Most of what can be said has been said about vintage which, for some brands, has become a veritable raison d’être. From millennials and their value system to unbridled consumerism, from the exuberance of the anything-goes years to the planned obsolescence of modern electronics, there are no end of explanations for our unabated passion for these objects of the past. From a watchmaking perspective, this nostalgia-mania comes down to two factors. The first is storytelling. In the luxury world, every product must have a story, not only to increase its desirability but to set out the all-important chronological reference points that give the aforementioned product the necessary anchorage. And the further back in time this goes, the more the product gains in substance.
The art of narration
The second factor is that the vast majority of watches from earlier decades were built around a function; each additional function corresponded to an actual need. In an environment increasingly divided between, on the one hand, (complicated) pieces for an albeit growing number of collectors and, on the other, those intended for the ordinary, more or less well-informed buyer, watches that cut to the chase and come with the aura and patina of a life well-lived are bound to have a head start. All that remains is to use narration as an art to drive home the message that the patina has been well-earned.
This isn’t as simple as it may seem, as becomes clear when browsing the aisles of Baselworld. Either the product has legitimate vintage credentials but is cruelly lacking in depth. Or is buried beneath a mountain of superfluous virtues but fails miserably to hold up to criticism. Fortunately, between the two, the genuine article, watches that instantly work their vintage magic, do exist. The Heritage BiCompax Annual by Carl F. Bucherer is one. It intelligently revives the mood of the 1950s, when the Manufacture presented a chronograph with a design that was ahead of its times. In a more sporting vein, the Mille Miglia 2019 Race Edition is a perfect example of its kind from Chopard. No-one needs reminding of the Geneva firm’s commitment to this classic car race, nor that of its co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele. Their 31-year-old partnership is captured in this vintage-inflected chronograph that reflects the spirit of the race in inimitable old-school style. And when it comes to style, the Black Bay Chrono S&G won’t be found lacking. Tudor takes fans back to its first chronograph, the Oysterdate from 1970 with its ties to motorsports, and splices it with references to the professional dive watches that have underpinned the brand’s success since 1954. It’s a daring combination – the aquatic heritage represented by the Black Bay and the race-track functionality of a chrono – in a delicious retro package.
Paying tribute to tool watches
Any celebration of watchmaking’s golden age in the twentieth century has to include tool watches and, foremost among them, the pilot’s watch. Breitling holds on to its position with a series of Navitimers that are clearly positioned on the scale of time. Setting the ball rolling is a capsule collection, the brand’s first. The Navitimer 1 Airline Editions, says Breitling, “captures the spirit of a memorable time for commercial flight and revives the cool and evocative style of the 1960s and 1970s. The three Navitimer 1 B01 Chronograph 43 Airline Editions pay an affectionate tribute to the pioneers of civil aviation and celebrate three of the most emblematic airlines of the era: Pan Am, TWA, and Swissair.” If that doesn’t get your engine firing, there’s always the new Navitimer 1 Automatic 41. It takes its cue from the legendary model unveiled in 1952, but with the zest of elegance lacking in the first three-hander versions of this tool watch. The real hard-liners will fall head over heels for the Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition, a chronograph that celebrates one of the most coveted early Navitimer designs, launched exactly 60 years ago.
At Patek Philippe, the Calatrava Weekly Calendar Ref. 5212A-001 in steel offers old-school charm at a more affordable price.
The same aeronautical authenticity is to be found at Zenith whose Pilot Type 20 collection is joined by an Adventure model. It comes in both chronograph and three-hander versions. Both fly the vintage flag with their green dial in bronze cases. Worthy heirs to the onboard instruments Zenith developed for aviation’s pioneers, you can almost smell the engine oil in the very first biplanes that took those intrepid aviators into the skies. Pilot style is also front and centre at Patek Philippe this year. One of its two major Baselworld launches, the Alarm Travel Time Ref. 5520P-001 combines the Travel Time dual time display with a 24-hour alarm mechanism with a hammer striking a classic gong. Five years in development, it is powered by a new integrated movement with four patents pending for the alarm mechanism. Anyone looking for something more affordable in an old-school register will appreciate the brand’s second release, the Calatrava Weekly Calendar Ref. 5212A-001 in steel. It introduces a new calendar function that shows the number of the week in addition to day and date. Directly inspired by a 1955 watch, Ref. 2512, that is now conserved at the Patek Philippe Museum, every detail of its aesthetic has been carefully thought through. Patek even designed a special typography that recreates handwriting, so that all the letters and numbers are different and unique – a nod to the handwritten notes in an old paper diary. And a dewy-eyed reminder of the days when telephones weren’t smart and a watch still performed its primary function of “telling” time.