Watch Design Icons and rare watches: the original Piaget Polo

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A design which has become an icon of the age, amidst the Quartz Crisis and the Swiss exploration into steel luxury sports watches designed with integrated bracelets. This is the Piaget Polo. Piaget goes against the grain with a signature watch which is proudly unique and iconic, even at its time.

We managed to handle and photograph this magnificent example, the property of the Piaget private collection when it was showcased in an exhibition in Singapore recently. This is not a review of the watch, but a presentation and a reminder of the historical icon it is.

The watch we photographed is the Polo large model, Ref. 7761 C701, circa 1979.

The year was 1979. Yves Piaget had dreamed about a watch to be worn by the gentry attending polo matches. Not a sports watch for the players, but for the spectators. A proper dress watch, more suited for those sipping champagne in the grandstands than roughing up riding the ponies. And not in stainless steel, but in solid gold. As Yves put it, a watch to “expresses an elegant interpretation of both an active and refined soul.” It was to have a case, dial and bracelet design which visually melded into one harmonious whole. And be named “Polo”. He elaborated, “the entire Polo philosophy can be summed up in one sentence: it’s a watch bracelet rather than a mere wristwatch.”

Another model, known as the Polo small model ref. 7131C701 was offered in a 25mm square case and dial in the same design. Photo: Piaget.

A brief history of luxury sports watches and the quartz crisis

The sporty watch genre could be traced back to Jaeger-LeCoultre with their Reverso. The intent Reverso is clearly was intended for use by polo players and which bore the Art Deco spirit of the Roaring Twenties and Dirty Thirties. And the Reverso is an icon we know and love dearly. But the genre was also one which revived by Gerald Genta and his twin masterpieces of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in 1972 and Patek Philippe Nautilus in 1976. A genre which became quite successful in the age of the Quartz Crisis, where Swiss watchmaking maisons were dropping like flies in the face of inexpensive, high quality and superbly accurate watches from Japan. Many of those who jumped on this wagon, managed to survive being devastated. AP and Patek were the two most prominent maisons, and though this list is very short, they were not the only ones. Rolex was another. And yet one more example is Chopard whose St. Moritz designed by Karl-Friedrich Schuefele in 1980, came out largely unscathed by the devastation that swept through Switzerland. These maisons remain with the same private owners as before the crisis.

The first quartz watch to hit the market was the Seiko Astron in 1969, narrowly beating the Swiss Consortium’s Beta-21 which was announced in Baselworld 1970. The Astron, however was not an inexpensive watch. 100 were produced in 1969, and only with a gold case. They were quickly snapped up, despite the price of JPY 450,000 each, about the same price as the then new Toyota Corolla E-10 in Japan. Photo: Seiko.

Other houses who joined in offering a luxury steel watch did not quite make it. On this list, we count the likes of Vacheron Constantin with their Ref. 222 (1977) and later Overseas designed by Jorg Hysek. VC survives today under Richemont, but went through a turbulent period after the Quartz Crisis under Yamani (from 1987) before being acquired by the Vendôme group (now known as Richemont) in 1996. Also, IWC with their Genta designed Ingieneur in 1976 who only managed to survive the crisis due to the ingenuity of the later years under the leadership of Günter Blümlein as part of Les Manufactures Horlogères (LMH). IWC was also later purchased by Richemont in 2001. Or even the Girard-Perregaux Laureato launched in 1975 by an unknown Italian designer (yes, we checked and double confirmed with Stefano Macaluso, the son of the late Gino that the maison had no record to credit the design to), which was rescued by Gino Macaluso and later sold to the Kering Group in 2011. And of course Piaget. Piaget saw considerable success with the Polo, but was ultimately not spared. Piaget was also purchased by the Vendôme group in 1988, and now part of the Richemont empire.

The Polo had an iconic design, representative of the first jet set era of the late 1970s. The model we show here is circa 1980, and is the property of Piaget.

Piaget Polo Ref. 7761 C701

The watch we photographed and present here is the Ref. 7761 C701 Polo, circa 1980. The case is nominally 34m in diameter and is fully integrated to the non-detachable bracelet. The entire watch is in 18k yellow gold, and weighs in at about 145g. The design showcases an alternating polished and satin-brushed surfaces. This became a signature look for the Polo. The design featured prominently displayed gadroons, which are decorative edging on metal formed by parallel rounded strips known as reeds. This looked like inverted fluting which have been ruled over the entire case, dial and bracelet. These cues enabled an visual integration of the bracelet links to be carried over to the dial for a seamless aesthetic. The crown is tucked away in the case back, so the lines on the watch face, as worn, is clean and uncluttered, allowing prominence only to the fluted design aesthetics.

The dial carries this design, and the minimalistic look is presented with a near mystery dial, without hour markers. A series of dots are marked on the periphery to indicate the minutes. The Polo is a two hand watch, with the hour and minutes indicated by double faceted Dauphine hands. Markings on the dial is minimal, with only the Piaget logo and the words “SWISS” in small print below the minute dots at 6 o’clock. On some models, the word “QUARTZ” was emblazoned on the dial below Piaget logo. A proud testament that it was fashionable and desirable in those days. And that the Swiss had thought the quartz to be sold as luxury, whereas the Japanese quickly saw the quartz movement as an opportunity for inexpensive, highly accurate, mass produced watches. This led to the Quartz Crisis.

The movement used in the launch model Polo was the 7P, which at that time was the world’s thinnest movement. The thickness was 3.1mm, and contained the equivalent of 888 transistors. A marvel in its time. The design of the movement also allowed the Polo to change timezones without altering the position of the minute hand, something which presented a challenge to quartz movements of the day. In 1980, the 7P was replaced by the 8P, which was even thinner, measuring only 1.95mm thick.

Regardless of it having a quartz movement, the Polo of this vintage is highly sought after. And perhaps it is now cool and hip to be wearing a quartz watch from the 1970s.

In 2016, Piaget introduced an update to the Polo in the form of the Polo S, which was received with some controversy by the media.

Photo Notes

Photographed in-situ at the Piaget exhibition site. Fujifilm GFX 50S II with Hasselblad HC 4/120 and HC 2.8/80 + H26 extension tube via H Adapter. Profoto strobes.


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