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What Matters #4
Published by: Samuel Ng
In the "What Matters" series, we share the elements that affect our watch collections. While this may seem personal, we find it an excellent opportunity to share our love for the aspects of horology that matter to us the most: From the particular complications of the watches to our indulgence in strap-changing, or simply our enjoyment of quartz and mechanical timepieces. This series will take us on a journey into this niche hobby to better understand what keeps our passion fired up. Our obsessions keep drawing us back to inform people who are into watches so they can form a consensus with us. Without any further ado, let's get things started with "What Matters" to us in our voyage of watch-collecting.
How time flies where we triple-jumped through the first half of 2021, and now we're on our fourth bit of this series. While my teammate, Zong Lie, pithily touched on his indulgence with complications (What Matters #1) and divulged his awareness of how robust a dive watch in any circumstances (What Matters #3) (I know, as I have relied on them for many years), I will be taking a step back from these vanguard marvels in this article.
(The SBDC061 was a sixties re-issue of Seiko's first professional dive watch)
I'll be dishing my fascination and enthusiasm for all things related to re-issued watches, modernly built yet derived from a specific renowned design, making up a significant part of my collection. Don't believe me? Just check out my article on my similar strap-craze (What Matters #2), and you will get what I mean.
From a first impression standpoint, we're often drawn to a particular type of watch simply because of its design. Or, perhaps more so, glimpsing one specific brand's logo, and the words "iconic" or "classic" pop out faster than your google search. However, as we delve deeper into the hobby, we tend to find, regretfully, that we yearn for particular historical timepieces that have been unattainable in your whole life. We find ourselves wishing the founding brands would bring them back. Rest assured, as, empirically, our wishes are their command.
(A certain trait that draws immediate impressions)
Over the years, the watch industry has gradually picked up on our longing-for-nostalgia signal and has gone back to their drawing board… or vinyl crates, in this case, to do some excellent digging. Today, many brands have decided to recap their work by going through their past archives, rejuvenating them for the watch community today to enjoy. I tend to hail this as "breathing old life into new," but in a broader picture of horology, it's succinctly known as vintage re-issues; or as homages and tributes, in the broadest sense of the words "vintage re-issues."
More commonly, I'd acknowledged the uptrend with re-issues these days (some went wild like Seiko), and there's no sign of slowing down. Therefore, this fourth article is in tandem with the hype, zooming in on the whys and my personal attachment to these re-issues. It can boil down to one's personal appreciation of these charismatic designs from the past, which has thrown me deep down into the rabbit hole, with no signs of exiting. I believe that it goes beyond the route of keeping up with the trend once I understand an individual watchmaker's legacy, deriving each element that makes their pieces so nostalgically appealing. I know I'm not alone in this. If you've ever owned a Seiko Prospex "Turtle," "62MAS" divers, or an Oris "Sixty-Five," then a salute and high-five to you as this is what I'm talking about.
(My vintage re-issues)
Therefore, through this article is my personal take and experience in collecting re-issues, I would hope to shine a dim light on the whole subject of why it is intriguing and charming at the same time. I will not be discussing whether the current industry is doing the right thing by reinventing models that once thrived, as this "What Matters" section is more of a personal context.
I will first attempt to explain the terminology of "vintages" and then their "modern-interpretations," followed by looking into some noteworthy examples that Gnomon Watches curated. Most importantly, I'll be shedding some light on my humble assemblage of watches that are modernly interpreted. Ultimately, this sets forth to be a casual article that's all about the niche enjoyment, a slice of the watch-collecting cake, a journey of one man's modest taste in collecting, and discussion on how they might fit into his lifestyle. And alongside the drives that culminate in an extravaganza of "vintage" timepieces.
Vintage in Horology
Before we get to what's up with re-issue vintage watches, we first must understand a little about what vintage is. Generally, the word "vintage" denotes something from the past that possessed high quality, especially something that represents its persona's best. This explanation hits the spot but might be abridged for the "what" in the picture - we ought to also know the word "when" can be applied. It might be much easier to grasp within the oenophilia context, whereby the word itself was established as wine parlance - it defines the specific year the wine was produced. And it became a broader descriptive term during the late 19th century. So when do we acknowledge a timepiece as a vintage?
(The word "vintage" derives from the realm of wine) (Photo Credit: Home In Italy)
We can connect a slight affinity with wines in that it represents an epoch in the past, and in this case, a cut-off point from an era. A general consensus among the watch community, especially vintage collectors, is that timepieces must have been made and born into the world for at least thirty years or so to be christened as vintage. As of current 2021, it's a cinch to draw the cut-off point. Those before 1990 are vintage watches - carrying a certain age along with genteel characteristics with technical fascinations.
As we well know, the appreciation that leads to the desirability of those vintage watches can be seen in a general perception as we see in wines, as mentioned earlier, also in automotive, leather products, among others. We can even categorize them as artisanal products that pack real craftwork with an identity, seemingly everlasting in serving their purpose even after many years and tell their individual stories. On top of that is the addition of scarcity, where admiring collectors grab hold of these products before they diminished, leading to their extinction.
(A 94010 Tudor Submariner from the late eighties made the vintage cut) (Photo Credit: Fratello Watches)
When we harken back to these decades-old timepieces, they do tell some fascinating stories since they had lived a long life (most of them are older than me, of course) and have stood through the test of time. Specifically, They encapsulate both provenance and several aged appearances in their aesthetics that arouse a sense of irreplaceable warmth.
