Certina DS-1 Powermatic 80 Certina DS-1 Powermatic 80

5 of the best 20th century vintage watches

The influence of past decades is very strong in fashion, less so in watches. But every so often, a brand looks back into its own history and creates a re-edition of a classic design. The results are often very striking.


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21 April 2016

Contemporary versions of vintage-style watches are always a combination of classic characteristics and modern technology. Back in the 1970s and before, mechanical watches were principally utilitarian, and so they never had a transparent sapphire caseback. Today a watch may have a 1960s-style dial, and a contemporary movement that can be admired through the display caseback. Some of the pieces are virtually copies of historic pieces, while others are extensively modified. They all have a fascinating charm. Here is a selection of five 20th-century vintage-style timepieces.

IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition

This is a beautiful watch, very similar to one of the first Portugieser watches by IWC, dating back to 1940. The gold inner chapter ring is a motif that helps give it an unmistakable period character (similar to the Certina DS-1 Powermatic 80, also based on a historic piece), reinforced by the old-style International Watch Co. logo. There are many contemporary touches that make the piece even more attractive, such as the curved spring bar that makes the junction between strap and case very neat, the Santoni strap with its chic orange lining, and the fabulous movement, the hand-wound 59215 calibre that can be seen through the sapphire caseback. Power reserve is generous at 8 days, and it is displayed by an indicator on the movement side.

03 IWC PG-HW-8-Days-Edition-75th-Anniversary IW510206 highIWC 75th Anniversary Edition

The watch was made in two limited editions, 750 pieces in stainless steel, black dial with green markings, and 175 pieces in red gold, with silvery dial and gold markings. It has great appeal to collectors, a limited edition presented in 2015 and already almost completely sold out. There are no longer any of these watches at IWC’s manufacture in Schaffhausen: there are still a few in IWC boutiques. There is a steel version in the Rome boutique... at least, it was there today... www.iwc.com

Related: What’s new about the IWC Portugieser collection?

Certina DS-1 Powermatic 80

C029.807.16.031.60 Back-caseCertina

The Certina DS-1 Powermatic 80 has a period look, created by the moderate 40mm-diameter stainless steel case, the slightly domed dial with gold-plated hour indices and hands, and a gold ring towards the edge of the dial. The date window is beautifully integrated into the design, its width visually matching the 3 o’clock hour index. The lovely leather strap has a vintage look even when new.

For this piece, Certina have revived their historic double-C logo. Back in the 1960s, before quartz watches arrived on the mass market, most men’s watches were like this, elegant mechanical timepieces that did their job efficiently, and they were priced so as to be accessible to virtually everyone. Certina’s watches were also uncompromisingly tough, and even accompanied a 1960 expedition to the top of the Himalayan peak Dhaulagiri.

The DS-1 Powermatic celebrates all this. The DS in its name means ‘double security,’ and in this model it include a 100-metre water resistance rating. The display caseback reveals something of the movement, along with a profile of Mount Dhaulagiri, and engraved lettering celebrating the brand’s long history since 1888.

The Powermatic refers to the self-winding movement, and this benefits from the latest Swatch Group technology, which gives it 80 hours power reserve. It's the sort of watch that you can put on and forget about: it keeps running by virtue of your own movement, and if you leave it in your bedside drawer on Friday evening and only strap it back on again on Monday morning, it will still be running. The other feature of this watch is its price. It is a very accessible mechanical watch at £530, €710, CHF 745 for the Himalaya Special Edition (reference C029.807.11.031.60). It will be available in boutiques from July 2016. www.certina.com

Related: The best watches of Baselworld 2016

Glashütte Original Sixties Iconic Collection

Glashutte Original sixties casebackGlashütte Original Caseback

The Sixties Iconic Collection by Glashütte Original is a lovely tribute to 1960s style, with the new colour and jazzy typography that became distinctive features of pop culture in that decade. It shows the importance of being able to construct your own movements: Glashütte Original decided that they didn’t want a date window on this timepiece, and it benefits enormously.

