Top 5 retro watches for 2017

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The patrimony departments of many of the most notable watch brands have been busy in 2017. Heritage is all important and re-issuing classic watch models or delving into the past for vintage design codes is all the rage. It can be a risky practice though – the status of the original can be diluted and
collectors can be irked – but get a retro watch right
and they’ll fly off the shelves, reports Nick Rice.

TAG Heuer Autavia

If a watch manufacturer is considering reviving a classic timepiece from an extensive history of producing, well… classic timepieces, what better way to avoid a flop with watch enthusiasts and consumers than by asking them what they want? That’s exactly what TAG Heuer did in a clever online marketing campaign, where the public voted on which historic watch they would like to see recreated.

The winner, receiving 55,000 votes, is the Autavia – the legendary driver’s chronograph from the 1960s. The name is a contraction of AUTomobile and AVIAtion – and it is a collector’s favourite. Jack Heuer designed the first one back in 1962 and it was the first wrist chronograph with a rotating bezel. Jack Heuer, now in his 80s, is the great grandson of the TAG Heuer’s founder, honorary chairman and ongoing inspiration at the brand.

The winner of the ‘Autavia Cup’ online vote is the celebrated Autavia Ref. 2446 Mark 3, first launched in 1966. It was known as the ‘Rindt’, after the acclaimed Formula 1 champion Jochen Rindt. This new re-interpretation of an icon has some tweaks for modern tastes. The size is 42mm in diameter rather than 39mm and there is the addition of a date aperture and a sapphire case-back too. The new Heuer-02 calibre proprietary chronograph movement is also tailored for modern requirements and is a self-winding calibre with a power reserve of 80 hours.

The codes are clear – vintage aesthetics updated to be neo-retro. The original Heuer logo and a distressed calfskin leather strap complete the vintage ensemble. TAG Heuer says, “Out of respect for its ancestors, the new Autavia is much more than a replica of a retro watch. It revives the past and roots it firmly in the present.”

Tudor Black Bay Steel and Gold

Tudor has a long history dating back to 1926 when Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf first registered the brand name. He established the Montres Tudor SA company in 1946 to create watches that respect the traditional Rolex philosophy of quality at a more accessible price point. That mission successfully continues today and Tudor launched the Heritage collection in 2012 – a line that reworks some of the most important references in the history of the brand and which has proven hugely popular with watch lovers.

The Heritage Black Bay watch celebrates 60 years of Tudor divers’ watches and this year three new versions were unveiled; the Chronograph, the Steel, and the Steel and Gold –known affectionately as the “two-tone”. Not merely an identical re-edition of a classic, the two-tone combines key aesthetics from history with modern day watchmaking. The watch introduces the date function to the Black Bay family for the first time, while the domed dial and crystal and overall shape closely reflect the first Tudor divers’ watches.

The prominent winding crown is a feature of the famous reference 7924 from 1958, which was the first Tudor to be waterproof to 200 metres and was nicknamed the Big Crown. Another historical touch are the characteristic angular hands, known as snowflake, which were typical of the watches delivered to the French Navy in the 1970s.

This striking watch is powered by the Manufacture Calibre MT5612 – A high-performance movement with a 70-hour power reserve boasting precision and robustness and it’s mounted on a folding riveted bracelet that evokes those Tudor produced in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Longines Flagship Heritage 60th Anniversary 1957-2017

This re-issued classic wristwatch from Longines is the epitome of understated elegance when it comes to dress watches. The simple and restrained design with stunning brushed silver opaline dial calmly whispers “good taste”, as does the 38.5mm case diameter, which is perfectly on point for the resurgent appreciation for more sober-sized watches. The trend pendulum has thankfully swung back from bulky oversized wrist bricks to more elegant dimensions that neatly slip under a shirt cuff.

The titular ‘Flagship’ refers to the finest ship in a naval armada, the Fleet Admiral’s ship, and the caseback features an intricate engraving of a caravel – a 16th and 17th century sailing vessel.

Longines has launched three versions of the Flagship: steel, rose gold and yellow gold.

The original was powered by a with
hand-wound calibre 30L but this modern iteration has a Longines calibre L609
automatic movement at its heart. It’s a solid movement and a derivation of the ETA 2895-2 with small seconds but no date. The absence of a date ensures the dial is kept uncluttered and elegantly minimal. There will be 60 gold versions and 1957 steel watches available in this numbered and limited edition release, mounted on a rich brown leather strap.

Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref: 126600

During the Baselworld watch fair 2017 Rolex marked the 50th anniversary of the world-famous Sea-Dweller watch with a controversial new edition – the Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 126600. This watch may not shout ‘retro’, but of course it is by definition, as it bears the same distinctive stylings it did in 1967.

The thing with Rolex is, they can look both retro and modern simultaneously – part of the reason why they are so enduringly popular – they are timeless. When you buy a Rolex you’re getting legacy, because in another 50 years it will still be as desirable as ever. It will still have retro-style and it will still be undeniably cool.

This latest Sea-Dweller has caused a stir because the icon has some unprecedented alterations. A cyclops date aperture is included for the first time ever and it has grown from 40mm to 43mm since the last version – the 116600 released in 2014 and now retiring after just three years (meaning it might be collectible).

The other notable addition is ‘Sea-Dweller’ written in red text on the dial. Red text was only used on the prototype watches of 1967 and so this detail became ultra-rare and achieved grail-like status amongst collectors, so this is a big deal for legions of Rolex enthusiasts.

Less obvious but incredibly important changes are seen in the heart of the watch. The calibre 3235 is a new-generation self-winding mechanical movement made entirely by Rolex with 14 patents. With regard to precision, power reserve, shock resistance, anti-magnetism and reliability – it has made substantial gains.

Constructed in stainless steel superalloy 904L, this big professional tool watch is waterproof to 1 220 metres and features a Chromalight display with a blue glow that lasts up to eight hours, an Oysterlock safety clasp and double extension system bracelet. Finally, the unidirectional bezel with black Cerachrom insert will never fade in the sun and is virtually scratchproof, so it will do what most of us wish we could – defy the aging process.

The Glashütte Original Sixties Iconic Square

The cultural impact of the dynamic and colourful 1960s still reverberates through the decades and Glashütte Original pay homage to the legendary ‘Spezimatic’ watches of the 1960s when the brand was the state-owned Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB) in East Germany.

Glashütte Original paid the first tribute piece to these watches with circular versions in 2015. This year, a limited edition of 25 pieces in five dial colours introduces the more historically fitting Spezimatic-square cases.

Measuring in at 41.35 mm by 41.35 mm in a cushion-shaped steel case, the Sixties Iconic Square collection embraces the retro appeal of the 60s with dazzlingly hip colours whilst also being up-to-date with the inclusion of a modern chronograph function. The sapphire caseback showcasing the stunning movement is also a contemporary characteristic that all but the purists will welcome.

The automatic Calibre is the 39-34 and it features characteristic attributes of fine watchmaking in the Glashütte tradition but it’s the dials which are the undeniable attraction here. Five striking colours gives each model its name – Forest, Ocean, Graphite, Tangerine and Fire.

Created in Glashütte Original’s own dial manufactory in Pforzheim, Germany, each dial is made using original tools and authentic methods from the 1960s. Expert dial-makers follow an extremely complex and time-consuming process which involves the application of coloured lacquers to achieve the precise hues and shading, from light centres to dark perimeters, known as the “dégradé effect”.

The relationship with Pforzheim, which began more than 50 years ago, has culminated in Glashütte Original assuming direct ownership and today the full integration of the dial maker’s expertise allows Glashütte Original to develop such immaculate and appealing dials of peerless quality.