These nostalgic charms can be seen spiritually in parallel with the 1953's D-18 Martin guitar in the world of music that Kurt Cobain borrowed from singer Mary Lou Lord. He took it through Nirvana's Nevermind tour as a token reminder of her during their courtship. Now imagine picking up the "grandpa" today in its glorious form after seventy years and simply absorbing the reverberation when you swipe your pick over those six strings.
You know the feeling. It's never going to sound or feel the same with any contemporary Martin series you pick up today. This unerring experience is captured in the atmosphere of horology and what makes vintage watch collecting famous today.
(The 1953 D-18 "Grandpa" owned by Kurt Cobain) (Photo Credit: Martin Guitar)
From Fledgling to Razzmatazz
So what happens when people start to go bonkers in acquiring these epochs of watches that have retained their appeal through time? The demand for them rises when the quantities are fixed, not to mention those still functioning well and pristine in conditions resulting in a surge in pricing. And even when you have deep pockets or have saved up for seemingly a lifetime to get that particular sixties example, you might struggle through tough competition with other admirers of that specific design.
(The fifties' "Big Crown" Ref.6200 Submariner with "Explorer" dial that cost upwards of 400,000 pounds in recent time) (Photo Credit: Rolex Passion Report)
And how about those that are less known? Well, you might be skeptical going through the process of getting one through tedious research - and even then, your purchase might be a lemon. There's also the "buy the dealer" route to gain a more warranted timepiece, but that usually comes with a slight premium. Still, my personal advice is this latter method will save you a lot of headaches and heartache. But what if we wanted these vintages to befit the "new world" in terms of durability and availability?
Since the early nineties, we can see the vintage market has been booming. Many of the original manufacturers grasped the hype and decided to hop on the bandwagon. They were determined to dedicate their investments and savoir-faire by digging through their archives for those distinguished models that have charged passions since the time of their origin. Almost every brand in the industry became proficient in their vintage re-issues as early as the nineties (or slightly earlier).
(A prototype example of the first civilian Panerai, Ref. 5218-201/A in 1993) (Photo Credit: Time And Watches)
(Ref. 5218 is a direct tribute to the Ref. 6512-1 made in 1955) (Photo Credit: Time And Watches)
Just to list a few prominent watchmakers that were early adopters, we can see the resurgence through brands like Panerai, who first released their civilian's Luminor Marina Ref. 5218 inspired by their historical models developed fifty years earlier. Another renowned military watchmaker, Hamilton Watch Co., did their own with the first Khaki field watch Ref. 9219 during the late eighties descended from both the GG-W-113 and MIL-W-4367 official military-specs, issued to the U.S. Army during post-WWII. You can read more about Hamilton's effort in military watchmaking in my in-depth article here: The Military Watch That Forged a Living Collection.
(Ref.9219 was Hamilton first re-make of their GG-W-113 and MIL-W-4367) (Photo Credit: Watch Charts)
The arrival of the 21st century saw an avalanche of the re-issues phenomenon, with brands such as Longines, Oris, and Tudor jumping on the vintage bandwagon. We remember 2007's Longines Legend Compressor Diver based on the Ref. 7042, the Oris Sixty-Five in 2015 based on the 1965's Oris Waterproof. And the 2010's Tudor Black Bay Heritage Ref. 79220 - a reimagined no crown diver that infused the fifties Tudor 7922 "Big Crown" aesthetics with their seventies Ref. 7016/0 "Snowflake" dial and handset. A brilliant move by the watch manufacturer, as it became the uber dive watch for the brand.
(The 2007's L.L.D. besides the original sixties Ref. 7042 (right) (Photo Credit: Crown And Caliber)
(The Sixty-FIve diver that mirrored the 36mm vintage Oris Super)
(The Tudor Heritage Black Bay Ref. 79220) (Photo Credit: Revolution)
(Based on the case of their Ref 7922 "Big Crown") (Photo Credit: Revolution)
(The dial and hands from the Ref. 7016/0) (Photo Credit: Revolution)
Emerging watchmakers also decided to join these elites by introducing tribute models with specific vintage cues highly sought after by vintage collectors. Heck, even in recent times, we see a growing list of watchmakers that vanished during the late seventies coming back to life with their own historical pieces. I will highlight a few of these examples as they have been amassed in the latter part of my collection.
Collecting Watchmaking Memories
Now I will digress to highlight several accustomed locutions like "tribute," "homage," "remastered," and "reimagined," as they can be classified under the main header of "re-issues" I've settled upon for the sake of this article—brands like Steinhart with their Ocean vintage collections, and Squale with all their retro divers. And even the Japanese giant Seiko brought a triumphant return of their tool and dress watches.
(A "tribute" Squale diver of its very own first dive watch design back in the sixties)
On the flip side of things, certain new watches are dazzled with particular "homage" powder or "reimagined" elan and result in a whole new look. These inspirational watches could, in fact, be considered to be in their own league. For example, Hamilton's Khaki Aviation X-wind models are excellent examples of the historical sports watch collection that imbued the brand's military spirit. But the X-wind pilot variants do not resemble any bits of what's explicitly been fabricated from the past. Hence, these are generally not palpable vintage re-issues - and you get the point of where the line has been drawn.
