The middle-market luxury watch brands owned by the Swatch Group such as Hamilton, Tissot, Longines, Mido, and Certina are delivering some of the best values in mechanical watches today, and oddly, few people who like watches are noticing. Not only are many of these brands selling online – though without much supporting marketing – but they are working hard to strike a balance of quality and price that makes mid-range collectors happy. On that note, let’s take a look at the Tissot Heritage 1936 Mechanical reference T104.405.16.012.00 wrist watch, and the Tissot Bridgeport Lepine Mechanical reference T860.405.29.032.01, and T860.405.29.032.00 (different dial color) pocket watch.
These two products aren’t per se related, but they do share similar aesthetic themes and very similar movements. They also both happen to be both priced at under $1,000. The Tissot Heritage 1936 Mechanical watch is based on the the way many historic wrist watches looked at a time when they were transitioning from the pocket to the wrist. It starts with a round, 45mm-wide case in polished steel with wire-style lugs typical of how early wrist watches looked. This was because early wrist watches were really just pocket watches with lugs soldered to them.
This early wrist watch theme continues in the Tissot Heritage 1936 with the hunter-style caseback which is hinged and opens to reveal a view of the movement. Hinged casebacks are purely a vestige of pocket watches designed as primitive means to protect them. Today, some wrist watches have this feature as a design quirk in order to add a little bit of fun and mystery to their timepiece.
I have to admit it is fun taking off your wrist watch and handing it to someone only to then have the caseback flip open offering a view of the movement. Suffice it to say that on modern watches when you open the caseback there is a sapphire crystal in place to still actually protect the movement – it was not always like that in the past, of course. I’ll also add that the case is water-resistant to 50 meters.
At 45mm wide and 12.98mm thick, the Tissot Heritage 1936 is actually large enough to be a pocket watch. In fact, the movement inside of it (a variant of the UNITAS) began its life based on the architecture of a mechanical pocket watch movement in the 1950s. The movement is the Swiss ETA 6498-1 which operates at a steady 18,000bph (2.5Hz) with a power reserve of about 46 hours.
The 6498 manually wound movement is quite common today for its robust design, low price, and versatility. It is identical to its sibling movement the 6497 save for the position of the subsidiary seconds dial. Assuming the crown is on the right of the case as is typical for wrist watches, the 6498 would position the subsidiary seconds dial at 6 o’clock while the 6497 would position it at 9 o’clock.
The Tissot Bridgeport Lepine Pocket Watch has the ETA 6497-1, but the subsidiary seconds position is at 6 o’clock because the crown is at 12 o’clock, like most pocket watches – whereas the Tissot Heritage 1936 wrist watch has the standard 3 o’clock crown orientation. The movements in the respective watches have pretty much the same level of finishing. It is all machine-finishing (as opposed to hand-finishing), but they look nice and the movements don’t look like naked ebauches. Alternatively, and for about 74 times as much money, you can see a hand-decorated and modified version of the UNITAS movement with a five-minute repeater module in the gold-cased Baume & Mercier Clifton 1830 Pocket Watch Repeater here.
Most of my interest is with the Tissot Heritage 1936 wrist watch, but I will return to that in a moment. The pocket watch is good as a collector’s gift or something fun. Mechanical, decently attractive, and priced at under $700 this is a decent value if you want a traditional-looking yet modern-made pocket watch. Like the wrist watch, the pocket watch has Breguet-style pomme hands as well as Breguet-style Arabic hour numerals. The dial has the appearance of being guilloche machine-engraved (even though it is stamped) for a nice retro look.
Tissot used an interesting and uncommon “weave-style” pattern in the middle of the Tissot Bridgeport Lepine Mechanical dial which you don’t see everyday. Funnily enough, the pocket watch and the wrist watch are both 45mm wide, and the pocket watch is a bit thinner at 10.47mm thick (with 30 meters of water resistance). Unlike the wrist watch, it has a mineral crystal over the dial – but again, it is less expensive and likely subject to much less wear and tear since it isn’t on the wrist.
Tissot produces the Bridgeport Lepine pocket watch as the reference T860.405.29.032.00 in a polished steel case with grey inner dial and blue-colored hands, or the reference T860.405.29.032.01 in a steel and PVD-coated rose gold-toned case with a more traditional light silver dial. A carrying chain is included, of course.
Attached to a pliable brown leather strap, the Tissot Heritage 1936 Mechanical watch looks and feels pretty good on the wrist. The simple yet retro-style is fashionable and good for anyone who likes a slightly more traditional look to their wrist watch. The old-school style and hinged-caseback presentation make for a fun product, as does use of the retro Tissot logo as opposed to the brand’s more modern logo. At twice the money it would be a far less attractive prospective purchase, but at this price I think you get an admirable amount of timepiece for the retail cost.
The era of $5,000 watches that should really cost $1,000 is nearing an end. The luxury watch industry was clearly getting too ambitious with pricing, and finally they are sobering up. Consumers want watches, consumers love watches, but consumers also want value. Tissot and other brands like it are getting wiser with their collections, and people who want a legit and cool mechanical watch but aren’t in a position to spend as much are getting more options each year – and I think in the long run that is going to be good for business. Both versions of the Tissot Bridgeport Lepine Mechanical Pocket watch are priced at $675, and the Tissot Heritage 1936 Mechanical reference T104.405.16.012.00 wrist watch is priced at $995. tissotwatches.com