Watch Collectors Name the Vintage Timepiece They Want to See Revived

Photo of author

By Margaretd. Regina

In fashion, the next thing is the best thing. But the backbone of the Swiss watch industry is heritage, which explains why vintage reissues make up the bulk of new releases. What’s tried and true becomes new again with fresh materials and state-of-the-art movements. Think of it not as a rehash, but as a continuation of a great idea.

Most of the obvious icons have by now been revived and ushered into the 21st century — the Rolex Daytona, Zenith El Primero, Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, TAG Heuer Glassbox Carrera and more. But there are still tantalizing relics of the past just waiting to be revamped.

We asked five collectors what vintage or discontinued piece they would most like to see resurrected, and they had no trouble coming up with candidates.

They did, however, struggle to narrow it down to just one. In the end, they all chose pieces from elite makers that are either hard to find (in good condition) or have become priced out of reach in their original form. All are classic enough that they would feel fresh if introduced today. Two of the choices were designed by Gerald Genta, the celebrated maestro of midcentury watches, which proves that good design lasts forever. Their responses have been edited and condensed.

A vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre Futurematic owned by the California collector Gary Getz.Credit…via Gary Getz

Gary Getz, a California business consultant, eclectic-watch aficionado and journalist:

“My choice is a reference I own in its original vintage form: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Futurematic (a mash-up of “Future” and “Automatic). It was launched in the 1950s, when the future was viewed with optimism, and design reflected a buoyant perspective, with streamlined forms and crisp markings.

“The Futurematic is particularly notable in that it has no winding crown; the crown for time setting is a flat disk on the caseback. You wind the watch by moving it side to side through a 190-degree angle, a motion that makes a hammer-shaped weight mounted on the movement swing back and forth with a satisfying thunk.

“This bumper winding system has largely fallen out of use, but another brand recently revived it, so there’s no reason JLC couldn’t do the same.”

The Futurematic: The watch debuted in 1951 and was the first wristwatch without a winding crown. The absence of a traditional winding system left room for an extra-large balance wheel, known to improve accuracy.

But the main reason the winding crown was eliminated was to make a point: Jaeger-LeCoultre wanted to emphasize that it was no longer necessary to wind a watch manually. And with a Futurematic, you couldn’t. The mainspring was powered through the motion of the wearer. Time was set using a small wheel on the caseback.

The Futurematic was discontinued in 1958, but is still recognized as a major development for Jaeger-LeCoultre and watchmaking in general.

“I feel it would be a hit, given the current swing toward vintage dress models,” Mr. Schaaf said of a possible reissue of the Rolex King Midas.Credit…Wind Vintage

James Schaaf is a product developer and engineer in Gibraltar who loves vintage pieces that represent milestone moments in watchmaking:

“If Rolex were to relaunch the King Midas using one of its new in-house calibers, like the 2232 (introduced in 2020), in precious metals — gold or platinum — and price it fairly (not like another all-gold relaunch from the ’70s that is priced at $73,000), I feel it would be a hit, given the current swing toward vintage dress models.

“The King Midas is iconic, and so cool. Aside from being a Gerald Genta design, it represents a design language that has remained relevant despite the shift toward steel sports watches in the years after its discontinuation.”

The King Midas: The expression “Midas touch” refers to the legend of King Midas and his ability to turn everything he touched into pure gold. Rolex seems to have the same talent.

The all-gold King Midas was introduced in 1964 and stayed in production in various iterations until 2000, eventually falling within the Cellini line. One model, in white gold, was part of a series made from 1964 to 1973, when gold dress watches with integrated bracelets were the definition of luxury and wealth.

That other king, Elvis Presley, owned one. Its other claim to fame is being one of the early watches designed by Genta. The winding crown was placed on the left because, according to the Midas legend, it was the king’s left hand that possessed the golden touch.

The Patek Philippe Ref. 1463, nicknamed the “Tasti Tondi,” was a statement of style and wealth.

Wes Lang, a Los Angeles contemporary artist with a taste for classic watches:

“I’m not really a big reissue fan. Sometimes the brands get it right, but usually they end up looking like a cartoon version of a watch to me.

“All that said, I would love nothing more than to see Patek Philippe make a faithful interpretation of the Ref. 1463 in steel with Breguet numerals. The 1463 is one of the single most important watches ever made, and out of reach for almost everyone that collects. All I can do is dream.”

The Ref. 1463: Despite being in production for nearly 30 years, the Ref. 1463 was made in extremely small quantities (there are only two dozen known examples in steel).

It was Patek’s first water-resistant chronograph and its only one until 2018 — and thus became known as the gentleman’s adventure watch. It was a statement of style and wealth, with a mellifluous nickname, the “Tasti Tondi,” a reference to its rounded chronograph pushers with fluted caps.

The model shown here, made in 1950, was sold by Phillips in Association With Bacs & Russo in 2018 for 582,500 Swiss francs, now about $645,000. A reissue would certainly be more price accessible, and a worthy rebuke to anyone who objects to reissues.

A Universal Genève Polerouter in steel. It has the distinction of being one of Gerald Genta’s first creations.Credit…Universal Genève

Jeff Stein, an Atlanta lawyer who collects vintage timepieces:

“For watch enthusiasts, one of the most exciting stories of 2023 was Breitling’s acquisition of the Universal Genève brand, and speculation quickly turned to the questions of how it would be positioned and which heritage models would be revived.

“While U.G. produced some fantastic chronographs from the 1940s through 1960s, I am hoping to see the revival of the Polerouter, U.G.’s three-hand watch that was introduced in the mid-1950s. It was offered in myriad styles, from elegant dress watches to rugged dive watches, and incorporated many watchmaking innovations over the years, including ultrathin microrotor movements. These would be nice elements for the new Universal Genève to explore.”

The Polerouter: Produced from 1954 to 1969, this was a go-anywhere dress watch. It holds up as a classic example of midcentury design, and has the distinction of being one of Genta’s first creations, when he was just 23.

The watch was produced prolifically in many different references over the years, but all had something of the original design — a quadrant dial, textured inner bezel ring and inward-curving bombe (or lyre) lugs.

A Cartier Maxi Oval worn by H. Jane Chon at a collectors’ dinner in New York. “It straddles the line between watches and jewelry,” she said.Credit…via Jane Chon

H. Jane Chon, a New York City lawyer with a passion for Cartier:

“There are three main reasons I love the Maxi Oval. 1. The shape is striking while still being fluid. 2. The proportions to my eye are perfectly in harmony. 3. It straddles the line between watches and jewelry. I view it as both a cuff and a watch — the case overhangs my wrist at both top and bottom.

“It was introduced in the 1960s and was produced until the end of the ’70s. If reissued, I know it would be tweaked in some way, but I hope Cartier would respect its proportions, and also offer it in yellow gold, the original precious metal.”

The Maxi Oval: This was a stretched-out version of the already elongated oval Baignoire Allongée. The Maxi Oval’s width — generally in the 28 to 30 millimeter range — wasn’t terribly daunting, but the length (up to 58 millimeters), made for a dramatic presence on the wrist.

The Maxi Oval looks as if someone grabbed the case at each end and tried to pull it apart, stretching out the Roman numerals to Dali-esque proportions. It was introduced by Cartier London in the 1960s, a time when Cartier London, Paris and New York operated independently. Cartier Paris produced a model of similar proportions; models made for Cartier New York were slightly wider.

Leave a Comment