(This Khaki pilot watch might be in its own league instead of a re-issue)
All of the re-issues from the world of watchmaking were precisely what the community craved. Although these were regurgitations of watches from the past, watch brands did not stop evolving their vintage archives to freshen things up. We can see a relentless effort to combine vintage-inspired elements with a mixture of tweaks in terms of materials or colorways and a progressive effort to improve qualities as time goes on. Watch brands are raving their newest collections are as appealing as yesteryears, with more excellent execution and sometimes a better price point.
Of course, with all the advantages of a modernly built watch with historical cues, it strikes a perfect balance in the vintage appetite in us without the hassle of spending a premium to attain an original example and another hefty sum to maintain it. More now than ever, everyone today can enjoy a reliable piece of history with more flair.
(The all-new Khaki Field Mechanical with a neo-aged case with old-school manual-winding style)
For instance, the new Khaki Field Mechanical line further pays tribute to the original field watches Hamilton provided to veterans. They now come in a broad array of case finishings, dial colors, and strap options for collectors to nitpick from. Best yet, all of the Khaki Mechanicals kept the original manual-winding sensation but with the engineering brilliance of an up-to-date Swiss caliber for longevity. With that, we can finally enjoy this hobby more significantly with historical novelties that endear a set of vintage warmth without the possibility of vintage hassle.
Moving onto the customary fun part, I'd like to share my journey of getting into these watches and how they fare after some time. And one thing is for sure, my revere of this marque is neither short nor slowing down at all. As ever, I'll attempt to unfold this phenomenon a tad more, through a strict manner whereby I only involve personal watches that aim to fully capture the charm of those glorious days.
(My quirky vintage GMTs from Steinhart) (Left: 42mm; Right: 39mm)
I believe the process of studying and acquiring each and every individual piece has helped me to unload more about each brand's vision and committed spirit - consistent lit of new fire for my passion for horology as a whole. Like my obsessions with changing up new straps for my watches, it's a genuine pleasing journey collecting and researching these re-issues. Without further ado, let's begin my journey in new "old" watches.
Who Said it Started With "Aged" Markers
The kickstart of this desire began when I first got into mechanical dive watches. No, I did not get started collecting those with iconic Swiss vintage cues like tropical "military" dial dive watches or an exotic dial execution from the late sixties that were coined "Paul Newman" by enthusiasts today. Not just yet.
In particular, what set the path for me began with my love of the East, Seiko. Although it's not something of an off-path, I was deeply enamored with the great Japanese watchmaker since I had gotten my first blue Seiko Sumo Ref. SBDC003. The Blue was inconsequential of any tribute model to Seiko's past, but I was then drawn into catching up with Seiko's history in dive-watchmaking. Anyone who has ever dipped their toes into Seiko's pool (or be warned, if you haven't yet) knows you would be nosediving into them with no intention of re-surfacing ever. It occurred to me as I researched and read every bit of their dive watch history, and two of them brought me to my knees.
Considering Seiko held such a dominant position in the watch industry, the spirit of innovation with professional divers is nowhere more apparent than the Marinemaster series. Seiko introduced the collection as top-class tool watches that were sophisticated in every aspect while spiritually reflecting several radical developments that broke barriers back in the sixties when diving was still a bairn. This collection stood out among other divers series, and before Seiko consolidated them all under one pillar known as the "Prospex" series.
(The Seiko Marinemaster Tuna SBBN015 was my first of the two proper re-issued watches)
Among the Marinemaster, two exemplary watches got me to immerse with re-issues or broaden the realm with dive watches. They are the early 2000 Marinemaster 300 Ref. SBDX001 that pays homage to their first professional dive watch Ref. 6215/6159 from 1967 and 68, which goes deeper than the usual 150m depth; and the Marinemaster 300 Tuna Quartz Ref. SBBN015, which carries Seiko's unique "Tuna-Can" ethos from 1975.
What is interesting to note is that both models are vintage re-issues that are strictly modernly built. True to their progenitor mien, the MarineMaster 300 designations started off as the nicknames given to these top-tier Seiko dive watches within the proper tool watch collection. Their case silhouettes are on point with the vintage theme, executed with impeccable finishings that weren't found in other groups. There is no shoddy fit and finish visible here. Every facet and angle is just as sharp and concise for SBBN015 and SBDX001 as I'd envisioned them to be.
(Sadly, I sold my SBDX001 to upgrade to the SBDX017, which is quintessentially the same re-issue design)
With the overall built befitting today's artistry, their movements are worth mentioning as they elevate their savoir-faire. Powered by a state-of-the-art quartz movement and a "Grand Seiko" automatic movement in a Seiko package, lending both the SBX001 and SBBN015. Punching way above their classes and price ranges. Arguably expensive within Seiko's stable, but absolutely worth the price for what they pack; at least for me, they are.
As much as I am smitten by Seiko's in-house mechanical features, it would be a waste not to balance off my MM300 duos with a top-tier quartz movement. Notably, the SBBN015 (and the other S.B.B.N.s) with its 7C46 caliber is a nod to Seiko's history in whipping out accurate and reliable quartz movements - exemplified through the release of the first battery-powered Tuna Ref. 7549-7009 in 1978.
(Luckily I still got my OG SBBN015 Tuna)
Through these two models, we can see their utterly unique iconography lives on to this day. They evince creativity that is recognized solely as a Seiko. If you would like to know more about the Marinemaster 300 SBDX001, you can read my thorough review here: The Baby M.M. "Reduced" Story; to learn more about Seiko's Tuna, you can find out more here too: The Clash of the Emperors.
