The market for vintage watches is as hot as ever, and so is the demand for re-issues or heritage inspired pieces. But can a new watch that pays homage to a true classic create the same emotional value as the original?
That’s an interesting question that has multiple answers. A lot has to do with the personal story of the buyer and how they connect to the watch. That is what creates the true value rather than the purchase price of a timepiece. Choosing to buy a true vintage watch over a re-issue or heritage piece obviously represents an appreciation for authenticity. However, if you are looking for an option that is technically more up to today’s standards and also more affordable, you could opt for a wide range of new watches that evoke the spirit of the original.
Why are heritage pieces so popular?
The demand for vintage watches has been booming in recent years thanks to good nostalgia/golden era stories and the investment value of the watches. Where vintage watches were always in high demand by serious watch collectors, they have also become an economic investment because of the potential for making a profit. This has boosted the prices of vintage pieces, but also the general interest in the stories that watch companies have to offer with vintage pieces.
Since a lot of watch companies have rich histories, it is only logical that they would take inspiration from their archives and let buyers enjoy a piece of it. Obviously, this doesn’t come without risks. Terms like ‘authenticity’ and ‘vintage’ have become very common in marketing efforts, thus the risk of overdoing it and coming up with less successful interpretations of a classic is a possibility. However, a respectful nod to the past will always be regarded as a credible and serious option for watch buyers. Let’s look at some timepieces that are labelled as heritage or classic pieces and pay tribute to a watch from years past.
IWC Schaffhausen Tribute to Mark XI
One of IWC Schaffhausen’s most successful collections that pays homage to its rich history in military pilot’s watches is the IWC Mark series. IWC introduced the IWC Mark XII as a successor of the legendary Mark XI that was offered to pilots from 1948 through the 1980s. When first introduced in 1993, the IWC Mark XII was met with praise as the perfect modern take on the IWC Mark series pilot’s watches.
Over the years, IWC has kept the tradition alive of introducing updated versions of the Mark series watches. The most recent model is the IWC Mark XVIII. However, IWC took a step back and decided it was time to honor the legendary IWC Mark XI with the recent introduction of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Edition “Tribute to Mark XI”, or as everyone refers to it, the IWC Tribute to Mark XI. It is important to mention the full name, because the Tribute to Mark XI is built to the technical standards of the regular Mark XVIII. It’s certain design elements that make the watch a tribute to the classic Mark XI.
The biggest, most visible design adjustment is the overall cleaner dial with its iconic elements. This reflects the spirit of the Mark XI, as does the removal of the Mark XVIII text on the dial. Other notable adjustments are the use of the old-school handset, the smaller hour numerals that resemble those on the original Mark dials, and the more elegantly shaped hour and minute markings.
Another remarkable feature is the use of cream colored Luminova on the hands and dial instead of bright white. There are 1,948 pieces available of the IWC Tribute to Mark XI; a reference to the year when the original IWC Mark XI was introduced. Thus, you might have to put some effort into getting your hands on the IWC Tribute to Mark XI, but if you do, you will be giving a respectful nod to one of their iconic legends.
Breitling Superocean Heritage
The Breitling Superocean Heritage series is a tribute to the Superocean that was introduced in 1957. Up until that time, Breitling was synonymous with aviation. When the Superocean was introduced, it was a step into new territory for the brand. The move into divers watches was only logical, because competitors Rolex and Omega introduced their successful divers watches a couple of years earlier. The demand for the vintage Superocean has been increasing and the original version will set you back a serious five-figure sum nowadays.
The current Superocean Heritage line has two generations to choose from. The initial Superocean Heritage was introduced in 2007, to commemorate 50 years of the Breitling Superocean. It has been a commercial success for Breitling over these last ten years. It is quite a remarkable story, seeing as the Superocean Heritage watches are atypical to the current image of the brand. Words like sophisticated or understated are not words that one would immediately associate with Breitling, but it is very likely that those characteristics play a big part in the success of the series, which is very close to the original watch in terms of design. The watch is one of the cleanest and nuanced diving watches available on the watch market.
