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The rage for retro watches

Nostalgia for design icons of the past has fuelled the market for new retro watches that are running on thoroughly modern engines.

26 November 2015 |

The rage for retro watches is at an all-time high, spawning copious re-editions of golden oldies and creating an entire niche of new watches designed to capture the spirit of a bygone age. But just before we look at our selection of these timely anachronisms, there is a nuance in the meanings of the much-bandied adjectives “retro” and “vintage”. The term “vintage” refers to an object hailing from a period in the past, and the current consensus is that it has to be 20 years or older to qualify. On the other hand, “retro” is used to describe the appearance of an object whose design ethos makes it look as though it came from the past, although in the case of these men’s watches, they are all of recent manufacture. 

1. Jaeger-LeCoultre 
Grande Reverso Ultra Thin 1931 

The unwavering appeal of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso watch, with its sleek geometric glamour and Art Deco aesthetics, has brought iconic status to this watch since its launch in 1931. Declined over the years, this 80th birthday tribute comes in a warm pink gold case with the hallmark gadroons guarding the delicious chocolate brown dial like sentinels. The svelte profile, measuring just 7.3mm in height, is thanks to the ultra-thin movement, and the supple brown cordovan leather strap has been supplied by Casa Fagliano in Argentina - acclaimed bootmakers to royal families and Argentina’s polo team.

The new retro

One of my personal favourites in the retro department, this watch oozes the nostalgic sartorial elegance of the 1950s. The large rectangular rose gold case measures 50 x 44mm by 12mm high, and has gorgeously smooth rounded angles and a minimalist design with a crown positioned at 12 o’clock. The curved sapphire crystal, covering both the dial and the movement, literally suspends the spartan dial in time and space. To accentuate the retro feel, this model has a slightly discoloured greenish dial reminiscent of alarm clocks from the 1950s, and the bold Arabic numerals are treated with blue luminescent material. 

3. Chopard
2014 Mille Miglia Chronograph

It’s a well-known fact that the co-president of Chopard is a petrol head, who competes in - and sponsors - the historic Mille Miglia vintage car race between Brescia and Rome. This handsome rose gold Mille Miglia Chronograph pays tribute to the classic cars - limited to models built between 1927 and 1957 - that compete in the race, and displays the colours of the Italian flag with a red tachymeter scale and green minute track. Its undeniable retro appeal is consolidated with the cursive dial fonts from the 1920s and brown calfskin strap that is designed to remind aficionados of the leather straps that vintage cars once used to keep their motors under the bonnet. However, there is nothing retro about the finely tuned mechanical engine of this watch, on full view through the sapphire crystal caseback, complete with COSC chronometer certification. 

4. Glashütte Original
Sixties Iconic collection
€6,300 (euros)

The Swinging 60s are captured here in all their glory in this vibrant collection of five Glashütte Original watches. The 39mm stainless steel watch pays tribute to one of this German company’s iconic models known as the Spezimatic watch, which was launched in 1964 when East Germany was still the GDR. The dials feature an original shaded tone effect obtained by applying layers of lacquer, which are then coated with a special spray gun to achieve a unique and individual colour gradient on each dial. The groovy Sixties Golden, Aqua and Red models shimmer with life, while the Brown and Grey models display a unique texture on the dial. Consolidating its retro appeal, the dials are slightly domed and the font used for the numerals is signature 1960s. 

5. TAG Heuer
Monaco Calibre 11 Chronograph

The TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph - the legendary watch worn by American actor Steve McQueen in the film Le Mans - is still going strong since it was first released in 1969. Apart from its undeniable star appeal, the TAG Heuer Monaco was the world's first square chronograph and the first square-shaped, water-resistant case. TAG revisits its icon in a 39 x 39mm stainless steel case, complete with the chronograph pushers on the right and the crown on the left, just like McQueen’s watch. The matte blue dial with sporty red and white details, the date window and the square silver-coloured chrono counters are also directly taken from the original Monaco, as is the perforated calfskin strap. 

Read about retro watches on our list of best men's watches

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