Retro Revolution: Old and new harmonise in contemporary re-editions with a vintage vibe

By Neil Dolby
Oct 17, 2023

For many avid collectors, there is a timeless charm about watches with the look and feel of classics. Couple that with a desire for the increased sophistication of modern technology and you have the underlying demand worldwide for vintage-inspired timepieces.

Some watchmakers tap into this combined love for the old and the new by reissuing cherished models with technical tweaks that add finesse and superior performance. Take Vacheron Constantin’s reissue of the famous 222, which itself was launched in 1977 to celebrate the 222nd anniversary of the manufacture. This contemporary reinterpretation nevertheless maintains the cultural heritage of the original model which heralded entry into the ‘sporty- chic’ watch category.

Vacheron Constantin 222

The Historiques 222 ‘Jumbo’ re-edition keeps the 1977’s monobloc tonneau-shaped countenance and 37mm diameter but comes with minor changes. Certain modifications have better readability and increased comfort in mind, such as offsetting the date window from the outer rim of the dial, or the Super-LumiNova coating of the hands and hour-markers, while the 18-carat yellow gold vertical satin-finished bracelet promises enhanced ergonomics. With a caseback designed to reveal its operation, Vacheron Constantin’s own Calibre 2455/2 movement was specially developed for this Historiques revival and delivers superior precision; the calibre’s oscillating weight has been etched with the original 222 logo.

Cartier Tank Cintree

Cartier’s famous Tank was launched over a century ago and the Maison has various collections that pay homage to a watch that dispensed with the traditional round-shaped dial. In 1921, the Tank Cintrée stunned the watch-buying public with slender, slightly curved rectangular lines that hug the wrist. Cartier has released several so-called Rééditions of past watches that mimic the original format as much as possible.

A centenary edition of the Tank Cintrée in yellow gold was released in 2021, and now Cartier is returning with another re-edition of the elegant original in platinum. Refinements are numerous; amongst others, a 6.03mm-thick case and brancards with finishes that are polished on the verticals and matte on the horizontals. The watch retains its faith in the Cartier heritage, sporting a movement with manual winding, rail tracks, Roman numerals, an eggshell dial and apple-shaped blued hands.

Breitling is another watchmaker that has released vintage-inspired models that hark back to earlier timepieces. This year sees new iterations of the 1953 Ref. 765 AVI, an aviator’s watch that famously came with a rotating 12-hour bezel for recording flight times. The original AVI incited a 46mm timepiece – the Super AVI – released in 2021, and now the beloved predecessor spawns another complicated imitation, the Classic AVI Chronograph 42.

Breitling Classic AVI Chronograph 42 P-51 Mustang

The new watches retain the distinctive colour schemes and design codes of the original that nod to classic aircraft in aviation history. The Classic AVI Chronograph 42 P-51 Mustang in 18-carat red gold is the standout.

The mysteries behind the wandering hours mechanism inspired Audemars Piguet to introduce the Starwheel watch in 1991. With interesting historical roots, the unusual timekeeping system stems from a request in the 17th century from the insomnia-suffering Pope Alexander VII for a silent, easy-to-read night clock. The solution presented to the pontiff involved a device lit from the inside where the quarter-hour marks appeared in a semi-circle in an aperture. Progressively, the silent wandering hours system developed in pocket watches with the minutes being graduated for greater precision. The mechanism remained hidden and its popularity waned. Upon being rediscovered by Audemars Piguet in 1989, intense development saw the wandering hours complication return from 1991 to 2003 in a watch that revealed its magnificent mechanism on the dial – named the ‘star wheels’.

Code 11.59 Audemars Piguet Starwheel

A revived Starwheel reference in splendid black ceramic and 18-carat white gold joined the bold Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet collection late last year, utilising the next-generation self-winding Calibre 4310. An ultra-contemporary tribute to traditional watchmaking, and equipped just with a seconds hand, the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel indicates the time using three discs that point to a 120-degree scale graduated with 60 minutes.

Patek Philippe Ref. 5261R- 001 Aquanaut Luce Annual Calendar

The recent release of the Ref. 5261R-001 Aquanaut Luce Annual Calendar by Patek Philippe adds another dimension to the Aquanaut Luce collection and hints at the past by featuring the manufacture’s patented Annual Calendar mechanism from 1996. Rooting back to the 1990s Aquanaut, this most recent addition to a line styled for women’s wrists is powered by the self-winding Calibre 26-330 S QA LU. The inversion of the annual calendar creates an unusual display: date at 6 o’clock, moon phases at 12 o’clock, both in apertures, while day is displayed at 3 o’clock and month at 9 o’clock in subdials. Among other Patek Philippe watches rocking a retro vibe, the Ref. 5172G Chronograph Salmon Dial oozes vintage charm with its opaline rose-gilded dial and gold hours/minutes hands.

Rolex Perpetual 1908

Taking inspiration from one of the first Rolex watches to be fitted with the Perpetual rotor, the newly released Perpetual 1908 is another timepiece paying homage to traditional watchmaking. Its 9.5mm-thick case, crafted from 18-carat yellow gold, houses a Calibre 7140 mechanical movement offering bidirectional self-winding via a perpetual rotor.

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 Stainless Steel

The release of the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 Stainless Steel brings with it a connection the watchmaker’s past and its moon- landing legacy. The recreation of the Calibre 321 movement has the specifications of the original.