Portugal - Portuguese Icons

February 2003

For the average watch addict, it surely would be a matter of pride to have a high profile mechanical wristwatch brand from his own country – and even more so if it was from a 'manufacture'. But these days, with a few exceptions, only the Swiss and the Germans, plus some Russians and Japanese, can brag about it…

In Portugal it is the same. Portuguese watchmaker Antoine de Macedo, based in Paris with two well-known stores at Rue Madame and Boulevard St. Germain, is preparing to launch exclusive timepieces with his own signature and movements in the near future… but it just isn't the same as having a nationally established brand (not related to any fashion brands) that can catch the attention of the local watch community.

Previously there was a national brand that produced time instruments for train stations and wall clocks – called Reguladora. Now there's an affordable brand – Zeit – that started as a project by three Portuguese men involved in the watch market. The idea recently became a reality with a collection of quartz wristwatches with an international touch: Danish design inspired by the actual trends in more expensive models and components from several other countries. The prices range from 125 to 150 Euros… which is about the same price bracket as the watches from Eletta, another Portuguese brand of the same kind (quartz) created some decades ago.

So, for the more demanding Portuguese watch aficionado that is looking for that emotional bond with national themes, the solution is to settle with limited editions from haute horlogerie brands specially made for Portugal. And the idea has been cleverly exploited by Portuguese distributors.

Amongst those limited series, the most celebrated are the Reverso models from Jaeger Le-Coultre's Portuguese Art series – each year, one famous Portuguese painter is invited to conceive a time related theme that is reproduced on the back of 50 Reversos with his signature on the dial. The number one watch is auctioned and the money goes to a charity foundation appointed by the artist himself.

The series started off brilliantly in 2000 with Júlio Pomar, who selected an old fable originally from Aesop and 'recycled' by La Fontaine: The Tortoise and the Hare. It was a truly fabulous analogy to describe the relativity of time. In 2001, Manuel Cargaleiro came up with a colourful abstract image that included a spring, planets and Portuguese tiles. Last year, London-based feminist Paula Rego chose a psychologically dense theme containing sexual innuendo: a woman holding a pelican that is sticking its beak on her mouth! Paula says that the relationship between master and servant has been evident since the beginning of time, hence the choice. This year's author will be José Guimarães.

Besides that eminent cultural series, there have been several others inspired by the commemorations of the 500th anniversary of Brazil's discovery, or the discovery of the sea route to Asia. Portugal's ancient and fearless navigators and overseas colonial empire from the 15th until the 20th century are still a part of the national consciousness…

So, we had a Franck Muller's Portuguese Universe with three time zones (Portugal, Brazil and Macao); Zenith El Primero and IWC Portuguese (hey, that's a model inspired by Portugal!) chronographs with special dials designed by the Portuguese distributor himself (Mr. Jorge de Freitas, an artist in his own right who graduated from the Parisian art academy La Grande Chaumière); and also various Longines and Tissot series.

In a different context, the national soccer craze was behind limited editions by TAG Heuer endorsed by Luís Figo (1997) and Rui Costa (2002) and also a Franck Muller Benfica when the popular Lisbon team won the indoor event in Geneva sponsored by the Master of Complications.

So… will I ever get my name on a prestigious dial? Who knows – maybe this column at Europa Star will make me famous enough…