWC's more accessable line of Portofino dress watches, evidently dates from 1981, and was in serial, if sporadic production until perhaps 1999. Mr. Russell indicates that apparently for reasons of corporate secrecy, the actual production history will not be revealed by IWC until it is a decade removed from the catalog. My personal theory is that they fear that when the world realizes the incedible marketing miracle this watch represents, the company will be stuck with a few hundred-thousand unsold and unsellable "ordinary" watches, much as when inexpensive but ultra-accurate quartz-regulated watches were introduced.

This watch houses the ancient IWC caliber 9521 pocketwatch movement, which is 16 3/4 lignes (about 38mm diameter) and only 4.15mm thick, surely an achievement which must have been the culmination of many years of development and tweaking. While this movement might have been placed into a case less monstrous than the actual 46mm diameter chosen, my surmise is that having a thinner bezel would lead to an unbalanced look, and since the case itself is only 6mm thick, structural integrity might even have been a concern. Besides being highly refined, the 9521 is luxuriously equipped with Breguet spiral hairspring, a huge Glucydur balance and (yea!) Incabloc shock protection, and maintains a power reserve of about 48 hours, running at 18kbph. The dial is matte-enameled, all markers sharply and meticulously silk-screened, and the moon and stars adorning the midnight-blue field are evidently of gold; they are extraordinarily and beautifully reflective indeed, and produce an impression of movement and color that I have certainly been unable to capture. Finally, the highly-curved and low-mounted lugs seem to allow the Portofino a comfortable, if not necessarily flattering, perch upon even my very modest wrist, for which I am most grateful.

Aesthetically, apart form the remarkable and enchanting view through the back, the whole design strikes me as quite delicate, even feminine. The bezel, lugs and watch itself are very thin, the wispy hands and numerals, the gilding of the hands at the mounts, and of course the teeny globe-adorned crown, all conspire in my mind to form an impression of fragility, not exactly what I associate with IWC products. Oh well, perhaps this too shall be explained when that decade is gone and the veil of secrecy is lifted...

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Here are a couple of pictures which allow comparison to another very large, but somewhat more common watch, the Portugueser 2000, which is 42mm diameter and 13.5mm thick:

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I hope you enjoyed this!
February 12, 2002

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