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Throwback Sundays: Six (Partially Forgotten) Iconic Watches Revisited, from Our Archives

Bringing back the goodies
by Robin Lim on November 24, 2019

Once in a while, the watch industry goes through cycles. Some of these includes the “Quartz Crisis”, the rise of independent watchmaking, and now, the (almost insane) craze of luxury stainless steel sports watches.

Whenever these cycles occur, people tend to forget about the rest of the watches that exists in the market. It seems as though the others just disappeared into the thin air. It is quite intriguing, considering that amongst the tens of thousands of watches, it is only a handful that are hogging the spotlight for the past few years.

In this week’s article, we hope to bring back some of these “forgotten” pieces. We think that these watches deserve some attention, and perhaps, it might even be a good time to pick these up before they might get overly popular someday. What are some of these pieces? Let’s find out!

Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso

We begin the article with an unmistakable icon in the horological world for the past eight decades. Cue the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso.

The Reverso first debuted in the 1930s, for an entirely unexpected reason. Back then, the Polo players requested César de Trey to produce a timepiece that can withstand the knocks from polo mallets. This gave César the idea to create a timepiece with a reversible case, and gave birth to the Reverso.

Over the years, Jaeger LeCoultre had produced many iterations of the Reverso. While it has evolved tremendously from a sports watch to a dress watch over the years, the Reverso’s elegant design still remains true to its roots. For starters, we believe that the base model – which is a time-only watch – fits the bill perfectly. It is simple, yet so sophisticated on its own right. In addition, the empty caseback can be used for engraving purposes to commemorate any special occasions as well.

The entry-level model with a manual-winding movement is priced at US$5,300 (approximately S$7,240), and this is similarly priced to a typical stainless steel Rolex Datejust or Explorer. We think it is worth a shot for someone who is looking for a dress watch, and yet might not want to spend a five-figure sum for a timepiece that is different from their usual options.

Cartier Tank

The Tank first debuted in Cartier’s repertoire at around 1918, and it was inspired by the new Renault Tank (a light tank made by Renault which saw action in World War I) that Louis Cartier had seen in 1917. Interestingly, the original Tank had followed the design of the Renault Tank closely, in particular, respecting the lines and proportions of the vehicle.

Over the years, Cartier had spawned a few variations of the Tank. Some of the more memorable ones include the Tank Asymétrique, the Basculante, as well as the LC Squelette that we have featured in the picture above. While these Tanks were obviously not inspired by the Renault Tanks, but its quirky interpretations definitely adds an interesting touch to this collection.

For the purists, we reckon that the Tank Louis Cartier or the Tank Solo is the way to go. It is a simple two-hand watch, but its elegant is almost unparallel with its beautiful and unmistakable design cues. Priced at S$4,850 for the Steel XL automatic model on leather strap, the Tank Solo is another excellent option (against the Reverso) if one is looking for an iconic but classy dress watch.

Breitling Navitimer

When it comes to watches that most of the pilots swears by – regardless of whether they do use its function – is the legendary Navitimer from Breitling. Armed with its signature slide-rule display, the Navitimer is a timepiece that exudes both style and masculinity simultaneously.

In this year’s Baselworld, Breitling launched a remake of the Reference 806 – the original Navitimer that graced the wrists of pilots in the 1950s. It was this particular model that first adopted the “Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association” (AOPA) emblem on its dial – as seen by the winged logo on the dial of this timepiece. It is a faithful recreation, with great attention paid to even the tiniest detail on both the case and dial.

The homage piece now features some modern touches to it, in particular the movement. It is now fitted with Breitling’s in-house Calibre B09, a hand-wound COSC-certified movement that was developed specially for historical re-creations. The 39-jewel calibre beats at 28,800 vph, and it has a power reserve of around 70 hours.

Priced at S$11,750, the Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-Edition is a special timepiece that certainly captures the heart of many aviation enthusiasts. Breitling will only produce 1959 pieces of this timepiece, and each will be individually numbered and engraved on the caseback.