Obsessions With "Explorer" Dials
So after almost emptying my pocket to acquire both the new Seiko pieces, I decided to take a break from Seiko and turn my direction onto the western counterpart. Note that along the way, I did get my hands on other re-issues like a Seiko Turtle and then some. Like a diligent student in class who craves new discoveries, I stumbled onto a significant foothold in what made certain watches the G.O.A.T.
If you are starting to gain interest in this side of the hobby, things are not as simple as only dealing with provenances or novelties at this point. It is when a mysterious sense of curiosity on every single element of that particular watch might fill one dyed-to-the-wool vintage dilettante with a tingling sensation. And by that, I mean scrutinizing each corner through a loupe type of depth. Whether it is a limpid domed plexi-crystal or a specific font that makes it special, all these "minor" details culminate to being the Greatest Of All Time.
(When it comes to vintage elements, it's all in the detail)
As for me, the latter caught on my interest after Seiko. Mainly, I was deeply enthralled by the appearance of "explorer" face divers - colloquially the ubiquitous block markers coalesce with Arabic numerals at the cardinal points - forging a charming sense of juxtaposition. If you don't get my scrupulous fondness over one, it's okay. It's not easy to cinch one man's druther for his already emotionally driven hobby.
At this point, I knew I was hellbent to add one "explorer" dial, clad in a conventional Swiss dive watch case, into my collection. Alas, I couldn't go bonkers to acquire the G.O.A.T. Submariner Ref. 6538 or any 5513s with "explorer" configuration at the exponential six-digit ball game. Though these watches were only produced during their epoch and never returned, I was was still determined to own one, and fortuitously I landed myself the first: A Steinhart Ocean 1 Vintage.
(The Steinhart Ocean 1 Vintage is the first before jumping into the rabbit hole (note a modification I did on the bezel)
Some of you have seen it before for quite some time on our I.G. and Facebook posts, but in summary, it's a 42mm modern dive watch that respectfully pays tribute to the sixties "Big Crown" dive watches that are sparse in the 21st century. I could have gotten a Black Bay Bronze as it clads the alluring dial, but it only came to be a while after my O1V. Pardon my digression, but I was in love with my purchase of that Steiny.
It has every nostalgic element that I ever wanted - from the giant domed sapphire crystal that just shout vintage to the "no text at the bottom" matte grey dial with numerals 3, 6, and 9 replacing the baton markers, respectively. I'm left with great respect and admiration for what the German brand is doing.
(Just look at that giant domed crystal)
It gained a lovely faux patina hue for the markers, pairing oh-so-well with the gilt handset to complete the overall. Within lies the workhorse Swiss movement ETA 2824-2 (for mine during its early days) and is adjusted through the big fat guard-less crown at the side with a shining red tube that matches the bezel triangular marker at 12' o clock.
The pure beauty of the sixties-looking dive watch is interpreted in both the dial and overall of the Ocean 1 Vintage. I was so smitten by the watch, personally, that I eventually nudged the Gnomon team to work on another with the German watchmaker if we ever had the chance. And ultimately, we were blessed.
(The Ocean 39 Explorer was a fruit of my pedantic indulgence with "explorer" dials)
When Steinhart launched its Ocean 39 selection, we knew it was the golden time to re-issue another "explorer" variant that would make fellows like me keep going deeper. So in late 2017, Steinhart agreed to manufacture one exclusively based on our own desired execution. Thankfully, this collaboration shortly came to into existence. By the end of 2018, we managed to launch our second Ocean 39 collaborative: the Ocean 39 Explorer, and the rest was history.
We now got a full-black dial with the same "old radium" markers and gilt handset, but now with texts at the bottom. The case receives a proper crown guard who was still period correct, and along with drilled lug holes, paying a lovely tribute to the olden days, where the original straps were removable with ease. To finish the collaboration with enthusiasm, we decided to launch the first three hundred pieces with a retro domed crystal with period-correct hesalite material and the case-back serially engraved. After the three hundredth being sold, we found the ongoing production with a domed sapphire crystal for a better all-rounder while still exuding the retro-ness.
(Well, can't leave out the newest two-tone version of the Ocean 1 Vintage)
Now, from my first acquisition of the Ocean 1 Vintage to the arrival of the Ocean 39 Explorer, the journey was remarkable on a personal note. A self-confession- I'm a lover of old-world charms. It's blissful to have been part of this journey in ushering an individual favorite vintage element into my time - a sturdy re-issue that was significant for both oneself and also reliving a piece of history in dive watchmaking.
(A Teutonic deep diver with the iconic explorer layout)
Apart from the most famous duo that I acquired, my collection was ever-growing with other "explorers" like the Evant's Decodiver that pays tribute to the funky seventies and different modern design watches such as Teutonic ones like Dievas Maya MK II to Seiko's TicTAC J.A.D. Anniversary edition Ref. SZSB007. At this rate, I felt there's an endless path in seeking all things "explorer."
My Military Barrack
I clearly love the military genre in horology. A love so epically genuine, as shown through all my previous articles. For me, I'd argued the watch world, in general, couldn't come to a whole if it wasn't for these instrumental tool watches, taking the form-follow-function to the maximum in history. My fancy for this little military paraphernalia started when I met Anders (yes, the man who replies with great attention to all our customers' inquiries) during my first year with Gnomon Watches.
