Plundering the past isn’t a new thing for watch brands; however, recently it seems we’ve reached ‘heritage’ saturation. Going to the Baselworld or SIHH watch fairs is like walking into a horological Downton Abbey, with everything lovingly recreated down to the perfectly faux-aged patina.
But there’s a reason for this, other than vintage style still stealing a march sartorially on new design and a slight reticence to invest in R&D. It’s down to our love of nostalgia too.
“In our modern world, the correct time is ubiquitous, either on phones, computer screens, car dashboards or microwave ovens. The wristwatch is virtually obsolete and has become more of a style accessory searching for relevance,” says Adrian Hailwood, senior watch specialist at leading UK auctioneer Dreweatts.
“Little wonder that both brands and buyers are harking back to a time when watches were important pieces of equipment. Witness the focus on tool watches, diving watches, chronographs or field watches, most completely unnecessary for a sedentary lifestyle, but in their day, watches that could genuinely save lives. We are not wearing timekeepers so much as stories for the wrist.”
Here’s a few whose tales are worth telling.
Tudor Black Bay P01
Not so much a reissue as a resurrection of a prototype, this Tudor divided opinion when it was launched at Baselworld 2019. The original was intended for the US Navy, who were having problems with knocked crowns and easy-to-move bezels on their Submariners. Tudor solved those issues, but the US Navy thought the finished product was too technical, so it was shelved and disappeared into rumour.
Fifty one years later, it’s back. Its bulky aesthetic doesn’t photograph well, but in the metal, it’s actually a rather smart-looking fellow. And has an origin story that would impress Marvel.
Breitling Navitimer Ref. 8061959 Re-edition
Breitling didn’t bother with plundering the past for inspiration with this new Navitimer, it just went straight out and made a replica. Everything from using plexiglass instead of sapphire crystal to replicating the number of beads on the bezel – 94 since you’re asking – has been lovingly recreated.
It even has a hand-wound chronograph calibre, the B09, powering it rather than an automatic one. The only thing that’s different is that you’ve got Superluminova rather than radioactive radium. Because, you know, health and safety.
Seiko Ref. SLA033
If you “love the smell of napalm in the morning”, then this is the reissue for you. The 6105 or “Willard”, on which this is based, was worn by Martin Sheen when he went in search of General Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Luckily the watch has had a few updates since then.
Water resistance has been increased from 150m to 200m; it is powered by Seiko’s 8L35, which is a slightly rougher version of the Grand Seiko 9S55, but it still keeps the asymmetrical case that was pioneered in the original. It’s a watch that proves “everyone can get everything he wants” if that happens to be a cool retro Seiko diver.
Omega Speedmaster Moonshine Limited Edition
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be aware that 2019 is the 50th anniversary of men walking on the Moon. And that those men had Omega Speedmasters in their possession. While this isn’t the reboot of the Calibre 321 every watch geek has been waiting for, it is an exact replica of the BA145.022 which was limited to 1,014 pieces and first presented in the November of 1969 at a dinner honouring the astronauts who went lunar.
Here, bog-standard yellow gold has been traded for Omega’s proprietary Moonshine Gold, while it is powered by a new manual version of the iconic 1861 – the 3861 – that can be seen through the sapphire caseback. It’s a Speedmaster, Jim, but not as we know it.
Longines Heritage Military
This heritage number from Longines takes its inspiration from the pilot’s watches that were used by the RAF during World War II and made on special orders from the Ministry of Defence. This isn’t one of the Dirty Dozen military watches, of which Longines was one, but a remake of the 6B/159 Ref.4830, obviously with some modern tweaks.
Aesthetically not much has changed; however, the case size is bigger – 38.5mm as opposed to 32mm – and it is now automatic rather than hand-wound. What looks like patina is hand-sprayed black paint but who cares when it looks this authentic?
Tissot Heritage 1973
As the name clearly states, this is based on a watch from 1973 – specifically, the Navigator, a very 1970s cushion-shaped chronograph that referenced the brand’s involvement in motor racing.
This was the year Tissot sponsored Team Renault Alpine in the Monte-Carlo rally, for which it took all three podium positions, as well as the Le Mans 24 Hours and Formula 1. The panda dial is very hot right now, while the contrasting brushed and polished steel gives good light play.
Yema Superman Heritage
Another military reissue but this time from France and a brand with which you’re probably not that familiar. Founded in 1948 by Henry Louis Belmont, it has been in space and to the North Pole, but this particular reboot from 1963 was actually supplied to French Air Force pilots, despite, weirdly, being a dive watch.
The original was good to 300m and had a unique bezel-locking mechanism to ensure it didn’t move while the wearer was underwater. Just like its ancestor, this is still good to 300m but now sports a super-reliable ETA movement and dashing tricolour-stitched strap.
Oris Big Crown Pointer Date 80th Anniversary Edition
2018 marked 80 years since Oris first introduced the pointer date mechanism, AKA the only acceptable date function for most watch enthusiasts, to its Big Crown pilot’s watch. To celebrate, the brand didn’t really do much except make the case bronze and the dial a rather dishy green.
Green and bronze is becoming a combination to rival blue and steel but these two particular iterations are a little different form the norm, which, along with upping the case to 40mm, is translated into a whole lot of desirable watch.
There are many things that do not compute, but this kitsch-tastic Bulova isn’t one of them. Released back in 1970, it was intended as an LED driver’s watch – hence the angled display that wouldn’t require you to move your wrist to see the time, while at the wheel. And now it’s back without much tinkering.
While there is a black or limited-edition stainless-steel version, it’s the gold tone that is the one to buy. It’s so retro, you almost expect to see ads for it trailing the next series of Stranger Things.
TAG Heuer Autavia Isograph
Think of this as the controversial mash-up. When TAG Heuer unveiled its new three-hander Autavia Isograph vintage Heuer enthusiasts were vocal. Given its motoring and aeronautical heritage – this was originally a dashboard clock with the name being a portmanteau of automobile and aviation – purists thought this should only ever be a chronograph.
Rather than get one’s Y-fronts in a twist, it’s best to see this as a series of vintage references. The railroad track and big crown from the 1930s; Arabic numerals and date window from the 1960s and the up-to-the-minute Calibre 5 complete with whizzy new carbon-composite hairspring. If you want to monitor your egg’s cooking time, just use your iPhone like everyone else.
Zenith El Primero A384 Revival
This isn’t just a reissue; it is a historically accurate recreation of one of the most noteworthy chronographs ever made. When Zenith launched the El Primero chronograph calibre back in 1969, it made horological history. It was fully integrated, beat at the higher frequency of 36,000vph and had at least 50 hours of power reserve; impressive now but even more so for the late 1960s.
For its 50th birthday, Zenith has used a ‘reverse engineering’ process – namely the digitisation of every piece of the original movement – to ensure every component is faithful to the 1969 version. Zenith has even kept the 37mm case dimensions rather than pandering to modern size preferences. Add to that the retro tonneau shape, panda dial and complementary alligator strap and you’ve got one of the most fabulous, and faithful, reissues of 2019.