Understanding Porsche Design, With the Vintage Titan Chronograph and The Modern Monobloc Actuator
Comparing the original with its spiritual ancestor for the sake of understanding Porsche Design’s DNA
Ferdinand Alexander Porsche was a genius, a visionary. A man not weary of defying odds and venturing into the unknown. Not only is he the driving force behind the legendary Porsche 911 sports car, but he also brought us much, much more. Under the Porsche Design umbrella is a world of luxury items to be found, from travel bags, writing instruments and fashion items to highly technical sports-oriented wristwatches. There’s a clear link to the road and race cars by Porsche but that’s not all. The brand has a very innovative orientation and today we take a look at a vintage world’s first by Porsche Design. We’re comparing the then futuristic Titan Chronograph by IWC and its modern derivative, the Monobloc Actuator 24h-Chronotimer.
A few years ago, we already took an in-depth look at Porsche Design and the brand’s history with titanium. The longstanding relationship between the design house and the unique material has brought forth some very interesting watches, but it isn’t where the story starts. Pitching two of the most emblematic watches side by side we cover the origins and the present-day Porsche Design interpretation.
A quick history lesson
The first-ever product to be launched by Porsche Design was a wristwatch and one that broke new grounds. Headed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche as a separate company next to Porsche as a sports car manufacturer, it opened its doors in 1972. With a clear and ever-present link to motorsports, there’s also that unmistakable Porsche DNA in everything that is done. The Porsche company is among the first to make full use of the newly founded design studio. A watch is commissioned in batches of 20 pieces per year to be handed out to long-time employees as a token of appreciation.
In 1972 the Porsche Design Orfina Chronograph saw the light of day and was the first commercially available watch to have a black coated case. The design was done in-house but at the time Porsche Design sourced the best partners they could possibly find for what was needed, and they landed with Orfina. That chronograph was a perfect interpretation of F.A. Porsche’s philosophy to simplify a product for what it needs to be. Leave out all that is unnecessary and perfect what it for the job it is required to do. The result was a highly legible dial set in a stealthy black case, something that wasn’t seen before.
Parting ways with Orfina after the initial success, by 1977 Porsche Design switched to IWC Schaffhausen as the next horological partner. This started a relationship that would last for 20 years and again sparked several interesting watches. A year into this new collaboration, Porsche Design launched the Porsche Design IWC ref. 3150 with a flip-up two-part case construction in anodized aluminium. The upper part held a watch module and the lower one housed a compass.
The next step in innovation came three years later when, in 1980, Porsche Design introduced titanium for both the case and the bracelet of a watch for the first time. The origins of titanium in watchmaking remains a little bit murky but according to sources, including coming from the brand itself, Citizen was the first to make a case of this space-age material in 1970. Disregarding prototypes and one-offs that never made it to market, Porsche Design however can be credited with the first-ever full titanium watch.
Unique metallurgic properties
The properties credited to titanium have multiple benefits. The chemical element was first discovered in the 18th century in the United Kingdom. The material is anti-corrosive and has high strength with low density, meaning it has a lower specific weight than steel, by about 40%. It is often mixed with other metals to create a super durable anti-corrosive lightweight alloy, which most commonly comes in a matte grey colour.
It wasn’t until the 1950s when the Soviet Union began experimenting with various titanium applications for military purposes. From then onwards, things went fast. The notoriously hard-to-machine material has since played a significant role in the development of aerospace and aviation technology and many other industrial processes. One of the most iconic aircrafts ever made, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, used titanium for about 85% of its entire structure due to its characteristics.
It was only a matter of time before it would find its way into watchmaking. By now, it serves as one of the most common materials for cases and bracelets, next to steel and gold. Citizen is credited as the first in 1970 to produce a case in titanium and put it to market as a commercial product., limited to 2,000 pieces. And while there have been titanium prototypes prior to that such as the Omega Speedmaster Alaska Project, none of which were made available to the public. By 1980 that was about to change with the next milestone watch by Porsche Design.
Porsche Design Titan Chronograph by IWC
In 1980 Porsche Design launched what would not only be the next chapter for the brand, but also for partners involved in the project and the industry itself. As mentioned before Porsche Design was not a manufacture and used outsourced movements and other components. Switching from Orfina to IWC, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche enlisted the Schaffhausen-based brand to do something unprecedented; build a full titanium watch.
That very watch is the Porsche Design Titan Chronograph by IWC ref. 3700 series, with a case and integrated bracelet made entirely of titanium. Not content with producing “just” a titanium watch, F.A. Porsche focused on designing a purpose-built motorsport-inspired chronograph. It had to be a superbly legible and easy-to-use watch. The final design included innovative integrated chronograph pushers that follow the shape of the case perfectly. At first glance, you could even have missed them as they flow with the contours of the case.