(The GG-W-113 field watch from Hamilton got me into the military genre)
Naturally, the first army piece I came across was Hamilton's GG-W-113. A literal "new old stock," to be frank, passed upon to me through the hands of Anders, still packed within a simple recycled brown box. I wouldn't go through much detail on GG-W-113 as I have documented thoroughly right here: The Military Watch That Forged a Living Collection. But simply put, this is the particular manual-winding watch that roams through the post-war period from 1967 to 1986.
Don't forget that this uber field watch, with its singular foundation, transpired the well emerged Khaki Field collection of today. Hamilton recently released the Khaki Field Mechanical series that restored the glory of the GG-W-113 and MILW-43674 models issued to official militaries. And that leads to my second collection from Hamilton: the Khaki Field Mechanical Handwinding Brown 38 Ref. H69439901.
(My Khaki Field Mechanical Brown 38 encapsulates the original GG-W-113 spirit)
The modern Hamilton Field watch is a finely made iteration that conspicuously intended to meet enthusiasts while embodying the tradition of the uber field watches from the sixties. What's cool about the modern Field Mechanical is while it has a vintage soul and is almost a dead ringer from the original, it is conversely modernly built. It includes a much-refined case and dial works and a current-gen, hand-winding E.T.A. movement with 80 hours power reserve, known as the H-50 caliber.
(The H-50 caliber within the Khaki Field Mechanical)
Although the modern-remake is formally not worn by soldiers today, it encapsulates an authentic instrumental look that churns real romance for military nostalgia. My Khaki Field Mechanical represents a historical icon's ethos from an era in the world of military tool watches.
The practical appeal seems to be perennial - a design meant to survive any adventures outside, just like the soldiers who wore them during operations. I knew this was exactly what I needed, especially during the 2020/21 unpredictable quarantine doldrums.
(Wears just like the original, albeit more prominent in size)
That's not all. Moving towards the oceanic space, I have a few Steinhart Ocean divers derived from those of the past, adhering with valorous military glamour. Coined the "dive watches" for the military, the first one I had (apart from the "explorers" above) was the Ocean Vintage Military in the matte grey dial. Following shortly, our Gnomon's release of the 39mm version with serial numbers on the case-back and a matte black dial.
It pays a respectful tribute to a superbly rare, non-commercial dive watch Omega and Rolex issued to the British royal army after World War II. This piece's chicness is that it has a Ministry of Defence-spec, replacing traditional elements like having a "glaive" handset, 60-minute markings on the bezel instead of the first 20 minutes, and no date display.
(My first Ocean Vintage Military with slate grey dial)
To me, these "minor tweaks" lead the O.V.M.s to stand out from the field of traditional dive watches, endearing an influence from those that once served the Royal Highness's army. I have already gone through in-depth on the Steinhart O.V.M., which you can read more about it here: The Battle of the Uber Military Diver’s Watches.
You might be asking why I keep both of the same watches since I have already got one of the same design? Well, that's easy for me to answer - a collector heaps up the details of each. Linking back to why I dig the "explorer dials" divers, everything lies in the eye for a specific feature or ingredient that draws one's attention.
(Similar yet different at the same time)
The first O.V.M. 42mm audaciously completes the "vintage" theme - with the matte grey dial and markers that reflect one which has aged gracefully for several decades. Whereas the newer O.V.M. 39mm feels more fitting as a direct tribute with its more accurate sizing, eliciting a better wearing experience daily in a purist-friendly way. All these traits have a stroke the chords for me.
After the O.V.M.s, I have several more military-packed re-issues. I would like to share my most recent acquisition, our Steinhart Ocean 39 Marine Blue limited edition. Sold out in less than 24 hours, the Ocean 39 Marine Blue was one of our projects with Steinhart in re-creating the French military divers from the late seventies. "Discover the rich history behind every detail incorporated into this watch that bestows a tribute to its robust predecessors used by the French Royal Navy in the past, specifically the personnel in French Navy school -- the Ecole De Plongee and officers controlling the 'Sous marins,'" our team well described our inspiration for this historical model.
(My Ocean 39 Marine Blue L.E.)
Lying within the domed acrylic crystal (only exclusive to limited editions), the Marine Blue 39 consists of the asymmetrical dial with unconventional square markers in aged luminous hue, corresponding to another notable handset the hour tip takes the form of a snowflake. The design of the watch is purely beautiful.
(Look at the old-school "distortion" from the domed crystal underwater)
Another aflutter motive to acquire this exclusive re-issue is the additional "Gnomon" signature on the matte blue dial. A first-time practice, the signed logo together with Steinhart's at the top was our fastidious effort to bring back the olden days' double-signed dials. Even though it's not something new, while also being experimental, we knew the efflorescence of this phenomenon in the vintage world's realm and felt it was the right time to show our strong bonds with Steinhart. In this instance, my Ocean 39 Marine Blue captures all the stunning hallmarks that make it cool and desirable, both as an enthusiast and on a personal level.
("Snowflake" hand and square markers)
I've got to include my very own Aristo Flieger Chronograph in Titanium to close off the military section. For the uninitiated, Aristo is one of the pioneer case manufacturers for many German timepieces back in the days from Pforzheim - a central watchmaking hub in the country. Over the years, the German watchmaker supplied cases and complete watches for several brands, including itself through the decades. If you like to read more about the brand, I went super in-depth about the company's journey: The ARISTOcrat of Pforzheim.
