Diving Watches: From Sports Watches to Certified Icons
In this day and age, the world seems to be changing at lightning speed. This is usually a great thing. However, it can also leave us feeling a bit nostalgic for simpler, less chaotic times – for an era when things felt more genuine, more authentic. This is part of the reason why characters like Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man – all of whom were created by Stan Lee in the early 1960s – are still so popular today. This phenomenon is regularly observed in the watch industry, as well. Reissuing or reinterpreting popular vintage models has become a core strategy for many brands looking to capitalize on their heritage and our sense of nostalgia.
As with everything in life, some companies do it better than others. In this article, we’ll be looking at three examples where the brands got it right. These modern models have become almost as sought-after as their vintage counterparts. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. We’ve undoubtedly left off one or more of your favorite pieces, so please feel free to share your suggestions for further additions on our Facebook page.
Breitling CEO Georges Kern has made a number of changes since taking over the company reins a few years ago. He’s cleaned up their catalog, introduced several new partnerships, and more or less restored the market’s faith in the brand. In doing so, he’s also delved deep into Breitling’s history, gaining a better appreciation and understanding of its roots in aviation and the notable contributions it’s made to the industry over the past decades.
This led him to commission one of the coolest vintage re-issue models we’ve seen from any brand: the Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition. This model is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2019. Breitling has faithfully re-created the iconic model with the help of watch collector Fred Mandelbaum (@watchfred), the owner of one of the world’s largest private collections of vintage Breitling timepieces.
Every detail has been reproduced to be as close to the original as possible, from the case size to the color of the luminous material and the amount of beads on the bezel (94). Hailed as a huge success by collectors and Breitling enthusiasts alike, the ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition is reportedly just the tip of the iceberg. Kern has already dropped hints that we can expect to see more vintage re-issues coming from Breitling soon. Very cool!
The Omega Seamaster is probably one of the best-known diving watches on the planet. But did you know it wasn’t originally intended to be a diving watch? Introduced in 1948 as part of Omega’s 100th-anniversary celebrations, it was initially marketed as a robust dress watch for active individuals. Early models were water-resistant to a relatively meager 60 m (197 ft). That’s pretty good for a dress watch, but you probably wouldn’t want to go swimming with it on, let alone diving.
By the 1950s, however, the amateur diving trend was starting to gain traction and brands like Rolex and Blancpain were quick to respond. So, in 1957, Omega gave the Seamaster a complete overhaul. Launched as part of the “Master” Trilogy collection, which also included the Speedmaster and Railmaster, the new Seamaster 300 was a beast compared to its predecessor. The case size increased to 39 mm (from 34 mm). The new black dial featured a distinctive broad arrow for the hour hand and was covered in luminous material (radium). Framing this was a bidirectional bezel and, of course, the depth rating increased to 200 m (656 ft).
Original iterations of the Omega Seamaster 300 are still very popular with collectors. However, it’s difficult to find one that’s survived all these years entirely intact. That’s why it was a big deal when, in 2014, Omega unveiled the Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial collection. Although there are a number of different versions available, purists favor the all-steel edition. At 41 mm, it’s slightly larger than the original, and the case has polished and satin-brushed finishes. That being said, it still looks and feels very much like the original from 1957. Inside, you’ll find an anti-magnetic in-house movement equipped with Omega’s legendary Co-Axial escapement.
Thanks to a certain “King of Cool,” a.k.a. Steve McQueen, and an epic movie called Le Mans, everybody knows the TAG Heuer Monaco. Every single detail is iconic: the square case, the petrol blue dial with contrasting white counters, the splashes of red. This watch stays with you even after you’ve taken it off your wrist. It’s different, to be sure, but in a good way. The design looks just as dashing now as it did when it was introduced some 50 years ago. In short, it turns heads and attracts attention, and that was exactly Jack Heuer’s intention when he first crafted this timepiece all those years ago.
There’s not enough room to go into the full story here, but essentially, in the late 1960s, a secret partnership was formed. Four companies began working together to develop the world’s first automatic chronograph. Heuer was part of this coalition. Once their goal was achieved, Mr. Heuer quickly realized he needed a distinctive watch to showcase the new movement. Starting with a square case, Heuer’s designers created a model that went against every rule in the book. This included placing the crown on the left-hand side of the case, a visual reminder that the watch did not need to be wound manually. Two years later, the same model found its way onto the wrist of McQueen – and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Monaco remains a vital part of the TAG Heuer catalog to this day. Of course, the options are now much more numerous. The closest to the original, however, is the Monaco Calibre 11. It features the same color scheme and a very similar dial design to the classic model, albeit with a few subtle changes. For example, the original had running seconds, and the chronograph counters showed the elapsed hours and minutes. On the current version, the 30-minute counter has moved to 9 o’clock and there is no 12-hour counter. Instead, it’s been replaced by a small seconds at 3 o’clock. That being said, the design remains very true to the original, right down to the crown on the left-hand side.
Nostalgia notwithstanding, these three watches show us that good design can be timeless – as long as you don’t mess with it too much, that is.