The Porsche Design Titan Chronograph by IWC has a case that seamlessly transitions to the integrated bracelet. The dial is deep black with white markings for the time, date and chronograph display. The only other colour used in the watch is the single orange or red chronograph seconds hand, once again connecting the watch to motorsports.
In terms of size, you had a choice between 36mm and 42mm, but that does impact the type of movement. The smaller of the two was fitted with a mecha-quartz hybrid movement sourced from Jaeger-LeCoultre. IWC also used the JLC 361 calibre in the Ingenieur. Its bigger brother came with a Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph movement.
Thirty years after the first Porsche Design Titan Chronograph by IWC, Porsche Design paid homage to the first-ever full titanium watch with the ref. P’6530 re-issue. This almost one on one recreation was not made in partnership with IWC anymore, as the two companies parted ways in 1997, but with Eterna. Side by side, the watches are almost indistinguishable except for a slightly larger 44mm case. It was presented as a limited edition of 911 pieces.
The Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator 24H-Chronotimer
The direct descendent to the Porsche Design Titan Chronograph is, without doubt, the Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator collection. Titanium has always been a big part of Porsche Design and it should come as no surprise the Monobloc Actuator follows the same principles. In more than just material alone by the way, as it shares some other surprising characteristics.
The Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator 24H-Chronotimer was first presented at Baselworld 2017 in a couple of combinations, yet all focusing on one thing; titanium. It was launched with either an integrated rubber strap or the more historically relevant integrated titanium bracelet. At least from the perspective of heritage, it is a more significant combination. As mentioned it shares more than just the titanium case with its ancestor. The Monobloc Actuator once again has a full titanium case with the option of an integrated titanium bracelet, chronograph pushers built into the case and a Valjoux 7750 based movement.
The most important element of the new interpretation of the titanium sports chronograph is of course the monobloc construction with integrated chronograph actuator. No longer featuring two separate pushers but a single piece that swivels when starting, stopping or resetting the chronograph. The seamless integration into the case means that part of the actuator slides over the sapphire crystal. Tolerances are so minimal no dust or water can get underneath it and into the case. The 24-hour scale on the bezel continues over the actuator.
In terms of design, it respects F.A. Porsche’s philosophy too. The dials are as legible as can be, a sunray brushed anthracite base with contrasting white and red markings and hands. There’s also a little bit more modern take on the concept with a sunray brushed blue dial. The design for the case is remarkably similar to the 1980s original yet stands on its own really. The case, which includes an integrated bezel is made out of a solid piece of titanium which is bead-blasted for a matte finish.
Size for the Porsche Design Monobloc Actuator 24H-Chronotimer is a rather hefty 45,5mm in diameter and a height ranging from 15,2mm to 15,6mm depending on the specific reference. Despite these rather impressive dimensions the watch wears well on the wrist thanks to its ergonomic shape and lightweight material. This is very reminiscent of the Porsche Design Titan Chronograph by IWC series it is inspired by.
Other updates include a running indicator instead of a running seconds indicator and a smoked sapphire crystal caseback instead of an enclosed titanium one. Since its initial introduction, the Monobloc Actuator concept has been reworked in several different versions, including fully black PVD coated models on rubber straps or titanium bracelets, much in the spirit of very early Porsche Design watches.
Credit’s where credit’s due
All in all, we have to give credit where credit’s due. Porsche Design was, and always will be an innovative design house and as such an innovative watch manufacturer. True to form, it continues the longstanding devotion to motorsport-inspired timepieces.
Admittedly, in recent years the collection has also expanded into more informal, less sports-oriented watches but at its heart, there’s always that automotive connection. The watches covered here deserve praise, especially the early ones like the Porsche Design Orfina Chronograph and the Titan Chronograph by IWC. We feel they should be regarded as pivotal watches and as such could be considered to be truly collectable.
For more details about these watches, please consult www.porsche-design.com.
The original Orfina Porsche Design 1972 Chronograph was commissioned by several Armies in small batches too. NATO commissioned a set in a light gray coating for their top pilots and some senior officers and politicians.
The Swiss Army commissioned a very small batch in a blackish green covering. This was the ONLY occasion upon which the Swiss Army EVER officially commissioned a watch. This makes the Orfina Porsche Design watch the ONLY official “Swiss Army Watch” EVER!
It was issued to professional Swiss Army Pilots/Instructors but never to the militia.
Fun Fact: At the time, the Swiss Army was just replacing their ancient “Hawker Hunter” jets that were totally out of date at the time.