My biggest pet peeve in watches right now is also, unfortunately, one of the biggest trends in watches. My pet peeve is with new vintage watches, or at least the way most companies do new vintage. It’s also a somewhat confusing trend because it contradicts the watch community’s sentiments towards vintage watches. When most companies release a new vintage watch, a watch that takes its design in part or whole from watches of the past, they include faux aging elements to the watch. That or they include parts of the watch that are meant to look like or function like a vintage watch but in fact, are not.
For example, lume on a new vintage watch that is cream or mustard-colored instead of white. The watch it’s imitating when released had white lume that has now aged to a different color. Or say a watch that has a bracelet that looks like a riveted bracelet. Older sport and tool watches used riveted bracelets, but as technology improved better bracelet designs were implemented. So the new vintage bracelet looks like it’s a riveted bracelet, a very distinct look, but it is a modern bracelet. I don’t like it. I don’t like things that are pretending to be other things.
What’s confusing about this trend is not that watch manufacturers are making these watches; they’re simply following the market. Vintage is the hottest trend in watches, and they’re capitalizing on that by making brand new watches that appear to be vintage. What’s confusing is how readily the watch community accepts, enjoys, and purchases them. I have to assume they’re selling well by the sheer number of and the pace at which watch companies are pumping these new vintage watches out. I’ve also seen many collectors with both vintage and new vintage watches in their collection. So they have vintage watches and then watches that imitate their other watches. This is surprising because the watch community are notorious sticklers for authenticity.
Think about this anecdote from Aurel Bacs. He was being interviewed for the H10 celebration of Hodinkee’s 10th anniversary. He brought up a story about a Porsche owner who had bought a very nice 1973 911. This friend of his was super happy with his purchase when an expert pointed out to him that the mirror on the car was actually a 1974 mirror. Most likely the original owner broke the mirror, and Porsche put on a new mirror in 1974 in repair. The owner in an effort to complete the restoration of the car found a 1973 mirror and replaced it. He was applauded by his peers in the vintage car collector community. Aurel then juxtaposed this with a story about a stainless steel chronograph that he was going to put up for auction. He considered it a very strong piece: good looking case and the dial, hands, bezel, etc. all appeared to be from the right year. However, it was discovered that the watch had previously been for sale via another avenue and had the wrong bezel on it. The consigner of the watch like the Porsche collector realized he had the wrong bezel and went to great lengths to complete the restoration and put the right bezel on it. But because there had been any change at all and it was not original, the watch community was trashing the watch to the point that some thought it shouldn’t be sold at auction. Aurel disagrees with this sentiment and hopes that the watch community can grow to more closely resemble the car community with regards to things like this and so do I.
I bring this up because it illustrates how passionate and strict the watch community is with regards to originality and authenticity. This is why the majority of new vintage watches confuse me. They’re not authentic. Don’t get me wrong I understand it, these new vintage watches are great looking, they look just like the vintage watches we already know and love. But with the new vintage watches, you can wear them with abandon and not worry about damaging something that might be irreplaceable. What’s the old English adage? You can’t own your vintage watch and wear it too? With new vintage, you can!
For myself, I would rather buy a watch that is designed with aesthetics that resemble a vintage watch and age it myself with honest daily wear. I don’t want a watch that looks like someone used it, I want to use it and add that character to the piece on my own.
I see the difference of opinion rooted in two different camps of watch guys. In one camp you have collectors who view watches the same way one might view works of art. So for them, replacing a bezel with a period-correct bezel is still a no-no because it’s like touching up a Rembrandt. Just leave it as it is, because it’s art. A new vintage watch is just another piece of art that you can tell has been inspired by the artists that came before. This means it’s not faux, it’s a tribute. In the other camp, the one which I’m in, you have those who love and are passionate about watches but more so as tools and totems. This camp admires vintage watches but probably would never buy one they couldn’t wear. They look at a watch the same as a meticulously crafted knife. Made by a master craftsman and meant to be used. To them, the faux patina on a watches lume is akin to a knife with a handle that looks like wood but is actually plastic.
Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t hate all new vintage watches. Here are some examples that I think are spot on.
Most of Zodiac’s watches. Hands down I think they’ve done the best job of releasing great new vintage watches that harness the spirit of the original without any fake elements.
The Super Sea Wolf line is my favorite of the bunch.
The early Tudor Black Bay’s with the Tudor rose logo and ETA movements are perfect. Their current Black Bay 32/36/41 are also very well done.
TAG Heuer Limited Edition Carrera Skipper For HODINKEE is another example of new vintage without any faux elements done to perfection. In general HODINKEE goes back and forth on the use of faux elements in their collaborations. This Tag Heuer is a great example of new vintage and is an instant classic.