(A fine example of a classic pilot Flieger by Aristo)
Returning from the digression, the watch I had was a Titanium Flieger with a chronograph complication that harkens back to the war days when German pilots were equipped with them. It felt especially so when Aristo's overall Teutonic matte case appeared to signify robust functionality above all things - an undisputed practical look from the watch's aesthetic. These seemingly immortal design elements typically took form from the forties through the sixties, where brands like I.W.C., Hanhart, and Junghans started supplying the Chronos to the German Air Force during World War II.
There are many iconic re-issues in the horology world, and the Aristo Flieger Chronograph is one such. It's a Flieger that captured a unique aura of a particular era that laid the foundation of a proper pilot watch for many years to come. It captures all the desirable characteristics, such as its solid toolish appeal. Flipping my Aristo over, I still got to enjoy the paralleled reliable Valjoux 7750 chronograph caliber through its matte case-back every single time.
The "Paul Newman" Effect
Like both the "Explorer-Diver" and "Mil-Diver," the transcendent Paul Newman dial is as remarkable as its own cult status. Hypnotically fascinating, the quirks of a particular element on sub-dial counters are a niche within niches. Before I share my own episode with them, let's pause here and address the elephant in the room; to be clear, too, I don't own any of the peculiar chronographs that bear substantial premiums.
(Simply my top three chronograph dial aesthetic)
So what's a dial that ties with one of the coolest men on earth? Conceived in the sixties, it was designed as an "exotic" dial with a single element that differs from the usual suspects. The sub-counters associated with timing purposes have additional "square tips" on the indexes between those Art-Deco Arabic numerals. This design came in different colorways and was manufactured by Rolex's dial-maker, Singer.
If you're thinking that the dials only fitted into the Crown's emerging Daytona models, let me expand this perception. The dials with the characteristics of square markers and colorways were also supplied to renowned and under-the-radar companies like Wakmann, Croton, Nevada, and Lip. Due to these quirky dials' limited production in a short period between the sixties and seventies, the valuable dials within their respective chronographs gained popularity following eighties.
(The man that single-handedly started the hype) (Photo Credit: Rolex Magazine)
It's coined the "Paul Newman" dial and not a "Singer" one, mainly due to a particular group of vintage collectors and dealers who promulgated the trend. Rumour has it that the group saw Newman wearing his wife's gift as a safety charm, a Ref. 6239 Daytona with this distinctive dial. On an Italian magazine cover, they started paying great attention to the "next big thing" to collect. Everything else was history, quite literally, when that particular watch reached its hype in October 2017, where he sold it for a staggering $17.8 million in an auction.
Though unconfirmed, when the "exotic" chronograph dials caught my eyes in 2015 (I know I'm late to the game), I was immensely drawn by it. I knew I had to get my hands on any modern interpretation of it. Sure, there are other iconic chronographs out there that are modernly re-made, as I have come to own too, like the resurged Lejour with its Mk I barrier-shaped Chrono and my latest 42mm Steinhart Nav B-Uhr Flieger Chrono that, once again, paid tribute to the classic German's pilot chronographs during World War II. But in this arena, the "Paul Newman" is something else.
(The "square" tips are something else)
Luck struck precisely one year before the gavel's audacious hammer came down on the $17.8 million vintage. Our beloved friends from Steinhart decided to drop their own riffs with the Ocean 1 Vintage Chronograph release in both "Panda" and "Reverse Panda" formats. Didn't hesitate once; I managed to grasp both variants for my own and was totally drawn by how they spiritually reflect the exact same charm found on those vintages. Don't believe me? Try one on to see whether we are on the same boat.
(In "Reverse Panda" mode)
If I thought these two were all I needed, I was proved wrong the following year when Anders and I headed to Steinhart HQ, where I was personally handed over another "one." The big boss, Mr. Gunter himself, pulled out a surprise for us, which was supposed to be an upcoming year release, the steel bezel edition, which took the same cues from the original Ref. 6239's bezel. Both of them knew I couldn't leave his office without one, so being that lucky kid that found Santa Claus, Mr. Gunter allowed me to get mine first, straight out of his headquarters.
(First to acquire directly from Steinhart HQ)
Back at home, and during this uncertain period, the brand decided to release a two-tone version in 2021. As much as our pal Zong Lie obsessed over it: April 2021 Lookbook // Terrific Two Tones, I jumped the gun in getting mine too, just to keep me sane (it seems like the opposite at this point). It offers a nice blend of elegance with ruggedness with a slight hint of gold hues in the middle links, crown, pushers, and bezel. So now I have culminated these same-looking-but-different Ocean Chronographs that imbue an arresting sixties patrimony look, which is weirdly satisfying for precisely that.
(My two-tone example)
(How about a Blackout edition)
Traditionally, Steinhart watches are value-packed and honest in pricing, therefore allowing me to enjoy several of these tribute models without breaking the bank. Monetary aside, each of those four, commingling together with the other listed dive watches, are a visual feast that evidently has not faded away since their inception ages ago. Truly they represent a bona fide icon of an indelible era.
Charming "Panda" Face
Speaking of all things chronographs, I'd add the desirability of old-school monochromatic charm. Displayed by the Ocean Vintage "PN" Chronos mentioned earlier, their so-called "panda" layout draws my attention.
Whether it is a full-on white main dial with two/three contrasting black or dark tones sub-counters or all that in reverse, these are typically known as "panda" or "reverse-panda" layouts, respectively. Although I'd learned that these contrasting monochromatic hues were designed to serve legibility to the fullest, one can't help to find them appealing and intriguing. Their panda looks became fruitful during the early seventies, when many iconic racing chronographs were born.
