An iconic group of newly unveiled watches inspired major déjà vu at this year’s Swiss watch shows. Which brands received the most notice? Those that dared to reissue designs from the 1930s to the 1990s. Trendspotters quickly took note of this archival revival, declaring nouveau vintage the theme of the year. We explore this exciting merging of next generation components with classic design.
The Power Watch of the 80s
Panthère de Cartier
The power watch of the ’80s for men, the Panthère de Cartier was the watch of the 1980s. Pierce Brosnan wore one in his Remington Steele days, and Charlie Sheen’s character in Wall Street traded up to a Panthère – a symbol that he had made it. Originally introduced in 1984, this timepiece stands as the ultimate representative of the signature Cartier motif, embodying all of its striking signature design codes.
Despite its connection to decadent days gone by, it is today’s fashion bloggers who have driven the trend toward old-school watch design. Leandra Medine of Man Repeller, a devoted Panthère fan, has shared her timepiece via posts to her 1.7 million-plus Instagram followers. (Medine’s most notable look includes a leather moto jacket – she wore a custom white one to her wedding – harem pants and her vintage Panthère de Cartier watch.) Kourtney Kardashian is also a fan and has been spotted wearing her Panthère in paparazzi snaps.
The Panthère, available at select Maison Birks boutique, is the perfect nouveau-vintage piece because it is ageless and classic; it can be worn day or night, to the office or a black-tie event, and it’s unisex. The movements are quartz, keeping the watch elegantly thin and true to the original model, which arrived at the height of the quartz era. There is even a yellow-gold version that adds to the ’80s throwback feel, before the bright metal was supplanted by the rise of white gold in the ’90s and rose gold in the naughts. Cartier has also created a steel version, a rarity for the brand, which has only sparingly used the lower-price-point material in watchmaking. Even better is a steel version set with diamonds, meaning there is room to splurge.
A throwback to ’30s aviation
Montblanc 1858 Manual Small Second
Influenced by the brand’s original pilot’s watch, this timepiece marks the founding year of Minerva, Montblanc’s elite workshop and an early developer of professional sports watches. It is inspired by a model from the 1930s and has a full-grain calfskin strap that is chrome-tanned and dyed through. This means the colour penetrates the leather, accentuating the natural beauty of the hide, while making it resistant to wear.
Gender Equality in ’40s time
Rolex Lady Datejust
Something similar has happened with the Rolex Lady Oyster Perpetual Datejust, one of the top sellers on the pre-owned market. Originally introduced in the 1940s, it has become Rolex’s iconic model for both men and women, and one of the most sought-after watches in the world. Finding a vintage one is easy: just do a Google search and settle in for a long day of browsing. Or you could visit Maison Birks to try on the Lady Datejust, reintroduced in 2015, with a Rolex-patented Syloxi hairspring made of silicon, among other high-tech updates. Quick lesson in watchmaking: The hairspring combines with the balance wheel to form the escapement, the heart of a watch and the mechanism that regulates the time. Because the hairspring is always moving (pulsing, to be exact), and moving faster than any other component, it takes a beating. It needs to be oiled and serviced regularly to keep it accurate and damage-free. Silicon components never wear, so they eliminate the need for oiling. Syloxi is also impervious to magnetic fields and thermally stable. Altogether, this improvement means the watch not only has less need for servicing, but it also has a longer power reserve and is up to 10 times more accurate. Also noteworthy is the Lady Datejust’s seconds hand. Few ladies’ mechanical calibers have one, because women’s watches are meant to be smaller and the additional hand takes up precious space. Despite the inclusion, the case of the Datejust is only 28 mm wide, compared to the original 26 mm.
A ’60s Men’s Classic, Revisited
Because watchmaking is as much about engineering as design, sports watches are its most logical ambassadors. The craft has improved vastly in the past 10 years. Mechanical movements now contain near-indestructible silicon escapements, and other parts made of super materials such as ceramic and titanium that resist wear, scratches, salt water, shocks and even bullets. Luminous coatings on markers and hands are made to last longer, and leather straps can survive deep dives. All of this is possible without violating the fundamental principles of traditional watchmaking or design integrity. Take the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. Rolex devotees obsess over even the most minor revision of an iconic model, and the Daytona’s release nearly broke the internet.
The big news was the bezel made of Cerachrom, a proprietary ceramic alloy developed by Rolex, with numerals carved out and filled in with a thin layer of platinum. Designwise, the black bezel is reminiscent of that on the original 1965 Daytona, which back then was made of Plexiglas. Later models had aluminum bezels. Cerachrom is vastly superior to both: it is corrosion-resistant, scratch-proof and will not fade under UV rays. The tachymeter scale on the Daytona, the full collection of which is available at Maison Birks, differs slightly from the original in that the numerals are flush with the markers rather than horizontal. It contains the Rolex Caliber 4130, which, when it was introduced in 2013, represented Rolex’s first completely new in-house movement in more than 50 years. It is a fully integrated, self-winding chronograph that comes with a five-year warranty and is certified not only as a Swiss chronometer by COSC (Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute) standards, but to Rolex’s own Superlative Chronometer standards. That means it is accurate to between -2 and +2 seconds per day – more than twice the industry standard.
These advancements on re-issued archival pieces bring together the best of technology and design. After all, there is an undercurrent of vintage already inherent to luxury brands that pride themselves on tradition and company DNA. The Panthère de Cartier and the Lady Datejust will still be around 50 years from now, as will the Chanel suit and the Burberry trench. They will simply evolve into next-generation versions of themselves, as true to what came before, only better.