The Archives of Time

The commercial return of mechanical watches has spurred greater interest in vintage watches and styles. That was amply demonstrated at this year’s Swiss shows as numerous brands in all price ranges dug into their archives and debuted watches evoking or replicating successful timepieces of years past. But their motivation isn’t simply mechanical.

“Vintage is very hot, not only in watches, but across several categories, like clothing, handbags, and other accessories,” says Mary Leach, senior vice president of marketing for Movado, whose new luxury-price Circa collection is based on a classic 1920 design. “There’s a lot of inspiration to draw on, interesting details, and designs that are timeless, so it’s natural for watchmakers like Movado, with a heritage going back to 1881, to use that.”

The vintage boom is also market-driven. “More consumers want to own things that define them as individuals,” Leach notes. “A vintage-style watch does that and also has the credibility and prestige of something that endures. Sophisticated consumers recognize great designs of another time and love the statement of stability, heritage, and tradition they make.”

Creative DNA. The 2005 surge in vintage designs is also taking more brands back to their creative origins, “a return to our DNA,” said a spokesman for Ebel, whose revitalized 1911 collection revisits 1980s’ styling. Some examples: Venerable luxury brand Breguet’s La Tradition evokes a 1790 watch by its founder, while IWC goes back to its late-19th-century beginnings with a limited-edition 43 mm wristwatch called F.A. Jones (named for its American founder), based on IWC’s first pocket watch, with a new mechanical movement based on Jones’s first.

Hamilton’s new Hamilton Lady is derived from one of its 1908 women’s watches. Audemars Piguet’s Danaé 1919 interprets a 1919 square-case model with an openwork diamond-set cover, while its Jules Audemars Equation of Time watch incorporates complications and designs of pocket and wristwatches it produced before 1900, in 1925 and in 1928. Rolex’s rectangular Prince is based on a 1920s watch but adds a transparent caseback—Rolex’s first—to reveal the movement. Longines’s Evidenza collection and limited-edition Les Elegantes series replicate watch styles of the 1920s and early ’30s. Cartier’s Tankissime women’s watch is inspired by its iconic Tank watches (introduced in World War I), and is also reminiscent of a 1940s chain bracelet.

Emulating Styles. A number of new upscale watches emulate vintage styles, if not specific watches. F.P. Journe’s Chronomètre Souverain, for example, is inspired by early 19th-century marine chronometry. Movado’s Automatic Cushion watch is based on timepieces of the early 1900s. Carl Bucherer’s Mimi women’s watch, a tribute to the Bucherer family, and Eterna’s 1935 line of automatics and quartz watches are both in the art-deco style of the early 20th century.

The influence on other new models and collections is more generic. Examples include Bulova’s updated classic, retro-style Intermezzo collection; Michele’s women’s Coquette Retro series, with east-west casing; and Guess Collection’s retro-style Dual Cool for women, with rose-gold plating and moonphases. Midprice Nautica has a wristwatch simply called Vintage, based on the look of an antique pocket watch.

But 2005’s nods to past designs aren’t limited to the early 20th century. Corum has brought back its Golden Bridge watch in a limited edition to mark the brand’s 50th anniversary. Invicta’s 52 mm Russian Diver line replicates a 1959 diver’s watch. Oris’s new Frank Sinatra collection uses styling of the 1950s and ’60s, while cK’s very large Ray recalls the 1960s’ mod style.

Reviving past glories also helps brands reinvigorate their product, image, and/or marketing. For example, Hamilton’s 2005 debuts include replicas of a 1910 pocket watch; a 1928 women’s watch; and its Khaki Frogman, based on a 1930s design. Other examples include Rado’s Original—the renamed, rejuvenated, and enhanced DiaStar (1962), the world’s first scratch-proof watch; IWC’s new Ingenieur family of watches (introduced in 1955); and Chanel’s updates of its Première (1987) and Mademoiselle (1990) watches.