Swellboy on… vintage-style watches

Midcentury forms are making a timely reappearance

Image: Brijesh Patel

It seems that the 1950s are the new now, at least for watches. At last year’s SIHH in Geneva, Vacheron Constantin unveiled a gorgeous timepiece called the Aronde 1954. During the early part of the 1950s, watch designers experimented with some pretty far-out forms, whose combinations of curves, straight lines, faceted surfaces and so forth evoked everything from the base of the Eiffel Tower to a stylised butterfly. This design from Vacheron was one of the more far-fetched, and I loved it.

That gloriously fecund, baroque period in wristwatch design was, however, never going to have mainstream appeal, so the majority of watches were slim and circular with sparely designed dials. This year’s Basel fair threw up just such a corker in the shape of Patek Philippe’s ref 5123, with its elegant applied hour markers, faceted sword hands and a small seconds that was not a subdial but simply a cross above the six o’clock position. It was perhaps the simplest design that I saw at the fair, and yet it spoke to me so eloquently that I’ve been unable to get it out of my mind. It was a perfect evocation of watches as they were just over half a century ago.


Another visitor from the past touched down at Tudor. Tudor is a sub-brand of Rolex and for some time a few of its vintage pieces, most notably its diving variants and a two-subdial chrono from the 1970s, have been enjoying cult status among collectors. Two years ago it hit the mark with the relaunch of the chrono and now, rather like those Robin Hood movies in which one archery contestant scores a bull’s-eye so brilliant that it splits the rival arrow already in the centre of the target, Tudor has done it again with the relaunch of a 1950s diving model called the Black Bay.

It could not have been simpler or more attractive; real care had been taken with everything, from the colour of the luminous hour markers to the feel of the crystal as you ran your thumb over it. The design is brilliantly realised right down to the square-ended hour hand and the gilt lettering on the dial – a triumph.


If you want a new watch that looks like an old watch and you cannot afford one of the limited-edition Panerais, then I urge you strongly to look at the Black Bay. My only suggestion for further improving things is that the team currently running Tudor be put in charge of Rolex as soon as possible.

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