Classic watches "Phoenix arising from the Ashes"
Why vintage watches aren’t fashionable, and why this is a good thing
Some 15 years ago I was considering purchasing, at an Italian tailor, a fine, hand-made dark blue jacket and liked it right away – despite the price being relatively high. The fit was perfect and I could feel the quality. However, while looking at myself in the mirror I noticed that it was very classic, possibly even somewhat old-fashioned. And being in my early thirties, I wasn’t quite convinced that this was right for me when there were so many young brands offering dynamic fashion for my generation. And then I remembered the elder tailor casually commenting, “we aren’t producing fashion, I know, but this is why we are never out of fashion”.
Interestingly, there was a time when watches weren’t the obvious status symbols but intended to be enjoyed solely by their owners, and then by their sons and grandsons. Hence, no need to make watches fashionable as the only admirer, at least for one generation, would be the timekeeper’s owner. Also, the term longevity was especially meaningful, and it was understood, by the watchmakers and the owners, that a fine watch would outlive them all.
The consequence was that wristwatches from the 1930s to the 1960s were truly timeless (no pun intended!). But then, sometime in the 1990s, they became too small and too classic for new, modern tastes, demanding diameters of above and beyond 40mm and cases forged of metals that NASA couldn’t even afford for their space shuttles. And then came the limited editions. And then, thanks to our new habit of supersizing everything, watches below 35mm became hard-sellers and consequently, plain, timeless vintage watches struggled.
The beauty with classic, vintage watches is that they are surely lasting. Lasting in terms of quality, lasting in style, lasting in charm. And once we have overcome the perceived pressure from our peers that we are somewhat inferior if our watch isn’t as large as theirs, or le dernier cri, we actually realize that any diameter between 33mm and 38mm is simply perfect, for everyone. Ask Philippe Dufour, his personal Simplicity measuring 34 mm isn’t out of fashion, I assure you.
Also, there was a time that watches weren’t limited. At least not by the marketing department, but simply by the limitation imposed by the smaller size of the market and the number of watchmakers with the requisite skills to fabricate them.
If I look at the most classic watch designs, no matter if they are from Geneva, the Vallée de Joux or Glashütte, no matter if they are complicated or with three hands only, I sometimes struggle to determine if it is 5 years old, or even 10 or 15 years since it has been launched.
By the way, I am wearing my “old fashioned” blue jacket today as I am writing these lines. And somehow it feels even better than when I bought it new. My tailor was so right back then and I am convinced that his philosophy is still very relevant today – probably even much more today than a few years ago.