When you think of mechanical watches that have made a significant contribution to the genre over the years, Porsche Design is probably not a name that immediately comes to mind. The Rolex Submariner? Sure. The Breitling Navitimer? Absolutely. The Porsche Design Chronograph I? Wait, what? It’s true, though: The company best known for its cool sunglasses and high-tech, over-engineered accessories has also made some pretty impressive contributions to the luxury watch industry over its 45-plus years of history. It all started with its first ever product, the all-black Chronograph I in 1973.
From Porsche to Porsche Design
We’ll come back to the watches in just a minute, but it’s probably worth having a brief chat about the company itself first. In case you’ve ever wondered, Porsche Design isn’t just one of those soulless marketing companies that licenses an existing brand name and then churns out products under said name despite not having any relationship to the brand itself (i.e. Luxottica Group, for example). In a refreshing change of pace, its connection to the Porsche automotive brand is actually a genuine one. It was founded by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche in 1972, designer of the era-defining Porsche 911 in 1964 and grandson of Porsche founder, Ferdinand Porsche.
Following the incredible success of the 911 (and some changes to Porsche company policy), F.A. Porsche decided to set out on his own and establish a design studio in 1972, allowing him to fully explore his passion for product design. His first release was the Chronograph 1, powered by a Lemania movement. Restrained yet highly functional, what really makes this particular model stand out from the pages of watchmaking history is the fact that it was the first-ever all black watch of its kind. Offered in a black steel case with a matching black bracelet, it was quite literally unlike anything anyone had ever seen before and paved the way for the plethora of black PVD and DLC coated watches we know and love today.
Porsche Design meets IWC Schaffhausen
Things really started getting interesting for serious watch lovers, however, when Porsche Design entered into a design partnership with Swiss watchmaker, IWC Schaffhausen, in the late 1970s. At the time, the industry was still reeling from the profound and prolonged impact of the quartz crisis, which had already brought a number of big names to the verge of bankruptcy (and had pushed several more well and truly over the edge). A brand’s survival hinged on its ability to be creative and innovative, to prove the value of its products to its customers. It’s for this very reason that many consider IWC’s decision to partner with Porsche Design a turning point that helped the brand weather the storm that was pummelling so many of its peers.
Their marriage made perfect sense: Both companies were known for their focus on practicality and functionality, which is a nice way of saying they shared a very ‘German’ approach to design. Heavily influenced by the principles of Bauhaus theory, which emphasizes function over form, they would go on to create several co-branded models together, three of which we are highlighting here today.
Porsche Design Compass Watch
First on our list is the Compass Watch, introduced in 1978. As you have probably already guessed from the name, this clever design incorporates a liquid-filled compass into the case, hidden away under the dial and movement. To the casual observer, it appeared you were just wearing a stylish, if slightly severe looking, Swiss-made watch that displayed the time and date in a very easy-to-read fashion. Of course, on the off-chance you happened to find yourself lost in the jungle, you could simply flip the top half of the case up and reveal the compass beneath.
As for the genesis of this idea, F.A. Porsche felt that, while few people need a compass every day, it can be life-saving in those situations when it is needed. Thanks to IWC’s expertise, the case was crafted from hardened aluminum, a light-weight, anti-magnetic material which would not interfere with the compass while also ensuring comfort on the wrist.
Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph
Next on our list is another ‘first’ in mechanical watchmaking. The Titanium Chronograph, released in 1980, was the world’s first titanium wristwatch. It’s hard to believe now, given the abundance of titanium watches on the market, but back then this was a really big deal. No one else was working with titanium; it was expensive, difficult to manufacture, and was used exclusively by the aerospace industry. Not one to shy away from a challenge, IWC’s engineers pioneered new techniques for working with the exotic material, bringing Porsche Design’s vision for a sleek, minimalist chronograph to life in spectacular fashion.
There was more to this watch than just the futuristic material used in its construction, however. It also boasted cleverly integrated pushers (a wonder of design engineering still found today in the Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator series) as well as a matching integrated titanium bracelet. This was arguably the watch that first put the collaboration between Porsche Design and IWC on the map, leaving no doubt as to the impressive expertise of both companies.
Porsche Design Ocean 2000
The last watch on our list has perhaps the most interesting backstory of the three models discussed and certainly would not have been possible without the first two. Although IWC is best known for its pilot’s watches, the Schaffhausen-based manufacturer—in cooperation with Porsche Design—was also something of a pioneer in the field of diving watches. In the late 1970s, the German Federal Armed Forces sent a request to the company for a robust and technically innovative service watch that could meet some very specific requirements. These would become known as the Ocean BUND watches and were produced in very limited numbers.
Thanks to the work IWC had already been doing with Porsche Design, particularly with regard to anti-magnetism and the use of titanium for case construction, they were well-suited to create exactly the type of watch required. It needed to be extremely robust and lightweight, water resistant to a significant depth, and anti-magnetic. There was also a special model made specifically for a small, elite diving unit within the German Navy called the Minentaucher, who wore the watches as they undertook the extremely dangerous work of clearing active underwater mines. This particular model had to be completely anti-magnetic to avoid the risk of setting off the mines, which are sensitive to the proximity of metals.
Recognizing the commercial appeal of this type of diving watch, IWC and Porsche Design created the Ocean 2000 for public consumption. They took what they learned from the military watches and placed it in this consumer model: It was anti-magnetic as well as water resistant to 2,000 m (6,561 ft)—the highest level of water resistance available at the time. It also featured an integrated bracelet with a hidden clasp as well as a velcro dive strap for wearing with a wetsuit. A pioneer in its field, this model can be seen as the forerunner to IWC’s modern-day Aquatimer collection.
If you thought Porsche Design was just about sunglasses and high-tech luggage, think again. Not only has the company played its part in the history of modern watch design, it also continues to produce its own technically and aesthetically impressive models to this day, though now in partnership with Eterna.
Discover these unique Porsche Design timepieces in the Chrono24 Brand Boutique.