(The early days Yema Daytona that sums up a proper "panda" dial, racing chronograph) (Photo Credit: Fratello Watches)
Therefore I got my fair share of collecting these seventies chronographs with the particular allure throughout the years. Apart from Steiny's chronographs, I acquired the Yema's Speedgraf re-issue and the Ball Watch Hydrocarbon Racer Chronograph Silver.
(My under-the-radar Engineer Hydrocarbon Racer Chronograph Silver Ref. CM2198C-S1CJ-SL)
The latter is not immediately apparent as a re-make because it's not. It's purely inspired by the epoch of racing Chrono, and I dig its beastly engineering design that comes with all Ball watches. From the unique crown-guard protection system to its use of micro-gas tubes for 24/7 night-readability still manages to encapsulate the spirit of the seventies panda chronographs, with a slate silver background topped with two sub-counters in black.
(My recent acquisition of a Yema's Daytona re-make, the Speedgraf)
On the other hand, the Speedgraf chronograph is the french watchmaker's effort in re-making its Yema Daytona from the yesteryears. They nailed the design well - from its count-down minute bezel to the applied markers on the reverse-panda face that reminisce of certain candies - reliving the same spirit of summarizing what that era is all about. I wore mine on its original rally leather strap, bringing automotive vibes whenever I wore my tees and jeans with it.
Deeper With More Dive Watches
To close on my personal gratification with all things nostalgically re-issued, I have to dive back in with dive watches - a genre representing my backbone and support. This breed might be the most salient on a personal note - a timeless and classic aesthetic with undeniable robustness - our Zong Lie himself could vouch for it: What Matters #3.
(My latest dive watch, the Ocean 39 Vintage GMT)
What else do I have after sharing quite a few, or should I say, the majority of them already throughout the article? Well, I gotta say there's… a lot more from those above that got me started in this loop. Briefly, I will only list a few considered the current most significant hits to sum up my mixtape of them altogether. I will also give Seiko a break in the mix, as I have mentioned them many times in previous articles.
Preluding the intro, we begin with my good ol' compressor-styled diver from Alpina Watches. In 2002, the Swiss brand possessed equal success with its modern designed sports watches and more traditional models drawn from their buried archives. My Seastrong Heritage Black is an example. Apart from Longines' Legend diver, the Alpina's has always been, in my opinion, one of the few exclusive representations of the super compressor canvas - constructed by the lauded case manufacturer Ervin Piquerez S.A.
(Top: The 2016 re-make; Bottom: next to its 1969 vintage reference)
(The modern re-make Seastrong Heritage)
What drove me deeper into getting the Seastrong Heritage was that it's an exact modern reflection of its original Seastrong 10 Diver, from 1969 - a bona fide icon of an era. I was particularly fond of its unique trapezoid date frame and incredibly the top-hate sapphire crystal, emulating the exact same charm of a box acrylic back in the days.
Right after acquiring the Alpina Heritage in 2017, I shifted my tempo into a higher B.P.M. and nabbed a Tudor Black Bay Heritage. How could I not have one such significant figure in re-issues? I knew the time was right to acquire this particular one. Tudor had also impacted me with why the resurgence matters to me, especially during the early days when I started collecting.
(How could I leave Tudor out of my collection)
An impressive watch in its own right, I went with the manufacture version, whereby gone is the "smiley" text at the bottom, in exchange for an in-house caliber MT5612, introduced in 2015.
Personally, I feel it's an excellent package for the 80 hours power reserve movement that led Tudor to finally become a trustworthy movement manufacturer. I simply love all the attention to detail and impeccable finishings throughout (you need to see it in metal) while living up to its heritage of being the Crown's sister - quality with precision and reliability - also a watch that will never feel antediluvian.
(Sans "Smiley" texts at the bottom implied an in-house automatic caliber within)
Dropping to a slower tempo here, I then grabbed from a micro-brand: the Evant Watches Tropic Diver. When I had the dips from the people from the brand who decided to drop their first timepiece, I was onto it. In 2017, they dropped two exclusive models that borrowed elements from the past infused with modern quirks. Notably, they paid tribute to the incredibly rare Breguet diver from 1963 and decided to make their own spin with it. Therefore, instead of going all out in getting the "vintage" lume with a polished case, I steered playfully to obtain the matte case version. It exudes a utilitarian form, like those you see in Teutonic tool watches from Damasko and Sinn, yet is nostalgically ravishing.
(I got the first Tropic Diver from Evant on a "Marine Nationale" elastic strap)
From that day on, I tried to amass each version of Evant's offering to this day, with their latest Polestar Diver Concept One. Respectfully, I find Evant dive watches embody the perfect balance between both classicism and modernity, conferring the vintage re-issues concept with an unconstrained, refreshing spin every single time.
(Left: A few of Evant's modern interpretations - the Polestar Diver Concept One; Right: and the Tropic Diver Bronze)
(Check out the old-school applied markers on a sunburst blue dial of the Deco Diver)
A transition to yet another recently revived brand, I purchased the grandiose Yema Superman Heritage. This French diver was conceived, once again, in 2019 and needs no introduction to dive watch fanatics. When the brand decided to 3D model back its seventies Ref. 53.00.16, A.K.A. the "Superman Diver," I knew I was on board with this one. They have kept everything right, including the bezel lock system and "traffic light" seconds, rejuvenating it in a more modern sizing that seems perfect. If you are searching for a retro dive watch that epitomizes the original crafts and designs fully from the brand's heritage, well, here you go.
