Take, for example, the latest high-profile model from Tudor, a company itself undergoing what might be called a re-issue, having been in the shadow of big brother Rolex for recent decades but now striking out with more distinctive designs. Its Chrono Blue comes with a 42mm case and a bi-directional rotating bezel. That in itself is a clue to the philosophy behind this watch, since modern bezels (especially on diving watches) typically rotate only in one direction, to reduce error in measuring elapsed time. Indeed, the watch is almost a part-for-part remake of Tudor’s 1973 Monte Carlo chronograph. It even uses the same movement. Small wonder, in fact, that the company should call it the Heritage Chrono Blue, a successor to the Black Bay diving watch re-issue of last year that helped reboot the trend.
Heritage - aka making a song and dance about how old your company is, or digging around in the archives to recreate some golden oldies - has become something of a widespread marketing ploy over recent years, used most notably by style-conscious industries as diverse as automotive, fragrance and fashion. But arguably it was the watch industry that assailed the idea first, when in 1996 Tag Heuer made a re-issue of its 1960s/70s Carrera and Monaco models. Their ‘retro’ appeal and old-time charm made them immediate hits and chimed with the rise of vintage as a credible style category in its own right, but also made the pieces accessible to those without the money or time to find an original.
Baselworld suggests that those brands with the heritage to tap are now doing so. Among the bigger names with their own look into the past are the likes of Longines, which made a splash when it re-issued its Legend Diver in 2009, and has now added three military watches based on models from 1938; Vulcain has the honestly-named Nautical Seventies, a limited-edition version of the diving model it introduced in, as suggested, the 1970s; and, with one of the stand-out pieces of Baselworld, Omega, has its Bullhead version of the Seamaster, first issued in 1969. Expect this one to get a lot of attention - and for the originals to suddenly rocket in value.
According to Ulrich Herzog, executive chairman of Oris - which has based its jazz-inspired Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and its forthcoming John Coltrane models on watches from the 1960s and 1970s - there are good reasons for the heritage revival, and it’s not lazy watch designers. One may well be the reassuring nostalgia in such products - the tried and tested that salves the current tough economic climate (providing you can still afford to buy them). These are evocative pieces. But for many brands, also caught in the downturn of course, it is a way of underlining their pedigree. “It’s a way of pointing out that you have the history to explore, which gives credibility,” Herzog says. “If a company like ours has the heritage, we also have the archives that allow for re-issues. And if you don’t have the heritage, that’s not something you can do.”
And even those with it are not always successful in interpreting it. Re-issues, counter-intuitively perhaps, are not all that easy to make, often requiring more work than a completely new watch design, in no small part because modern components (which are required to ensure the watch meets today’s production standards) have to be shaped into an old aesthetic - the look and shape
of Plexiglass has to be remodelled in crystal glass, for example.
“A re-issue is harder to pull off than it may at first seem, because its aesthetic may be what really appeals, but the consumer wants it to perform like a modern watch. And as soon as you start applying modern quality standards the watch starts to lose its old look and feel,” Herzog says. Of course, if the re-issue is a dominant theme of this year’s watches, it is not the only one. As the Tudor Chrono Blue might suggest, GMTs are the big complication for 2013, given a sportier makeover. See the likes of Omega’s Seamaster GMT or Rolex’s re-working of its GMT Master II, with lacquered dial and black-and-blue ‘cerachrom’ bezel - that’s the company’s name for its latest, patented super-durable ceramic blend.
But it is more colour than complication that stands out among trends for 2013 - and colour in keeping with the retro theme of the many re-issues. Orange, for instance - not a shade seen on upmarket watches since the 1970s - returns as an accent on Oris’ Prodiver Pointer Moon, for instance, Tag Heuer’s Monaco Calibre 12 ACM (a limited edition but still working that historic seam) or the Tudor Chrono Blue again. If dials have lent towards conservative classicism in their use of colours over recent years - black, white, cream - then now grey in every tone is explored by the likes of Rado, with its Diamaster Ceramic - a real stylistic move on the company that invented the unscratchable watch - and Girard-Perregauz, with its Constant Escapement.
Navy too is a big colour - see, for example, Hublot, with its Big Bang Unico, or Ebel, with its Ebel 100 - bringing the dominant and still sober shade of the male wardrobe to watches while softening the more typically monochromatic options.Perhaps that is the thinking behind the increased use of rose gold too, especially in conjunction with steel for cases and bracelets. Zenith combines the two for its El Primero Chronomaster Grand Date, but if any guarantee that the upper end of the market sees this unusual combination as having class was needed, then look to Patek Philippe, which uses it for the first time, specifically
on its new Nautilus 5980.
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