Hands On With The IWC Portofino 39mm Chronograph

by Matt Clymo

It’s not often that we get a dress watch to review, and even rarer that I would wear a more dressier watch around for a week or so, but the IWC Portofino held it’s own and even got out to an event or two where I could really show it off.

What We Love

  • Clean easy to read dial
  • Classic looks that won’t date
  • 39mm size wears well

What We Don’t

  • Lack of see through case back
  • No Date display
  • Not easy to read in low light with no lume

Overall Rating: 7.75/10

  • Value for money: 7/10
  • Wearability: 8/10
  • Design: 8/10
  • Build quality: 8/10

The Portofino collection has been around since 1984 in the IWC catalogue, and offers an alternative to the Portugieser range for those wanting a slightly smaller and more elegant piece on their wrist. If you’ve kept up with my other articles around dress watches, many of you may know that I’m not massively into dress watches but was keen to try out the new IWC Portofino Chronograph 39mm.

It’s a watch that grows on you. If you’re like me and not naturally inclined to wear more formal watches, then you really need to spend time with the Portofino to appreciate it. You probably should also be the person that can either pull off a more dressier watch with casual clothes, or have places to wear this, like more formal events, business attire at the office or even just a nice dinner out where you can admire the watch in the dimmer restaurant lighting. Given I’m not an office worker anymore, I opted for the event and dinners out options to show this piece off, and I also tried to wear it casually and I think i got away with it!

The Design

Let’s start by looking at the design of the Portofino. These are classically designed, elegant watches that in the words of IWC, “reflects the sophisticated lifestyle of the Mediterranean” which I tend to agree with, and should I find myself sipping a latte or wine overlooking The Med on a nice summer’s day in Italy, then I may just be wearing such a watch. I instead decided that I would try and emulate that Mediterranean vibe by spending time at my favourite café/restaurant at the marina overlooking Moreton Bay. It’s not the same, but will do for now!

The dial is clean and easy to read, and the rose gold hands and indices do make it feel quite sophisticated on the wrist. The hour sub-dial and small seconds dial at 12 and 6 o’clock make a nice change from standard chronograph layouts with either 2 or 3 sub-dials at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock and I feel gives the dial a little more balance. These are actually nicely accentuated by being inset from the main dial, with a circular graining pattern being offset by the 18k rose gold ring acting as the border to each.

The case is a classic dress design, with the polished stainless steel catching the light no matter where you are, and the vintage style lugs help add to the look and feel of the watch, which was designed to emulate the old style pocket watches turned wrist watches. The inner seconds track helps to ensure that when the chronograph is running, you can easily read each individual second on the dial once stopped, and the seconds and minute hands are slightly curved at the ends, which helps to ensure accuracy when reading, and eliminates any parallax error that can occur.

The pump style pushers enhance the watch’s vintage feel, and are nice and easy to use, with the large ends making starting, stopping and resetting the chronograph easy, and the push in crown makes adjusting the time relatively effortless, however, this mean the water resistance on the watch is only 30 meters, and with the lack of a screw down crown, I’d caution the usage of it around water – anything more than some splashes from daily chores or washing your hands would make me think twice about my choice of watch for the day!

How It Wears

The IWC Portofino Chronograph wears very well. This is due to several factors. The dimensions of it being 39mm in diameter, 12.4mm thick, and only 45.8 lug to lug means it wear compact on my 17.5cm wrist. The other is the lug design, being thin and quite curved, it allows the strap to sit on the wrist flush and hug the sides of the wrist, without the need to bend or give, which some dress watches with leather straps need.

The alligator strap is fairly durable, and whilst stiff when you first put it on, it doesn’t take too long to mould to the shape you want it. The pin buckle clasp if fairly sturdy as well, and I had no issues with doing it up or undoing it, and the design means that the strap sits nice and tight in the clasp with very little protrusion out of it, whereas some clasps can make the strap sit up and not flat.

The flat caseback sits nicely on the back of the wrist, and with minimal engraving or embossing, there is nothing to catch hairs on at all, which I felt is always a good aspect when you have a few hairs on the wrist like me! Having the approximately 12mm case height allows it to wear nicely under a shirt or jacket, which I feel is essential for any dress watch.

The Movement

One of the downsides to the IWC Portofino Chronograph is the fact that it has a closed case-back, hiding the calibre 79350. Now the 79350 isn’t an in house movement per se, I still would like to see it and the decorative finishing, albeit machine finished. The WIC Calibre 79350 is based off a standard Valjoux 7750 which many brands still use today, and rightfully so as it’s a solid workhorse movement.

The chronograph functions smoothly and whilst the 79350 doesn’t feature a column wheel, instead a cam system, the action on the stop/start is seamless. The addition of the oscillating pinion and lateral clutch in the movement also assists in alleviating any jumping in the chronograph, which is where the column wheel and vertical clutch normally comes into play.

As mentioned previously, the Portofino Chronograph has a push down crown, not screw in, so water resistance is not great, but will handle most day to day activities around the house should this be your daily wearer.

Final Thoughts

The IWC Portofino Chronograph 39mm is a good looking watch that will stand the test of time style wise. At 39mm and not too thick, it’s easy wearing and can pair with most outfits. I dressed it down most of the time I spent with the watch, and whilst not a dress watch guy, I got used to wearing it with jeans and a tee. Maybe the watch helped to dress up a casual outfit instead?

The one sticking point I do have with the watch is the price. At AUD $9,900 retail, I felt it’s probably on the higher side when you look at the specs. Just shy of $10,000 for a time only chronograph, not date, closed caseback and a modified Valjoux 7750 movement seemed a little high when you can compare to other brands out there with in house movements, date, higher water resistance and display caseback. We reviewed the new TAG Heuer Glassbox not long ago, and this would seem slightly better value given the above, albeit a little less dressy. However, in saying this, IWC is a great brand and whilst the movement on the Portofino isn’t in house, the modifications that IWC make to it certainly make up for it and if you’re after a nice looking dress watch, then the IWC Portofino certainly ticks lots of boxes.

Reference: IW391406


  • Case: 39mm, 12.4mm thick, 45.8mm lug to lug
  • Case: Stainless Steel
  • Dial: White with sunray finish, inset sub-dials with circular graining and rose gold hands and indices
  • Crystal: Sapphire glass, convex, antireflective coating on both sides
  • Water resistance: 30m (3BAR)
  • Movement: 79350 Calibre, Automatic, self-winding with 31 Jewels and vibrating at 4Hz (28,800 vph)
  • Power reserve: 44 hours
  • Bracelet: Black alligator strap with high polish pin buckle clasp

Australian Recommended Retail Price: AUD $9,900

Availability: Available through IWC boutiques, authorised dealers and online at iwc.com

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