(My Superman Heritage re-issue)
(For the mixtape epilog, I would like to close with a sort of outlier from the rest)
And that is the Steinhart Ocean Vintage GMT. This particular GMT diver looks nothing like a conventional dive watches like those listed above, as it epitomized another "exotic" dial. It's a modern incarnation of the particular seventies Explorer II, manufactured by Rolex and were used by speleologists and then some.
(The Ocean Vintage GMT exudes another "exotic" dial)
Its undeniable beauty lies from its "disco dial," whereby the hour markers are alternated with block markers in an eccentric format, paired nicely with a big orange "freccione" GMT hand to read off the 24-hour markers on the fixed steel bezel.
(My 2021's Ocean Vintage 39 GMT)
While the originals did not have a separate setting for the GMT hand, they were mainly used for their wearers to know when is day time and night time. Instead, Steinhart took the liberty to adapt modern specification using the ETA 2893 GMT movement, which resulted in setting the orange GMT hand being set independently from the primary hour hand, coming to be a proper traveler's diver that reads two different time-zones. Simply a fantastic modern riff off one of the quirkiest watches made by the Crown.
Through these personal vintage re-issues, I hope to shed some light with you on several different aspects and why they matter to me. I love collecting these little time machines that throwback to halcyon days of watchmaking (sports watches in particular) to feature covetousness of ones that shown greatness in the past and orchestrate a harmonious link with them as a whole.
(Such a joy to own a "P.N." Chrono in two-tone)
Through this side of offerings, watchmakers have allowed us to understand that, if we see beyond the hype of vintage models, the current and future watchmaking states are indeed profoundly connected to this arc of the past. They epitomize a bygone era that is somehow neglected in today's time. After all, collecting watches today is all about emotions and memories.
Having said that, when brands decided to re-release these re-issues with a touch of modernity, enthusiasts like me would not agonize on whether they live up to the beatings on our wrist, as vintage models tend to be a little more fragile due to reaching a certain age. Then, there's the immaculate execution and finishing found in today's watches, exemplified by brands I shared above. This is what uncompromising craftsmanship and attention to detail look like, even when the vintages tend to be less meticulous.
(Absolute icon for a sixties twin-crown dive watch)
My collection demonstrates the diversified approaches by each individual brand on their take for their modern interpretations. I realize that these re-makes don't relate to an exuberance expense. Most of my timepieces (thank you to the brands) are value for the money in terms of what they offer. As I've said, watches are all about emotions and memories, and I'm collecting the horology's memories.
(Modernity meets Re-issue)
Some of you might be in a conundrum over these watches being a plagiarism of those made in the past. And if not, are younger brands trying to ride the waves of what is hot right now? Let's pause and hear my thoughts on this. I would argue that brands like Evant Watches, Steinhart, and other indie brands that do not have a long history, like Yema, Tudor, or Seiko, played an essential role with horological values.
(Never once did I felt its a "facsimile" of others)
I never once felt they were a mere copy of other brands for the sake of being lucrative. Instead, they provided a fabulous array of horological finery that we missed from yesteryears and which are now being brought back to us once again. This was seen personally as a good opportunity for watchmakers to cast this light on momentous, cultural edifices of what made those watches of yore great.
Not just that, these brands that I encountered do not persist with a mandatory action on releasing something based purely on the past. Still, we can see that all of them continually innovate their modern re-interpretations with new affairs. They're not holding back but releasing new models with different creativity and sublime workmanship while respecting the originals' leitmotifs.
(It's the small details that make me appreciate these mechanical arts)
(Left: Steinhart Ocean Vintage Military 39; Right: Squale 20 ATMOS MILITAIRE Ceramic)
At this point, you might be wondering if I'm frazzled from the re-issues stratosphere. After handling and owning several of them and still having the drive to purchase new revivals until now, I firmly believe I'm still on the tip of the iceberg. Case in point, I am meticulous with the intricacies of vintage charms - owning four of the very same Ocean Vintage Chronographs, but each one differs just a little in the details. I would be drawn as if it's a whole new watch.
Yes, it's like the contradicting "same but different" idiom, but still oh-so-true. As long as brands continue to make extraneous efforts to dig up more undiscovered greatest hits, with a dash of their own bootlegs after, I would still hold dogged persistence in appreciating them beyond a shadow of a doubt. And I'm on the record over and over again. I know I'm not alone on this.
Through yet another extent of my obsessive relationship with watches, I found vintage re-issues helped me understand more why I'm drawn to this niche hobby. I hope that this could also open up some of your perspectives in a new way through my condensed list of modern interpretations of historical horology, as I have felt the comfort and pleasure of enjoying these marvelous Neo-retro watches on my wrist invariably.
(The in-erasable charm I get from an "explorer" diver)
Watch brands producing vintage revivals can be realized as an influential movement, further allowing us to learn and appreciate more on what watchmaking was all about back then, even when you might not be into today's increasing trend re-issues (never considered myself either). However, once you're aware of what makes those vintage watches alluring, I believe you, too, will be genuinely smitten by their unerasable charm and warmth. Sometimes, it's this nostalgia spirit you find in a simply fantastic watch. Everything once again becomes straight. And vintage re-issues are my passion, and "a man without one, is a boring man."