Feature: How To Cheat At Vintage
You’re one of two people. You either look at vintage watches as a challenge and an adventure, jumping in and reaping the many pleasures that are to be had by purchasing a watch that comes from an era when mechanical was current tech; or you’re someone who eyes them with caution, hesitant at the idea of owning a watch older than you are. If you’re the latter, it’s understandable—not everyone wants to take that particular leap—but it’s a shame to miss out. There is a third option however: cheat.
Longines Heritage Diver 1970s Chronograph L2.722.214.171.124
To paraphrase a popular expression, Longines has mastered the art of letting you have a vintage watch and wear it, too. This is thanks to the Heritage collection, a range of watches that are made using modern techniques from modern materials—and are protected by a modern warranty for good measure. Every single one is inspired by an actual vintage counterpart, and herein lies the secret of cheating at vintage—buy a modern watch that’s been styled like it’s a half-century old.
Of course, some may find contention with this, particularly when it comes to the much-debated topic of the imitated aging of features like luminous paint, which typically turns a creamy colour with age—but, to be honest, unless these people are willing to pay for you to own and run an original vintage calibre, then it’s none of their business. Horses for courses, as they say. Don’t like it, don’t buy it.
But if you do, then you’re in luck, as this 1970s Chronograph Diver reissue rather aptly demonstrates. It’s a chunky piece at 43mm, as the original was also, and it’s clearly of an era; it couldn’t be any more 1970s if it had brown and orange curtains hanging from the bezel. And aside from the differences mandated by the architecture of the modern ETA 2894 versus the original Valjoux 72, such as the date at six replacing the hours sub-dial and the inversion of the running seconds and chronograph minutes, it’s like looking at a watch that made it fifty years without getting a mark on it.
And if you want to take this watch underwater—it is a dive watch after all—you can, no worries at all. It’s rated to 300m, got a crown-operated internal countdown bezel, SuperLuminova-coated hands and markers, and an all-important water resistant strap. You may be wondering why the bezel counts down instead of up—and this is an original feature—well, with a chronograph minutes counter that already accumulates minutes, it makes sense to give the bezel a secondary function that can be used for, say, counting down decompression stages.
TAG Heuer Carrera Jack Heuer Limited Edition CV2117.FC6182
We’ve gone to the 70s in our journey back in time; why not go back a little further? The 1960s is a period that many vintage watch collectors will be very grateful for, as—like society in general—it marked a time of extraordinary change. The second world war was becoming a distant memory, and people dared to have hope once again. Optimism was everywhere: in politics, in science, even in the music.
This is evident even in the watches. Rolling through the 1940s and early 50s, and the watches were small and demure; they were used to tell the time and to remain hidden when they weren’t. As the decade ticked over, that all changed. We got the Daytona, the Speedmaster, the Monaco. These were watches built with form sitting very much alongside function.
But that didn’t happen overnight—the Daytona had its precursor, the 6238, and the Monaco was preceded by the Carrera. It was after a banned Mexican road race that company head Jack Heuer decided to name his entrant into the 1960s sports chronograph category, and that seemed a rather appropriate take on this brave new frontier of humanity. If the name was good enough for one of the greatest sports cars ever made—coincidentally christened at the same time as the watch—then it was good enough for Jack Heuer.
The Carrera of today may carry the spirit of the watch it owes its existence to, but the design has drifted quite a long way away from the original. In fact, that first Carrera shares more in common with Rolex’s 6238 than it does with the Carrera of today, and so for its 40th anniversary, TAG Heuer decided to remind everyone what it was all about.
Well, sort of, because this refreshingly sized 39mm Carrera appears to carry a case inspired by the original and a dial that takes its cues from the 1970s second generation. This is no bad thing, the bi-compax dial clean and symmetrical, the bright red seconds hand adding a bit of flair to the otherwise monochrome background—all while retaining the classic case design.
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional 3126.96.36.199.01.005
It’s a testament to Omega and to the design of the Speedmaster that so little has changed on this classic watch since NASA sent it to the moon. If you hanker after something a bit vintage, but don’t want to become too friendly with your local watchmaker, it doesn’t get much better than this. Think of the Moonwatch less as a modern re-edition and more as vintage-lite.
The chronograph movement, despite a few changes over the years, remains hand wound, the crystal Hesalite instead of sapphire—the kinds of things many other brands have ditched in favour of more modern materials. In theory, those other brands were right to move on—an automatic movement is easier to live with and a sapphire crystal offers more protection—but, in theory, we have no need to be lingering upon these mechanical relics at all.
Omega gets it. This is no half-hearted attempt to squeeze a few quid out of the past—not that the brand hasn’t tried that as well—it’s a legitimate commitment to keeping alive what made it great in the heyday of mechanical watchmaking. After all, it just might be the most famous watch to have ever existed.
The fact that it’s been in near constant production since forever is also a bonus, so it doesn’t feel like the version you can walk into a shop and buy brand new right now is completely disassociated with the ones that made that incredible journey in the summer of 1969. It’s kind of bizarre when you think about it, like Porsche still making the 356 today with just a few modifications under the hood.
And regardless of the heritage and all of that stuff—if you’re after a vintage watch, it’s probably little things like the plastic crystals and hand wound movements that are all part of the appeal, the sense that, even just for a moment, you’re there, when the future looked bright, living in that time of hope and optimism.
You may, while wearing your vintage timepiece, scoff at the thought of a modern watch offering anything like the same experience, and you’re probably right—but that doesn’t stop a modern reissue being just as good in its own way. Appreciating a mechanical watch comes in many different forms, and if cheating at vintage means avoiding the potential pitfalls of a much older timepiece, then—why not?
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