by Ashton Tracy
Vintage-inspired and vintage re-issue watches are everywhere, and Baselworld 2018 only further highlighted the fact. Over the fair week, countless articles were published praising watch houses for showcasing these stunning re-editions.
But is the current vintage trend something we should all be wholeheartedly embracing?
This year we see reproductions of classic models from makers such as Seiko, Longines, Tissot, Mido, Certina, Blancpain, and Omega, just to name a few. Don’t get me wrong, I like a vintage watch as much as the next person, but that’s just it: I like vintage watches.
I like vintage watches so much that my prized possession is a 1978 Rolex Submariner Reference 1680. Why do I love this watch so much? Not because it looks like it’s from 1978, but because is from 1978.
The New York International Auto Show opened its doors as Baselworld came to a close and, looking at those new launches, I feel as though the watch industry could learn a thing or two from the automotive world.
“Just announced, the new Jaguar V-type Heritage – comes standard with vintage-inspired pre-scratched hood” is an article you would never see because it would be ridiculous. It would be a gimmick, and no serious car manufacturer would want to attract customers with such gimmicks (although some have indeed tried).
When Volkswagen’s new Beetle was launched, for example, it came standard with a flower attached to the dashboard. Understandably, Volkswagen has discontinued this feature in the current-model Beetles. I don’t know anyone who thinks the flower-endowed New Beetle will be going down in history as one of the greats.
Interestingly, though, this is the type of thing we saw gracing the halls of Baselworld 2018: models such as the vintage-inspired Longines Heritage Military with faux age spots on the dial. But don’t fret, the spots are applied at random so no two are alike.
Come on, Longines, we can do better.
The point of vintage watches is not the fact that they look old; it’s the fact that they are old. It all tells a story: the age spots, the discolored dial, the cracked luminous paint. All those features were earned over years of wearing.
Another example of a vintage throwback being taken too far is the Omega Seamaster 1948. This watch looks incredibly similar to watches produced in decades past with it being an anniversary watch to commemorate 70 years of the Seamaster.
Apart from the dial stating it houses a co-axial movement and has Master Chronometer certification and it being fitted with an exhibition case back, it’s a nearly exact replica.
At one time I owned a vintage Seamaster that looked remarkably similar to the re-release in question. I really loved that watch and I was proud to own it, the reason being it was a beautiful vintage watch at a reasonable price with a strong, dependable movement.
People would comment on that watch by telling me what a beautiful piece I owned, and the same still happens for my 1978 Rolex Submariner Reference 1680. People who know very little about watches are often in constant amazement that the watch is from four decades ago.
When inspected closely and compared with a current model, though, even a watch layman can discern the difference; the discoloration, the cracked lume, the age spots. It’s these markings that tell the story of how the watch over time has aged and matured, how over time those markings were earned.
I take no issue with watches that pay homage to times past, but some manufacturers are taking that too far. It’s not paying homage, its shameless reproduction. And reproducing these features in a factory is just plain wrong.
In a world where advancements in technology are increasing at an incredible pace, the watch industry should be following suit. It should be striving to produce modern watches that aren’t lazy reproductions of times past.
While I wholeheartedly agree that watchmaking should be a traditional art, it should be traditional by preserving finishing techniques, ways of dial making, and even maintaining case designs.
Traditional watchmaking practices should be instilled in young watchmakers so that these arts don’t die out. If we think back to great watchmakers of the past, what did they all have in common? They pushed the boundaries, they strove to produce more accurate, more waterproof, more advanced, more reliable, and more useful watches than their counterparts.
They preserved traditions, perhaps even inspired by makers of the past and improving upon them.
This current trend isn’t accomplishing that, though. With the faux-vintage market so hot right now, we see watchmakers resting on their laurels, sifting through old catalogues, and seeming to point at random pages saying “that one!”
What’s next, pre-dented cases?
It’s time to retire the current faux vintage trend because looking back at these watches on decades to come and deciphering the real patina from the fake will remind us of a time we would rather forget.
Stripes must be earned by years of faithful service on the wrist, not given out at random in a factory.
Let vintage watches be just that: vintage.
Quick Facts Longines Heritage Military
Case: 38.5 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber L888, 64-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
* This article was first published on April 11, 2018 at Fauxtina: A Faux Vintage Faux Pas. An interesting discussion ensued in the comments that you may enjoy.