February 9, 2014
by Ariel Adams
If there has been one major theme to recognize over the last five or so years in the watch industry it is the rise of the retro-revival watch. What does that mean? It means that a love of “vintage” and celebrating tradition has swept over the entire industry. It means that to a large degree the watch design of today is influenced by the watch design of yesterday, and it also means that popular brands are releasing modern versions (exact or updates) of classic models. This latter practice isn’t new and from the early 1990s you saw brands “re-releasing” classic models often with modern cases and movements. This continues today and each year many timepieces of the past in some form or another make a return.
If you’ve been following watches for any length of time none of this should be news to you. Even though some of history’s most popular watch models get new life these days, not everything we lust for will or can be resurrected. The alternative to waiting for someone to bring back an older design is buying an original vintage piece. While that sounds reasonable it is often not practical. On the one hand popular watches from years ago tend to have been thoroughly loved. That means the original owners wore them a lot and the pieces show it. If they are popular they are also likely to be rare or very difficult to find in good condition. On the other hand some of them are simply too valuable to consider. Like the idea of wearing a rare vintage Rolex? So do a lot of other people who are much better funded than you. So what I am saying is that if a company chooses not to release a modern version of a classic, then many people simply have no ability to enjoy these timepieces.
It recently dawned upon me that there are a lot of timepieces I personally wanted to see in a more modern form, but that no one had bothered to bring back to life… yet. Here are six such pieces and whether or not I think they have a good chance of seeing the light of day.
What is it: As part of the larger Tiffany & Co. Streamerica collection of products a few watches were produced by the company in the 1990s. The Streamerica collection was a celebration of American industrialism. The items had small rivets on them and were a rare form of masculine jewelry and accessories in addition to the timepieces. A few versions were released offered in both steel and gold cases and either on a matching bracelet or leather strap. There were even two movement options including a basic COSC Chronometer 3-hand automatic as well as a world-timer. At 39mm wide it was considered large for its time, and it also has a unique style (not to mention bracelet) that you simply can’t find in anything else. You should also know that the Streamerica watches were designed by Swiss watch designer Jorg Hysek.
Why it deserves a re-release: The Tiffany & Co Streamerica was one of the first timepieces I ever wrote about on aBlogtoWatch back in 2007. I simply love the aesthetic and overall design. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a few in real life, but today they are exceedingly rare even though they pop up from time to time at auction. I feel that the Streamerica concept is one that Tiffany & Co. should return to and that a timepiece such as this may have been a bit ahead of its time, as back in the 1990s tastes were still rather conservative. It is entirely possible that with the right mixture of features and price, a Streamerica collection of timepieces might do very well today.
Chances of it being brought back: That is difficult to say but I don’t think it has a great chance. Tiffany & Co. is right now trying to figure out their options after being ordered to pay hefty damages to the Swatch Group following the dissolution of their relationship to produce and sell timepieces together. Tiffany & Co. has promised to find a new partner with which to produce timepieces, and when they find one it will probably be new versus old designs that they will look to offer. Tiffany & Co. isn’t the type of company to re-release too many old things, and if they were to produce a new Streamerica collection the chances of them bringing back a rather complex-to-manufacture niche timepiece is slim. Though it is technically possible for the Streamerica to make an eventual comeback – sure.
What is it: The original Baume et Mercier Capeland watch collection was a modern, elegant sports watch that began in the 1990s and went into the early 2000s. Then Baume et Mercier turned into “Baume & Mercier” the brand began to change, offering more and more traditional looking versus modern watches. In 2011 Baume & Mercier re-released the Capeland collection but as a vintage-themed range. We did a full aBlogtoWatch review of the new Capeland watches here. You can see that they in no way represent the original collection. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with the Baume et Mercier Capeland because of its beautiful style and not too formal appeal. The most sporty version was the Capeland S – a dive-style with colorful accents, an automatic chronograph movement, and a 41mm wide steel case (normal Capeland watches were 39mm wide).
Why it deserves a re-release: Between the three-hand models and the chronographs of various styles, the Capeland was just such a handsome collection that worked on so many levels. What I really liked about it the most was the truly contemporary style. It blended aesthetic elements of the past but was in no way a retro watch. The Capeland S was the sportiest model, but I really liked the entire collection. For me this was Baume & Mercier at its best. I don’t mind the vintage-looking stuff, but I feel that Baume & Mercier is really missing out by not offering a contemporary sporty dress watch suitable for most any occasion. If you think the “S” is too bold, check out the other models. Many are still available today.
Chances of it being brought back: Pretty good but not anytime soon. The “newest” Capeland collection is just three or so years old and it isn’t likely that the brand would want to pivot so quickly. I still think it was silly of them to give the new Capeland watches the “Capeland” name, so that they could resurrect the previous collection without it looking too awkward, but no one says that they need to stick to name conventions. If this collection was to return by design or theme it won’t be for a few more years at least. Actually, I spoke to Baume & Mercier about this and they too miss the design. They feel confident that the collection could see a reprisal in the future, but it would be at least a few years down the road.
What is it: Before it was “TAG Heuer” it was just Heuer. In 1963, Heuer released the now iconic Carrera collection under the leadership of Jack Heuer. Heuer, who literally has just finally retired, spent the last years of his working career as the honorary chairman of TAG Heuer. The mid to late 1960s were ruled by the sports chronograph, even though it was not until 1969 that brands (including TAG Heuer) released automatic self-winding chronograph watches. The Carrera was inspired by auto racing and some of the most elegant versions are the originals. They happen to come in many styles as well. My favorites are the Heuer Carrera 2447 SN and 2447 NS watches. What is the difference? Well one has a silver dial with black sub dials and the other has a black dial with silver sub dials.
Why it deserves a re-release: These designs are extremely iconic of the era and offer legibility, class, and a lot of elegance in a design that feels very wearable today. The basic shape of the Carrera case is more or less unchanged and these “panda dial” models are simply great looking. From elegant lines to a very readable dial, this is among the best looking, non-pretentious classic chronograph sport watches around.
Chances of it being brought back: Pretty good actually. TAG Heuer just announced a new movement that would be perfect inside of a revived interpretation of the Carrera 2447. At the end of 2013 TAG Heuer announced its in-house made Calibre 1969 automatic chronograph movement with the same tri-compax sub dial layout. Further, the Calibre 1969 movements are all debuting in Carrera models. While the standard Carrera Calibre 1969 watches are all going to be rather modern, it would be very simple for TAG Heuer to create a version (standard or limited edition) that emulates this classic black and white panda dial look.