Zenith El Primero

When it comes to chronographs, the likes of Rolex Daytona and Omega Speedmaster probably occupy dominant mind share – after all, the former was made famous by celebrated actor Paul Newman while the latter literally accompanied our first astronauts to the moon. Lurking on the periphery of popular consciousness, is the Zenith’s El Primero. The El Primero has the honour of being the world’s first automatic chronograph, and it is recognized by connoisseurs as the chronograph that features a mechanically sophisticated high-beat movement.

Despite the accolades, it is a travesty that El Primero is not as well known outside the horological circle. All things considered – the El Primero is robustly constructed, exceptional timepiece with a solid namesake movement. Interestingly, the El Primero movement was fitted in older Rolex Daytona (Reference 165XX) chronographs. In fact, they had to “de-tune” the movement to reduce wear-and-tear, from 36,000bph to 28,800bph. Rolex eventually produced its own movement for the Daytona, but this short digression gives us insight into the prowess and capabilities of Zenith’s flagship calibre.

That said, the El Primero range of watches is more than just chronographs and encompasses a variety of additional complications as well. One of our picks will be the El Primero 410 – which is features the classic high-beat El Primero chronograph movement with an additional full calendar display. We particularly like its classic aesthetics, and its value considering the additional of a full calendar function. It is priced at US$11,000 (approximately S$15,008). Overall, it is an excellent alternative to better known chronographs. Read our musings on the El Primero, its influence on the industry and where it is headed to.

Bvlgari Octo Finissimo

Over the last few years, Bvlgari had constantly impressed us with its Octo collection. Its relentless pursuit of making ultra-thin watches had yielded some interesting results, and these pieces had certainly differentiated itself against some of the counterparts in the same category. But its lineage can be traced back to Gerald Genta – whom had a hand in the creation of the Bvlgari Bvlgari watch, which inspired the Octo collection.

The 40mm Octo Finissimo Automatique is one of our favourite pieces from Bulgari just yet. While there are many other more complicated pieces (such as the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon and the Octo Finissimo Répétition Minute), we pretty much like the clean and sophisticated looks of the Automatique itself. Besides, the price point is also much more accessible, and that its simple aesthetics really brings out the case and bracelet construction (which we reckon is the main attraction of this piece).

The Finissimo Automatique is cased with Bulgari’s Calibre BVL138. The self-winding movement comes with a platinum micro-rotor, and it has a power reserve of around 60 hours. This is even more impressive considering that the movement is only 2.23mm thick – which is even thinner than Piaget Altiplano’s record of 2.35mm. Finally, this incredible titanium timepiece is available from S$17,700 onwards (with the leather strap option), and we feel that this is excellent value for an ultra-thin luxury sports watch which is constructed beautifully and coupled with excellent finishing.

Blancpain Fifty Fathom

The diver’s watch as we know today can trace its roots back to the Blancpain Fifty Fathom. While they were definitely not the first to make a timepiece that is capable of going underwater, but Blancpain can pride itself for several important innovations. This includes the now widely-used unidirectional bezel, which is the hallmark of almost all diver’s watch.

The Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC is the modern interpretation of the original timepiece. There are several nice touches for this timepiece, such as the domed sapphire crystal, water-tightness humidity indicator, and the luminescence-filled unidirectional bezel. While the watch is only 40mm in diameter, but its bulky looks make it appear larger than it is. It is certainly an appealing watch.

Priced at S$19,500, the Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathom MIL-SPEC is a tad pricier than the watches that we have highlighted today. However, the watch – which is fitted with an in-house automatic movement with a 4 day power reserve – is definitely a notch above the rest. This watch is also limited to a production of 500 pieces. If one is looking for an exclusive and interesting diver’s watch, the Blancpain might just be the answer to that.

Concluding Thoughts

In today’s watch collecting environment, where the likes of Rolex Daytona and Patek Philippe Nautilus dominates the scene, having something different is a refreshing change.

Granted, we could have went for something that is drastically more different from the usual, but we reckon that revisiting the icons might be something that will be more palatable to more conventional collectors. Besides, these watches have great provenances as well – which adds a nice touch and story to any timepiece collection too.

What are your thoughts on our selection today? What are some of the forgotten icons that we have missed out? Let us know in the comments section below!

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