Earlier this year at Baselworld, Breitling introduced the Superocean Heritage II. This new generation has a slightly updated design. The hands and hour markers were adjusted for improved readability and the shape of the lugs and crown has changed a bit as well. The main updates, however, can be found in the new Breitling B20 movement and the new ceramic bezel. These adjustments have been met with praise from watch critics and consumers alike. It’s a matter of personal preference in choosing one of the two generations: Both Breitling Superocean Heritage generations pay respectable homage to the 1957 Breitling Superocean.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay
Tudor has become a very successful brand over the last couple of years. It has transitioned from being Rolex’s little brother, to becoming a serious brand with a full collection of recognizable models featuring in-house movements. The most popular series over the past few years has been the Tudor Heritage Line; a line of watches that is based on historical Tudor divers’ watches dating back to 1954 with the launch of the Tudor reference 7922. Not every model in the Heritage Line is an exact re-issue of a specific model from the past, but they do embody Tudor’s rich history. Tudor uses the term heritage to create a strong connection to the past, which is reflected in the watches, giving consumers a feel of their rich history as a brand.
By far the most popular watch in the line is the Tudor Heritage Black Bay. The Heritage Black Bay was first introduced at Baselworld in 2012, where it stood out immediately with its red bezel, ‘snowflake’ hands, big crown, and overall well-crafted design. It is the perfect watch to celebrate 60 years of Tudor divers watches.
The most recent addition to the line is the Heritage Black Bay 41 that was introduced at Baselworld 2017. This specific model is another cleverly designed watch that looks even more classic than the other heritage models. Regardless of whether you wear it with a stainless steel bracelet, a leather bracelet, or a NATO strap, the watch looks like it has been around for ages. The design of the Tudor Heritage Black Bay 41 is further proof that Tudor perfectly understands the fact that heritage watches do not have to represent one specific past model, but can portray the feeling behind the history of a brand.
Omega Railmaster 1957
Another brand that has a rich history in watchmaking and the power to link timepieces and iconic stories from the past is Omega. At Baselworld this year, the brand introduced the Omega 1957 trilogy. It’s the ultimate tribute to the year in which three of Omega’s iconic watches were introduced 60 years ago.
The Trilogy consists of the Omega Speedmaster, the Omega Seamaster 300, and the Omega Railmaster. The latter model created the most buzz as a re-introduction of a true Omega classic. The trilogy is available as a three-piece set, though this is limited to 557 box sets. Individual pieces are limited to 3,557 pieces each, so it’s not impossible to get your hands on an Omega Railmaster 60th Anniversary. Similar to the previous models, the Railmaster is a step into history as far as the design is concerned. The watch is up to Omega’s latest standards in terms of technology. It’s this pairing of new technology with a classic design that makes it a very attractive watch for buyers.
The idea behind the original Omega Railmaster from 1957 was to create a watch for engineers working in electric fields, and thus they made a timepiece that could withstand magnetic radiation. This is the area in which the technical improvements of the Railmaster 60th Anniversary can be found. The Omega caliber 8806 movement can withstand magnetic fields up to 15,000 gauss, whereas the original CK 2914 could only withstand magnetic fields up to 1,000 gauss. If you place the Railmaster 60th Anniversary next to the original Railmaster with reference CK2914, you will see that Omega stayed true to the original design. Omega did optimise the readability at night by using bright SuperLuminova on the dial markers and hands, as well as placing the markers deeper into the dial. But that’s about all Omega have done to optimise the design.
Leaving things as they were might be the strongest testament a watch manufacturer can make to honor a piece of its history. If the design of the watch is well respected as a classic, why change it? If it‘s done well, a heritage version or re-issue of a watch will always be a tempting offer next to the original vintage watch; especially with the prices of vintage watches skyrocketing over the last couple of years. Now, buying a re-issue is also a pragmatic and economic choice.