As human beings, free radicals eventually limit our infinite variety and we start to age and deteriorate visibly and steadily. Cosmetic surgery only rarely improves the look of the original.
Lucky watches, however, can continue to look fresh and vibrant, and yet recognizably the same throughout the decades. Modern materials and improved machining have ensured their good looks simply improve with age. Not only that, where as humans our faculties and physical capabilities slowly diminish, modern technology ensures watches become ever better at what they were originally designed to do.
Here are 7 examples of classic well-loved watches that have, if anything, improved with age, and have rapidly evolved to face the modern world at a pace which would take us mere mortals thousands of years.
Submariner Ref 5512 picture courtesy www.vintage-DB.com
The Rolex Submariner, the diver’s watch which, most people would agree, really started the huge and lasting trend for the whole dive watch genre. It’s a look that has been often imitated, and at first glance it may seem that the Submariner has barely changed over the years. But change it has, and quite considerably. First of all, it’s capable of going 100 meters deeper than the original model, but the key changes are really in the increased sophistication and confidence of the machining. A modern Submariner, as opposed to its 1950s counterpart, features a ceramic, scratch proof bezel. The bezel has also been improved to create an ultra- smooth 120 clicks motion. The earliest Submariners were non-date, but at Basel 1954, Rolex first introduced the cyclops date on the Rolex Datejust. The purpose is obviously to magnify the date aperture, thus making it easier to read. By the 1960s, the cyclops date was introduced to the Submariner. The Mercedes hour hand, named after the symbol of Mercedes Benz cars, has remained a constant throughout.
As for the metal from which the watch is made, in 1985, Rolex became the first watchmaking brand to use 904L steel, a highly corrosion-resistant alloy that acquires an exceptional sheen when polished. 904L stainless steel is commonly used in high-technology and in the aerospace and chemical industries. Its excellent anti-corrosion properties are comparable to those of precious metals.
VACHERON CONSTANTIN HISTORIQUES ULTRA FINE
The Historiques Ultra Fine watch is intentionally extremely simple and yet extremely elegant: the best-known model is characterized by a large, round dial set in a gold case, on a dark leather strap. Unique to these timepieces, however, is the case’s extreme thinness: at 1.6 mm thick, it’s the world’s thinnest watch with the world’s thinnest mechanical movement, a remarkable achievement in engineering and technical mastery. Over the years the changes have been subtle, but the overall effect is increased sophistication. The brand’s Maltese Cross has been added to the superior printing of the VC logo, the 12 o’ clock marker has been spaced further apart and the lugs are more streamlined. The dial also is subtly more stepped. Even while maintaining the classic simplicity of the watch, the Historiques Ultra Fine has been made to look more elegant with the passing of the years.
First introduced for watch smashing expat polo players in India in 1931, the Reverso has gone on to become one of the most iconic classics in terms of watch making. The idea of the Reverso – (Latin for ‘I turn around’) – has always been that you can flip the watch face inwards to protect it while playing rigorous sports such as polo. Originally designed as a sports watch, JLC has experimented with the watch’s sleek functionality. Today, in addition to a look that is far more sleek and confident of its place in the world, models of the Reverso are found with the case’s back side adorned with jewels, decorated with custom engravings, or even showcasing a second display for choice between a regular and a fancier watch at the same time. Note the superior machining of the crown and the sunray insert on the dial of the modern version.
Swiss International Watch Company IWC was one of 5 companies who supplied watches to both Axis and Allied forces. IWC manufactured the B-Uhr (cal. 52T S.C.) for the Luftwaffe during World War II, and IWC’s Big Pilot watch is an evolution and direct ancestor from the functional flight watch that is a B-Uhr.
The Big Pilot’s from IWC has however evolved it into a much more dynamic, sporting and luxurious product since days of old. This is a watch made for aviation, and still retains an anti-magnetic feature – the only current watch to do so. One of the latest incarnations of the watch is the Big Pilot’s Top Gun. It’s still unmistakably a Big Pilot’s watch, but for this version it has become a sophisticated chronograph with a sleek black ceramic casing with titanium for the caseback. No one was working with scratchproof ceramic when these pilot’s watches were on bombing raids between Germany and Great Britain. The IWC caliber 51111 with a Breguet spring has an incredible 7 days (168 hours) of power reserve too.
The legend goes that watch designer Gerald Genta designed the Royal Oak literally overnight in time for the Basel Fair of 1972. The watch introduced the concept of the elegant sports watch and singlehandedly forged a new genre of watches. It was also the first time a luxury watch was made from stainless steel instead of gold. This watch is instantly recognizable for its octagonal bezel, a Genta hallmark which is screwed onto the case with eight hexagonal, visible screws – a design feature that first caused uproar as they were considered to be too ugly. The other distinguishing feature is the Grande Tapisserie patterns which decorate the dials, a particular type of weaving, geometric – square or lozenge – patterns crafted in Audemars Piguet’s workshops through a complex mechanical process called guillochage. Since 1972 the Royal Oak has been adopted by watch lovers and celebrities the world over. The modern Royal Oak is available in a variety of colors and materials, but the signature octagonal bezel is consistently maintained across all models of this family. Due to the modern trend for complications to be added to watches, especially popular in the markets of the Far East, there is a version with a perpetual calendar, a complication usually reserved not for sporting watches but for high end prestige pieces. This new model is in matte black brushed ceramic. It required over 600 hours of research to develop and is virtually impossible to scratch and resistant to age. Such a watch would have been unthinkable in 1972, yet it is still very much part of the Royal Oak family.
First introduced in 1932, a typical Calatrava is characterized by a round, large case plain, white dial, Roman numerals or markers and a thin leather bracelet. In that respect the Calatrava has changed little, owing much of its graceful good looks to the German Bauhaus school of design. Today’s versions retain this most simple and unostentatious of looks, and the Patek Philippe Calatrava is the flagship design for the modern era of Patek Philippe. The model was the first to be created under the ownership of the Stern family. The logo and name comes from a twelfth century Spanish Order.
If ever a watch has undergone facelifts and theme changes, it’s the still highly relevant and collectable Hublot Classic Fusion. The Classic Fusion line draws inspiration from the very first Hublot timepieces created in the early 1980s, long before Hublot became a part of the mighty LVMH empire. The original watch was met with much acclaim upon its creation. It featured a rounded case with a bezel fastened by visible screws with the signature rubber strap. Adding a touch of modern sophistication, the Classic Fusion line incorporates modern materials such as ceramic and titanium as well as traditional metals like gold and steel into elegant silhouette. One of the most recent incarnations is the Chronograph Italia Independent Tartan Ceramic, and the reader should have absolutely no problem in seeing how both the materials and the concept have been dramatically expanded upon.