January 6, 2018
by Ariel Adams
It probably doesn’t surprise you that as the founder of aBlogtoWatch, I spend a lot of time looking at watches on the internet. In fact, I would say that anyone who considers themselves a watch enthusiast is more or less required to spend at least an hour a week browsing for watches on eBay or other places where random assortments of interesting timepieces are available for sale.
Some of the things that I routinely look for on eBay are watches from the last 10 to 20 years which are no longer made, but still available to buy (new or pre-owned). My curiosity compels me to see what watches are available, at what prices, and whether or not they are in excellent or highly-worn condition. As a watch industry analyst, I get a lot of my questions answered this way, but I also find myself pining for a growing number of potential watch purchases that “got away.” More practically, I often find myself investigating what watches may have crept into the realm of affordability.
The following list of watches is a very personal selection, which represents a dimension of my own tastes and artistic preferences. We have a lot of opinions here, and it doesn’t bother me if you don’t like what I like. Just realize that I’m not trying to evangelize what my tastes are on to anyone else. Below the watches I mention will be a link to those available items on eBay, which in addition to supporting aBlogtoWatch will allow you to join me in seeing how many are currently available at any given time, and what they might cost these days. Someday, I think I’d like to own at least one example of each of these watches.
Back when Jaeger-LeCoultre was still making macho men’s watches (boy does aBlogtoWatch miss the days of Extreme Labs and the AMVOX series) it had the interesting fortune of being the official watchmaker of the United States Navy SEALs (yes, before the brand retired their boots for soft slippers). The watches they made for this partnership were all approved by the Navy SEALs themselves and designed for actual duty. Suffice it to say that they were badass. If you grew up in watches when Jerome Lambert was at the helm of JLC, then you had excellent horological treasures to lust after (and you never even once tried on a Reverso). Of those models, the Alarm was the most interesting one to me. It’s a 44mm wide 300m diver in titanium with a rare automatic alarm-based movement meant to be heard underwater. Take that, moonphase.
After designing some of today’s (still) most popular luxury sports watches, Gerald Genta went on to create his own brand. One of the last watch collections the brand produced (before it was purchased and then consumed by Bulgari) was the modern generation Gefica, which was developed based on the original Gefica watches from the 1990s. The Gefica was said to be inspired by an African Safari and was probably the first luxury watch to feature bronze as a case material (it rarely gets credit for this). Large, and purposely made to show off its avant-garde design in the most modern-generation style, the Gefica made use of the brand’s popular jumping hour retrograde minute hand dial layout. Definitely a weird and cool watch that I’ve lusted after for years.
Chanel popularized ceramic as a watch case material, and also helped usher in an era of well-made fashion watches. Today, the J12 is typically associated with women’s watches, but that is mostly because of the brand’s clever ability to take a classic sports watch aesthetic, make it in shiny white ceramic, and get the fashion world really excited about it. Chanel’s less common men’s watches are excellent in my opinion, and a model that I continue to think about is the reference H3131 Automatic. What made it special is the 42mm wide size as well as the matte (versus polished) black ceramic case and bracelet.
The right watch at the wrong time… and probably at the wrong price defined the Eterna KonTiki Diver, which later became the Porsche Design Diver P’6780 (Eterna produced Porsche Design watches at the time). With a complicated case that had a pop-up inner section for the dial and movement, the Eterna KonTiki Diver was an excellent modern piece of diving equipment, and a dive watch lover’s dream. It was truly innovative yet sexy, and yet stumbled because of poor marketing and almost no brand recognition at the time (in key markets like the United States). Watches like this were just coming out when aBlogtoWatch was a new website, and about a decade later, I still think about owning one.
Did you know that Montblanc made a modern urban Panerai? Yeah, it was called the Timewalker, and prior to its current driving watch form, the Montblanc Timewalker Chronograph Automatic was a wonderfully proportioned modern men’s watch that simply never hit its marketing stride. Wonderful details include the skeletonized lugs, wonderfully elegant dial style, and perhaps the best all-around contemporary men’s watch design Montblanc has ever made. They were always priced a bit too far out of my student budget’s hands when they first came out, but today they feel like a bargain. My all-time favorite continues to be one of Montblanc’s simple versions with an all-steel case and matching silver dial paired with a brown alligator strap.
You may have not even known that Cartier stopped making the Calibre Diver at the time of writing, but they did. The entire Calibre collection as a whole is apparently being slowed down or even perhaps entirely stopped. Something about Cartier not wanting to be too sporty right now (for some reason we probably don’t agree with since we happen to quite like their sports watches). With the Calibre collection came Cartier’s in-house made high-volume movements. Even though they were nothing out of the ordinary in terms of performance, it was the first time in a while that we felt that Cartier really cared about the watch guy. The Calibre Diver was their big ambition to take on the Rolex Submariner in Cartier Style. It remains an imperfect dive watch compared to the Rolex, but more perfect at swooning the ladies. And isn’t that what expensive dive watches are all about?
If you like tool watches and want to dabble in minimalism, it is hard to not really appreciate the watches designed by the late Swiss designer Hannes Wettstein for Ventura. Hannes Wettstein was one of those talented designers who “take the horological challenge.” That’s when someone popular who makes functional items for daily use tackles the tough challenge of designing a watch. The Germanic Swiss design faithfully appreciates the need for elegant masculinity, but is also clearly infatuated with making a very sparse yet legible design inspired by the Speedmaster Moonwatch school of thought. Wettstein designed a few watches for Ventura, with of course some of those products being better than others.
French Alain Silberstein was by all accounts a prolific and highly artistic watch designer. One of his key talents was to respect the codes of traditional watchmaking while also having fun at each corner. He would do things like replace days of the week on a calendar wheel with various smiley faces or make feel-good child-like designs that were also studies in proper proportions and legibility. The Krono models were most of those that had chronograph complications, and often included one of his personal favorite movements which was the Swiss ETA Valjoux 7751 – probably because it gave him an awful lot of different hands to design.
The late 1990s sizing of this 37mm wide watch could possibly prevent me from wearing it too much, but I love this early Bell & Ross urban dress watch design. Way more exciting than the city it is named for, the Geneva 123 celebrates symmetry and great looking hands (in that sense it is very Swiss, even though it was born in Paris). Its finely made “no gap” bracelet was the only logical attachment because a strap (in my opinion) almost kills this watch. If Bell & Ross decided to revisit these hands and this aesthetic, I think it would be popular.
At some point I hope someone will explain to me why in the early 2010s a bunch of modern-looking watch collections started getting vintage-ized. It happened to the Capeland as well. I first discovered the Baume et Mercier (they still used “et” versus “&” back then) Capeland very early on in my watch enthusiast career, as a teenager. The blend of strong masculine legibility, mixed with a sort of old-world class that one didn’t see very often in big city America is what compelled me. I also liked it for many of the same reasons I liked the Bell & Ross Geneva 123 – as in a way, it was a cousin timepiece in style to the Capeland. Baume et Mercier made some interesting dive watch models in even more contemporary sizes, but their attempt to look too sporty ruins a lot of the desirable elegance in the smaller models.