The Silent Enemy, 1958
A watch accents an outfit or a look more than I think most people understand. It adds a context and gives a glimmer of truth about the wearer. Whether it’s a smart watch, a vintage wind up, a digital Casio gig, or say the Rolex submariner. Its probably, in fact, the biggest tell about your personality.
It’s a design classic no question, something born of function and use, which due to its reliability and quality has nestled itself close to the heart of many men. And make no mistake Rolex know this, most of what Rolex have to offer at the moment from GMTs to Yachtmasters to Sea Dwellers are simply variations on the submariner layout. But then I guess; if it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it. Not to mention that in the past 10 years the going rate for one has essentially doubled due to high demand. I’m sure they could find a way to keep up with it, but why bother?
Now don’t get this wrong, this is in no way an attack on the Swiss horological house, I adore Rolex but the new Sub for me has fallen out of favour. It is no longer something I stop someone to compliment them on, they are just too (for lack of a better term) common, and aside from anything else the newer generations of subs with ceramic bezels look far too delicate for me.
True, one of my grail watches is the Paul Newman Daytona and old Rolex pieces are cool as chips. By all means get a vintage explorer with yellowed numerals. I'm just not sold on the newer ones. A good comparison would be mini cooper, or better yet the Italian job; Michael Cane or Seth Green? take your pick...
Anyway I’m not going to make this a rant so for some positives let’s look at some alternatives which are a little more out of the ordinary.
A client of mine said to me once that he loved the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak because it operated in this liminal region between Rolex and Patek Philipe, I guess he meant by this that it was considered a sports watch, made in steel (even though it was more expensive than most gold watches Fielded by AP in the 1970s) and with the extravagant design by Gerald Genta (also the designer of the Patek Nautilus). The Royal oak was designed in 1972 to try and combat the onslaught of the new quartz movement and its effect on the watch market, which was making many watch companies automatic and wind up movements at the time obsolete.
In my Opinion this watch is incredibly versatile in terms of what it can be worn with and to, given that its not purely functional yet nor is it entirely luxury it has the ability to cover all bases. On the one hand the steel bracelet makes it more casual as it looks like a sports watch but on the other it can be said the bracelet is almost a piece of vintage jewellery in its own right, the royal oaks design hasn’t changed in nearly 50 years. Regardless you certainly won’t be seeing many people wearing one, the only draw back is the price point; generally you can find one on the market for around £15,000 pre owned, which is no bad thing, if you can try and get one that hasn’t been polished since production even better, as when these watches spick up scratches (as they certainly do) the patina that then builds looks tremendous. particularly in the classic yellow gold but you are looking at more like £30,000 for one made in the last 5 years and several times that for an original 1970’s A series.
Another incredible watch, which is from the same kind of period but leans toward being born of purpose versus luxury, is the Flightmaster, probably the most underrated watch to be produced by Omega.
Where to begin? It’s a mad thing to take in at first glance, it has a total of seven hands, two crowns and three buttons which all slide together seamlessly. Its also a hefty size measuring up at 43mm across and 56mm top to bottom, however it strangely wears very small. The crystal and dial are encased in a space age looking elliptical case which is made of a single piece of worked Swedish steel. The original metal lugged bracelet sits under the case and its joints are hidden. If that weren’t complex enough the hands are each colour coded allowing the wearer to time events, keep a track of local and GMT time, set reminders and measure to a fifth of a second. It truly is a Swiss watch with a big inferiority complex; brought up in the shadow of its older brother the Speedmaster. Which is the watch that springs to mind when we think of the late sixties and space travel first being on the plate for watch Houses. Possibly the best piece of PR you could wish for as a watch company, is for Astronauts, the new space cowboys wearing your timepiece, a tool, a piece of kit, into the great unknown and onto the face of the moon…Or onto a Kubrick set. Whichever one you prefer to put your stock into.
Don't be boring and get a new sub, get something a bit more unusual with panache.
Words by Tom Heap
Images courtesy of Audemars Piguet.