It's difficult to imagine a time when vintage-inspired watches didn't dominate the marketplace. This highly competitive category seems to grow in size each year, with almost every big name brand releasing yet another faithful reimagining of an archive piece, or sometimes creating an entirely new timepiece that simply looks old.
But we consumers eat it up. Maybe it's the spiking value of pre-owned watches pricing out all but the wealthiest collectors, maybe we love the history lesson that each new heritage piece tells us, or maybe we simply crave a timeless product that doesn't age as poorly as, say, a phone, or a piece of clothing.
Regardless, these heritage watches are a joyous window into the past. They allow us geeks to tell their story to those who are patient enough to listen – and they look pretty damn good too.
This year's shortlist continues to prove that old school is still the best school. Check out the contenders below:
Audemars Piguet [Re]master01
Not all reissues are created equal. The new [Re]master01 from Audemars Piguet represents the very best of the manufacture’s back catalogue, striking the perfect balance between vintage aesthetics and modern sensibility.
Based on the legendary ref.1533 from the 1940s (only nine of them were made), the two-tone stainless-steel case and ping gold bezel, crown and pushers are in perfect harmony at 40mm. The yellow gold hue dial and blue tachymetric scale against the pink gold hands are just magic. [Re]mastered1 boasts the cal.4409, an in-house self-winding and flyback chronograph. If there is one thing to take from the [Re]master01 it is that AP is far more than just the Royal Oak.
Breitling Top Time Limited Edition
In 1965’s Thunderball, Bond uses a Breitling Top Time model equipped with a Geiger counter to track down stolen nuclear missiles hidden underwater. While this new Top Time Limited Edition doesn’t sport the same spec as Bond’s, it sets the vintage lover’s heart racing with a flash of colour on the distinctive ‘Zorro’ dial layout, and parallel white sub dials framed by a black domino-mask-like motif. The 41mm stainless steel case with a convex sapphire crystal, non-screw-down crown, and plunger chronograph pushers make it an effortlessly easy watch to wear day to day.
Bremont ALT1-C Griffon
Known for its modern military watches and special project commissions, Bremont has taken its ALT1-C design from 2007 to another level for 2020 with the Griffon. An elegant tool watch, combining detail in design and robustness, the Griffon pays tribute to the final generation Mark XIX Supermarine Spitfire fighter of WWII.
The 43mm stainless case follows Bremont’s signature tryptic layout with brilliant ribbed DLC-coated central case. The matte black dial is clean and balanced with gauge-like printed Arabic numerals alongside centralised chronograph subdials and subtle gold printed accents in the subdials with khaki lume on the hands. The Griffon is stealth meets style for the everyday.
Cartier Privé Collection Tank 'Asymétrique'
Elegance personified, the new limited-edition Cartier Tank Asymétrique is the fourth watch in Cartier’s Privé collection. First launched in 1998, the collection showcased classic designs from the Cartier back catalogue. The Asymmétrique we see here is based on the original from 1936: a reference not only incredibly hard to find, but one that drives Cartier collectors nuts (and it’s easy to see why).
In the late 1930s, the world hadn’t seen a shape quite like it. It was disruptive design at its best, seeing a shift away from the standard round case. The design remains fresh after all these decades, with its off-centre dial and central lug restrained in rectangular case. All references are manual wind, have painted dials, and are produced in 100 pieces in pink gold, yellow gold or platinum cases with either silver or anthracite dials. You just can’t go wrong.
Certina DS Chronograph Automatic
Certina may be a brand only familiar with those who relentlessly rummage through auction catalogues and car boot sales, but in truth, with over 130 years’ experience, the Swiss maker should be well recognised for its new creations as well as those of the past.
The DS Chronograph Automatic is a classic automatic chrono that nods to a reference from the 1940s buy includes modern-day sensibilities such as a silicon balance spring and a new chronograph movement. The vintage inspiration extends to the case and the convex, silver-coloured dial with curved blue hands, a 42-mm stainless steel case, and smooth-as-butter central stop-seconds and 30-minute counters with tachometric and telemetric scales at the edge of the dial.
Grand Seiko Re-Creations of The First Grand Seiko
For a number of reasons, Grand Seiko has been an insider’s brand for some time now. Grand Seiko watches were first introduced in 1960, and in the 60 years since it has built a loyal following of fans who appreciate Japanese attention to detail and obsessive focus on finishing. While you would be forgiven for not immediately knowing the SBGW259, SBGW258 and SBGW257, they are the three new watches that celebrate the simple beauty of the originals from 1960.
Time only and hand wound (as a dress watch should be), in platinum, yellow gold and Brilliant Hard Titanium (a proprietary Grand Seiko alloy, which is actually distinct from the High Intensity Titanium alloy used in some other Grand Seiko watches), they are now regular production models unlike a similar limited series from 2017. Wear any of these and you will be sure to get a nod from the fellow watch geek in the room.
Longines Heritage Military Marine Nationale
Longines has been on fire in 2020, and in August it launched a rather handsome, military-inspired Heritage Marine Nationale. A time-only 38.5mm update on the original reference 5774 it produced during the Second World War.
Both the new and old boast creamy off-white dials with only the Longines stamp and "Fab. Suisse" (Fab for "Fabrique"), in other words, “Swiss made” in French. Prior to the advent of dive watches, the French Navy would have used these in amphibious combat. While the original was only water-resistant, the new Heritage Military Marine Nationale boasts 30 metres’ water resistance, an anti-reflective crystal and an automatic movement. It might just be the perfect modern-day field watch.
Louis Monet Memoris Chronograph
Louis Moinet is not the sort of brand to do things by the book. This Memoris is a larger-than-life dress chronograph which saw the brand develop a movement module that really showcases the complication for the wearer.
It is a mono-pusher 30-minute chronograph located at 2 o’clock on the case with a traditional horizontal clutch and a column-wheel transmission. Its position relative to the crown is inspired by the 1816 original. The dial is an aged silver-tone for the registers, enamel white for the sub-dial and PVD blue-coated for the rear movement plate. The case is 46mm with domed AR-coated sapphire crystal over the dial and limited edition of 60 pieces. Not for the faint hearted, but an expert horological showing.
Montblanc 1858 Monopusher Chronograph in steel and bronze
The Heritage collection from Montblanc takes inspiration from elegant Minerva timepieces from the 1940s and 1950s. This Monopusher is 42mm in a robust bronze case with a black dial featuring a beige 60-second track, and Super-LumiNova filled Arabic numerals, a large white chronograph seconds hand and white counter hands create contrast, guaranteeing readability in the wild.
The 1858 Monopusher Chronograph is powered by the Montblanc caliber MB. 25.12 automatic movement, which is based on a Sellita SW500 and boasts a power reserve of 48 hours. The bronze is limited to 1,858 pieces, so you best be fast.
TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition
The Carrera Panamericana, a race across Mexico was held between 1950 to 1954, may just have been the world’s most dangerous car race. Its legacy lives on in the Porsche Carrera and Tag Heuer’s Carrera chronograph.
The Tag Heuer Carrera 160 Silver is a Limited Edition of 1,860 pieces honouring the classic 2447S, one of the brand’s earliest chronographs. The silver dial and domed sapphire glass case and retro Heuer shield are all nods to the past, while the case size has been pumped up from 36mm to 39mm. The permanent second indicator is at 6 o’clock instead of 9 o’clock. The movement is a contemporary Heuer 02 automatic winding movement. When you think Tag Heuer you think motor racing, and the 160 Years Silver not only respects the past, but excites about the future.