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These Watches Take Inspiration from the Past

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Elite Traveler.

It’s not just the world of fashion that’s plundering the past for inspiration— the latest trend in luxury watches is to embrace a vintage look, to effortlessly encapsulate timeless style.

We’re all familiar with the term vintage styling, but what exactly does it mean in the world of newly introduced, vintage-inspired watches, and why is the trend so pervasive today? The answers stem from a host of changes in the overall global watch community, as well as from the economic and geopolitical climates around the world.

While sales of new watches may be dwindling during these challenging economic times, sales of true vintage timepieces are on the upswing. Auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Antiquorum and Phillips by Bacs & Russo claim record-breaking sales each season. Many credit the surge in vintage watch-buying to the increased amount of information available to buyers. Additionally, the high prices garnered at auctions seem to underscore the fact that certain watches, genres and brands hold their value.

More importantly, though, when it comes to new watch introductions, vintage-inspired styles have become one of the most coveted trends on the market. Certainly, watch brands have always celebrated their past, but over the past few years we have seen an almost cult-like following for watches inspired by their roots. As is typical during difficult economic or political times, many people and brands become introspective, looking to their DNA for inspiration.

Today, the past not only inspires watch brands to create anniversary collections revolving around the first-ever watch in a series or line, but also to implement design codes from the past in current pieces. Such codes run the gamut from utilizing classic hands, numerals or logos, to discreet dial motifs, simple complications and sometimes even slightly smaller cases. Additionally, some brands even look to history for motifs and nostalgic elements that translate beautifully as classic or artistic on the wrist.

This year, the retro concept surrounds us in all price categories of the watch field. Perhaps one of the most whimsical recollections of the past comes from British-born Swiss watch brand, Graham, which has turned to glamorous illustrations of 1940’s military plane art for the watch dials of its newest Chronofighter line. The dial of each 44mm watch features its serial number (only 100 pieces of each version will be made), and the hands and numerals are crafted in white Super-LumiNova, reminiscent of pilot watches that needed to be big, bold and readable.

On a more serious retrospective note, Rolex celebrates the 50th anniversary of the famed Sea-Dweller watch with an all-new vintage-inspired piece. The first Sea-Dweller was introduced in 1967 and fast became a legend among professional divers. The new Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller watch embraces design codes of the past but houses a new state-of-the-art movement: caliber 3235. This movement holds 14 patents and is resistant to shocks and magnetic fields. Created in a slightly larger case size than usual, the new 43mm watch also enhances reading of the date with a Cyclops lens on the crystal at 3 o’clock. A certified Superlative Chronometer, the watch is water resistant to 1,220 meters and is equipped with a key feature that made the watch a hit back in 1967: a patented helium escape valve that regulates the pressure accumulated in the case during the decompression phases of deep-water dives. The dial features the name Sea-Dweller in red, as a nod to the first edition.

Omega also celebrates a milestone this year: the 60th anniversary of the Speedmaster. Born in 1957, Speedmaster was the third in a series of innovations the brand unveiled that year. First was the Seamaster 300, followed by the Railmaster, and finally by the Speedmaster. To honor the year of the Speedmaster’s birth, Omega revisited its archives and unveiled limited-edition renditions of each of the three 1957 Trilogy watches, as well as a collector’s limited edition boxed set: the Omega 1957 Trilogy Set. To keep the 1957 Trilogy watches as close as possible to the originals, Omega created 3D models of each via a photographic and printing process.

For those who don’t have the time or inclination to chase down actual vintage watches, these retro-inspired pieces may well also hold their value in years to come— but you can wear them now with a sense of nostalgia.

Images: Top – Graham Chronofighter Vintage Nose Art watch. Middle – Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller, 50th Anniversary watch. Bottom – Omega 1957 Trilogy Set