That’s certainly the case with its ‘new’ Autavia Heuer-02. When people talk of watershed chronograph designs, Breitling’s flyboy Navitimer, the Omega Speedmaster, and even Steve McQueen’s favourite Heuer, the square Monaco with blue dial, all come to mind first. But connoisseurs will tell you that the Autavia’s 1962 circular self was the original, sporty monochrome groundbreaker. Last year, TAG masterminded the Autavia Cup to decide which model would be revived and, after 55,000 votes, it was an iteration of a 1966 piece that made the grade, famously worn by F1 racing driver Jochen Rindt. Rado’s HyperChrome Captain Cook was also a welcome comeback, and a pleasing consolidation of a confused collection. The HyperChrome range has become ‘hyper’ in more senses than one, embracing all manner of styles from retro to futurist, even cushion-shaped. This year’s 1962 reissue mixes things up even further, but only in terms of nomenclature – when it comes to looks, this is voluptuous nostalgia at its best, from the deliberately ‘patinated’ index batons down to the ‘ping’ of the red date numerals.
Further back in time still, the hit of this year’s Baselworld watch fair for many was to be found over on the Omega stand. Comprised of not one but three watches, the beautiful wooden presentation case of the 60th Anniversary Trilogy set contained the most millimetre-perfect reproductions of this year’s entire retro scene. It speaks volumes that all three of these ‘Master’ watches were launched originally in 1957 and continue to be made in their various guises: the Railmaster (its movement encased in antimagnetic soft iron), James Bond’s current choice the Seamaster (responding to the nascent scuba diving community), and the aforementioned ‘Moon Watch’ itself, the Speedmaster Chronograph. Their looks may be old-school, but inside each watch in the Trilogy, the ticking technology couldn’t be more high-tech – a cocktail of Omega’s own antimagnetic alloys and self-lubricating silicon.
“With all these faithful reboots, there is a scent of the hipster,” says Philipp Man, the youthful brains behind the web’s leading luxury-watch marketplace, Chronext. “That scene’s aesthetic is rooted in vintage. But since the luxury wristwatch’s modern revival, we also seem to have gone through so many design iterations that we’ve gone too far, maybe. People are interested in the old stuff again, and want to wear it. Even if it isn’t quite as faithful as the purist snobs would like!”
This deliberately retro approach, which isn’t actually enslaved to models of yore, has been almost as common a trend as the straight reissues. And if we’re talking hipster, then it doesn’t get hipper than a military-style NATO fabric strap, which comes attached to the new AirCo Mach 1 from Bremont. After recent dalliances with Jaguar cars and the America’s Cup yachting spectacle over in Bermuda, it’s the British watchmaker’s aviation DNA that has prompted a sepia-tinted throwback this year, with a classically styled three-hand 40mm pilot watch, named after one of the first British military aircraft manufacturers, the Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited. Not only is it an even more accessible way to endorse a burgeoning force for good in the revival of Britain’s long-lost watchmaking heritage, but its crisp styling, paired nattily with that footlocker-worthy strap, shows how the retro military thing can still feel contemporary and youthful. Rolex’s ‘little brother’ Tudor has also wooed a younger crowd with its wildly successful Heritage Black Bay range, as sported by David Beckham. Picking up on design cues from Tudor’s more affordable version of its sibling’s Submariner in the 1950s, it has mushroomed into a sub-brand of its own, in just a few years. The Black Bay Chronograph may be ‘heritage’ by name, but it’s terribly modern by nature.
The main talking point being the fact you get an ‘in-house’ automatic chronograph for less than £4,000 – all down to a pleasantly surprising open exchange of technology between Tudor and chrono’ pioneer, Breitling.Historical reimagining in a modern context is happening at the top end, too, and Patek Philippe’s Ref. 5320 is a case in point – with an on-point case, in fact. This sumptuous beauty is a kind of greatest hits compilation of classic Patek motifs. The 5320’s shape is partly inspired by a Deco-esque design from the 1950s. It has also been 75 years since Patek Philippe first introduced the perpetual calendar into a wristwatch without a chronograph function, which had the unusual task of balancing out the calendar windows and moonphase indicator around the dial without the benefit of counters to add structure. It’s a juggling act that’s been exquisitely reproduced, and set off by a cream-lacquer finish so rich it’s positively lickable.
Though brand-new in essence, the whole ensemble whispers ‘Patek Philippe’ with quiet confidence to anyone in the know. Which is also the case over at Vacheron Constantin – Switzerland’s most venerable maison, whose Historiques collection draws from one of the richest and most enviable archives in and around Geneva. Vacheron’s brace of gorgeous new Triple Calendrier watches is refreshingly honest about the brand’s non-faithful ‘reinterpretation’ approach, too.
‘A deliberately vintage look for these new models reinterpreting the creativity and the aesthetic of the iconic timepieces born in the 1940s,’ reads the press release – and long may it continue. My favourite has to be the steel 1942 model, boasting Arabic numerals worthy of an old Manhattan cocktail menu, chunky ‘claw-type’ lugs and circumferential date calibration picked out in a burgundy red luscious enough to pair with cheese.Nostalgic they all may be, but traditional watchmaking is precisely that by definition – anachronistic time machines that root you to a slower, less disposable age. Long may the retro revolution enrich our horological lives.