A revival of the classics was the key theme this year at the world’s largest watch fair, Baselworld, this year. Standout vintage reissues and new heritage-influenced models came from the likes of Tudor, Longines, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega and Blancpain.
How does one get the right balance and not look like a poor man’s Don Draper?
Here are five of the best in the men’s arena, and the sartorial appeal of old favourites:
Felix Scholz, editor of the Australian online watch magazine Time+Tide, gives his top laurel to the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Blue, a crisp, icy blue successor to the popular Tudor Heritage Black Bay released in 2012. The hue of the hit of the watch fair is inspired by the blue Tudor Submariner dive watches issued for the French navy in the 1970s.
“The Black Bay Blue has everything going for it and demonstrates that Tudor is doing a really good job of being inspired by the past, but not imitating it,” Scholz says. At under $3000 it also represents excellent value.
Following in its wake are the Longines Heritage Conquest 1954-2014, a faithful reproduction of the 1950s Conquests with a decidedly vintage small size of 35mm in diameter, and the Reverso Ultra Thin 1931 Chocolate, an update of the 1931 Jaeger-LeCoultre icon that uses warm chocolate tones to perfectly complement a pink gold case.
One of the more vibrant examples of the retro reissues is the Omega MKII Speedmaster. The model has a striking orange “rally racing” dial (while also coming in a classic black); and is an homage to one of the less well-known models of Omega’s flagship line from 1969.
Another diving example is the new 43mm-diameter Blancpain Bathyscaphe, a clever modernisation of iconography from their rich diving legacy. The Bathyscaphe has a design and case shape that references the dive watches of the '50s and '60s, but with a 2014 update of an ultra-modern brushed black ceramic case.
Completing the vintage suite
A retrospect design nod can take in any number of the following elements:
One of the most appealing things about a real vintage watch is the patina of the dial and numerals. This occurs from years and years of real-time ageing. Brands are replicating this look by using warm toned off-white for luminous hand and dial markers.
(* Lume is short for the luminous phosphorescent glowing solution applied on watch dials.)
Another way to evoke the past is to create a strap that looks like it has already been around the block a few times and has a few stories to tell. Brands such as Tudor, along with Panerai, are creating straps with a bit of artful deception. Done well, they can accentuate the mood of a watch.
Colour is a clever tool used to pay heed to watch history, whether it’s colours that were popular in the past – such as the bold use of blues, orange and yellows that were seen in the most memorable watches of the 1960s and 70s – or more restrained colours that create an aged feeling, like rich, warm creams and browns.
1940s versus ‘50s to ‘70s
Watches from the ‘40s were important technical instruments, with none more pertinent than those used by military forces in World War II. As a counterpoint, post-war watches of the 60s and 70s, for example, were bolder and more playful, with chunkier cases and greater use of colour. Vintage style can run the gammut from sombre classics to sporty playboy panache.
A matter of poise
The faux vintage and artificial ageing aesthetic effects can be taken too far. How does one get the right balance and not look too kitsch or like a poor man’s Don Draper?
Scholz, who relies on his own vintage Tudor Oyster Prince because it goes with everything and boasts a timeless design, says: “Like everything, it’s important to use vintage design elements in moderation and harmony. Too much patina, too much artificial distressing and you run the risk of looking like a pastiche. The best heritage watches honour the spirit and design of the watches they are inspired by.”
Other brands joining the retro march include Baume & Mercier, which has made waves recently with its heritage-imbued collections that draw inspiration from chronographs of the '30s and '40s. These are expressions of pre-electronic eras, when technical watches were essential instruments, relied upon by everyone from pilots to doctors. The appeal is not just in the style flourish, but the technical finesse and robust heart of the watches themselves.
And style points aside, nostalgia for the past has an appeal in uncertain times.
Scholz says: “In the lead up to the GFC the watch industry was all about bling and ‘bigger is better’ – now, I think, the people are wanting their watches to reflect what were perceived as simpler, more secure times. And that’s also part of a broader menswear trend.”
A watch of a certain age or in tribute to a golden age’s dapper disposition can provide a steadying elan in fluctuating economic climes. A win-win, and a winsome throwback.