Watches with classic designs remade for the 21st century: Hublot, Cartier, Zenith, Tag Heuer, Jaeger-LeCoultre
They’re back but don't call them vintage. Watchmakers pay tribute to the past with faithful remakes for the modern horologer.
Mechanical watchmaking is ultimately an ode to the old ways. But not all timepieces made today look like they were assembled in a creaky, candle-lit attic located in some mountain in provincial Switzerland. Some have designs that are better suited to contemporary tastes, while others look like they arrived through a portal from the future.
And yet we still yearn for pieces of wearable history, with collectors shelling out millions for rare vintage pieces on the auction block. Responding to this fixation with nostalgia, Jaeger-LeCoultre launched The Collectibles, a capsule collection of vintage models that have been restored in-house and presented (when available) with original boxes, papers, straps and bracelets. The inaugural lineup includes a Memovox Parking, Master Mariner Deep Sea, Shark Deep Sea and Geophysic, with more to join the collection in the future.
“It is fantastic to see 50- or 80-year-old pieces given a new life,” says Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Catherine Renier. “For me, that symbolises the beauty of our world – of timeless and durable objects to be passed from one generation to the next.”
But vintage pieces in decent condition are hard to come by, so it’s a good thing re-editions exist. The best ones stay as true to the original designs as possible, but are upgraded with modern materials and know-how so that they can withstand the rigours of 21st century living. Here are a few of this season’s best revivals to get you started down memory lane.
HUBLOT CLASSIC FUSION ORIGINAL
While the world was going wide-eyed at luxury steel watches designed by Gerald Genta in the late 1970s, Carlo Crocco upped the audacity ante by releasing a gold watch with a rubber strap, thus laying the foundation of his brand Hublot and its now famous “art of fusion” tenet.
This was the very first Hublot watch and it got its name (which is French for “porthole”) from its bezel design. Its watches today are far more futuristic and expressive, so it is fascinating to see the brand pay tribute to its (relatively) subdued beginnings with the Hublot Classic Fusion Original.
The LVMH Watch Week novelty comes in 33mm, 38mm and 42mm, in cases made of black ceramic, titanium, or 18k yellow gold. It retains the central seconds hand and date window at 3 o’clock, though the latter has been filled in to match the black lacquer dial colour for a less jarring presence.
Compared to its ancestor, these have noticeably fewer exposed screws on its now-brushed bezel. The two larger models are powered by the automatic HUB1110 movement, while the 33mm model uses the quartz HUB2913 calibre.
CARTIER TANK FRANCAISE
The original Cartier Tank had such a pleasing yet pliable design that it spawned a slew of sub-families, including the Tank Francaise in 1996. It deviated from the standard Tank formula with its square dial and metal bracelet, and found numerous fans among famous women like Princess Diana and Michelle Obama.
But watchmakers have been emphasising unisex designs lately, and the relaunched Tank Francaise leans into this with a promotional short film that stars Catherine Deneuve and Rami Malek.
The new models retain the Tank’s signature brancards and dial stylings, but an updated monobloc case and bracelet design delivers a more integrated feel, while increasing the brushed surfaces (instead of polished ones) adds sportiness.
There are seven references, in yellow gold or stainless steel, with or without diamonds, but only the large model in steel houses an automatic movement.
ZENITH DEFY REVIVAL A3691
Zenith’s high-frequency El Primero took the world by storm in 1969. So much so that its sporty Defy watch, launched that same year, was often overshadowed in the years that followed.
But the brand decided it was time to give the Defy its due when it released a faithful remake of the original A3642 last year as a 250-piece limited edition. With its 14-sided bezel, unusual square hour markers and smoked grey-brown dial, it was a vintage-y triumph that sold out almost immediately.
Bolstered by its success, Zenith has recently released a non-limited follow up in the Defy Revival A3691. The architecture remains the same, including the ladder-style bracelet, grooved indexes and date window between 4 and 5 o’clock, but the dial now comes in a rich gradient red.
Beating underneath it is the automatic Elite 670 calibre with 50 hours of power reserve. It makes a bolder statement on the wrist, but that’s part of its charm.
TAG HEUER CARRERA 60TH ANNIVERSARY
When an anniversary rolls around, it’s not uncommon for brands to wax lyrical about all the significant events that happened in that momentous year.
But you’re going to forget all of that history the second you lay eyes on Tag Heuer Carrera 60th Anniversary watch, because it’s modelled after one of the best-looking Carrera’s the brand has ever made.
The Ref 2446 SN was a 36mm model with a “reverse panda” dial, with the initials meaning “silver” and “noir”, and is still widely regarded as a holy grail-level collectible among Tag Heuer fans. The anniversary remake comes in at a more contemporary 39mm, but everything else remains wonderfully authentic, from the vintage “Heuer” logo to the word “Swiss” at 6 o’clock.
The caseback now also allows a view of the movement, which has been upgraded to the Calibre Heuer 02 Automatic. Only 600 pieces have been made, but the brand promises more anniversary models to come.
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