Nostalgia and romance are often what vintage watch lovers are really looking for. The idea they can have something designed in the past for a particular purpose, as is the case with sports or complicated watches, is very appealing.
The romance arises from being able to imagine being in that time, doing those things, having those responsibilities, and of course, wearing the said watch when it was new and relevant. At the best of times a vintage watch can evoke all of these emotions. But at the worst of times a vintage watch can appear to be an out-dated, poorly made, and unwearable vestige of the past.
Enter the retro reissue – a concept that’s alive and well in the world of luxury watches today. The past decade has seen an enormous uptick in watch brands releasing specific or amalgamated remakes of products from the past.
Flavours of retro reissue watches can vary greatly. Some are direct replicas of past models – a few rare ones even complete with original vintage movements – others are modernized versions of historical models with contemporary materials, movements, and sizes. While still other retro reissues are not meant to emulate any specific historic watch, but are inspired by one or more classic designs to create something entirely new.
The good thing about retro reissue watches is designs that have endured or even become iconic can be made available in modern guise. Vintage watches don’t offer much in terms of contemporary convenience, production quality, and materials, much like how classic cars lack air-conditioning and cruise control. Thus, at the best of times a retro reissue watch is a storied and elegant look from the past, in a modern skin that makes it suitable for issue-free wearing today. Here are five of the best that take different approaches to a retro reissue.
Among the more popular retro-reissue watches today is the Tudor Heritage Black Bay. The “Heritage” part of the name should be a hint that it is a retro-reissue piece. The watch isn’t actually an emulation of a specific historical model produced by Tudor, but rather a design study in combing various aesthetic elements of Tudor’s military diving watch heritage.
One of the brand’s bestsellers, the Black Bay is popular because of its vintage looks in a 41mm steel case, with a very modern in-house automatic movement. Tudor proved that a new watch with a nostalgic look is exactly what many wearers (especially the younger ones) want. In many ways the Black Bay is an archetype for the modern retro reissue when it comes to incorporating vintage style into a new watch, without specifically reproducing a timepiece from the past.
The Longines Avigation Watch Type A-7 1935 is a successful retro reissue for an entirely different reason, even though it shares the concept of a classic look in a modern skin. This retro reissue is popular because it recreates a curious design quirk from the past.
Some historic pilot watches had dials that were pivoted from the vertical in order to allow aviators to read the time without issue given the position of their arms. In the Avigation Type A-7 1935 we see just that, as the dial is turned to the right offering a more lefty style orientation for hands that are on a wheel or control stick.
The cathedral hands, honey-coloured Super-Luminova, and Gothic hour numerals are attractive and uncommon by today’s standards, even if they were common in the 1930s. The watch is also a mono-pusher chronograph, a fairly uncommon complication today, which further adds to its vintage appeal. In this instance it is not a design with a universal appeal that wins, but rather focusing on an iconic look with a twist, literally.
Zenith’s Heritage 146 celebrates chronographs from the 1960s in a way that fans of the brand have been eager to see. The watch is modestly sized, colourful, while being simple in execution. It is a study in what an attractive retro chronograph’s design should be, with just a little bit of modern sex appeal and pizzazz – and let’s not forget the famed Zenith El Primero chronograph movement. The value here is in both the colours and the elegant nature of the design that ironically is more formal than sporty by today’s standards.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control “Sector Dial” offers an additional lesson in producing a successful retro reissue watch. While many timepieces today are about luxury, bling, and lifestyle, watches like the Master Control Date recall a time when a watch was primarily a tool, being straightforward, functional and relatively affordable. Tool watches are perennially popular because they lack pomp and pretense; they aren’t trying to impress anyone, but rather end up looking good in the course of doing their duty to be legible and useful. While today’s Jaeger-LeCoultre has a collection of watches that often contain diamonds and exotic complications, the Master Control Date is a blast from the past with a reminder that timepieces are there to be relied upon and appreciated first and foremost.
TAG Heuer’s collection of retro reissue watches is coming into its own to an extent that the company is using a different logo for them. Before there was “TAG”, it was just “Heuer” – that’s the same historically correct logo you’ll see on today’s retro reissue watches from the brand.
These timepieces are successful specifically because they listen to their fan base. TAG Heuer asked the collector community via an online poll which vintage Autavia watch the public would like to be produced again. A vote yielded the result – the Autavia 2446 “Mark 3”.
Another point of success is marrying this vintage style look with a modern movement produced in-house on an industrial scale, resulting in affordability and reliability. With this move TAG Heuer is making it clear that the watch is not purely a nod to the past, but rather a product of today with a totally modern movement, but one that chooses to take the form of something nostalgic.
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Ariel Adams – United States
Ariel Adams started writing about watches in 2007, almost immediately after finishing law school. Since then he’s never looked back – combining his business skills with an enduring passion for timepieces and all things “well-made”. In addition to running the world’s highest-traffic online watch magazine, Adams also wrote a book, The World’s Most Expensive Watches, and also lends his voice to leading watch and thought publications around the world.