LUXOS GLASHÜTTE ORIGINAL Sixties Aqua PR-2Sixities Iconic in Aqua

The watch is also a reference to the rather different atmosphere in Eastern Germany at that time, where the state-owned VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe – the conglomerate that had absorbed all the previously private watch brands in Glashütte – launched a wristwatch that was to become an icon: Spezimatic. It was introduced in 1964 and it was a fairly luxurious timepiece at the time, with the calibre 74 movement, at that time the slimmest automatic movement in the world. For this reason it was called the Spezial Automatic, abbreviated to Spezimatic. They have now become collectors’ pieces.

The Sixties Iconic Collection comprises five watches in distinctive colours, and the models are named Sixties Red, Sixties Golden, Sixties Aqua, Sixties Brown and Sixties Grey. The 1960s effect is enhanced by the graded colour effect on the domed dial, created by hand using a special spray gun.

1 Sixties Iconic group PR1cmGlashütte Original Sixties Iconic, whole collection

Each watch is rendered unique by this treatment. Hour and minute hands are also slightly arched. The 39mm case is virtually unisex. It contains the in-house Calibre 39-52 movement, automatic, with a power reserve of 40 hours. Retail price of this watch is €6,300 inclusive of VAT. www.glashuette-original.com/sixties-iconic

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Angelus U10 Tourbillon Lumière

Angelus U10-Tourbillon-Lumiare PR-2 blackAngelus U10 Tourbillon Lumiare in black

Angelus is one of the Swiss watch brands founded in the 19th century that enjoyed great success right up until the 1970s, when the influx of cheap quartz watches from America and Asia played havoc in the Swiss watch industry. Angelus went out of business in the late 1970s, but last year it was revived by movement manufacturer La Joux-Perret in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

The watch is a remarkable piece of engineering, with the tourbillon escapement in full view thanks to four sapphire glass windows that let in as much light as possible and enable the user to view it from all sides. The constant oscillation of the tourbillon is made even more intriguing by the relatively low frequency, 2.5 Hertz, and the large balance, which absorbs a fair amount of energy. To compensate for this, the hand-wound movement has two mainspring barrels, providing a power reserve of 90 hours.

Angelus U10-Tourbillon-Lumiare PR-4 blackAngelus U10 Tourbillon Lumiare in black

The time display reveals the influence of landmark 20th century designs, such as the Doney TV by Richard Sapper and the Brionvega TV by Marco Zanuso. The hour and minute hands are set into the concave dial, and are coated with black SuperLuminova, so they glow blue in the dark.

Angelus U10-Tourbillon-Lumiare PR-3 blackAngelus U10 Tourbillon Lumiare in black

But the truly unusual feature of this watch is the fact that the second hand, instead of proceeding around the dial with the steady sweep that is the coveted hallmark of mechanical watches, ticks one second at a time. This complication is known as dead beat seconds, and it was originally a feature of 19th-century British marine chronometers, in which the second-by-second movement of the hand made it easier to obtain a precise to-the-second measurement of time. In the Angelus U10 Tourbillon Lumière, the dead beat seconds is intended as an imitation of 1970s quartz watches, technology that led to the demise of the brand. Revenge is sweet, and in this case, very beautiful. www.angelus-watches.com

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Zodiac Sea Dragon chronograph

ZO9915 mainZodiac Sea Dragon chronograph

The 1960s and ‘70s were very much television-inspired decades in terms of design, and this is reflected by the dial of the Sea Dragon Automatic Chronograph by Zodiac, with its lovely TV-shaped subdials and the cushion shape of the case. The watch is made in two limited-edition versions, each of just 82 pieces. It’s a large piece, 50 mm in length and 42 mm in width, with a case that is water-resistant to 10 bar, 100 metres. Both are COSC certified, guaranteeing excellent timekeeping precision. The movement is the ETA Valjoux 7750, providing 48 hours power reserve.

ZO9916 2Zodiac Sea Dragon chronograph

The timepiece reference ZO9916 has a lovely metal cuff with large holes providing an unmistakable motif on the wrist – its sports vocation is demonstrated by the red trim on the black dial.The watch reference ZO9915 has metallised beige trim on the dial, and a grey alligator strap. €3,100.

The watch reference ZO9915 has metallized beige trim on the dial, and a grey alligator strap. €3,100.

ZO9916 mainZodiac Sea Dragon chronograph

Zodiac watches are currently available in the U.S.A. and Japan; they will soon be distributed in the U.K., France and Switzerland, and in other European markets from 2017. More info from www.zodiacwatches.com